Kingsbarns – Perfect setting, perfect weather, only 1 birdie…

We awoke for our first full day at St.Andrews with a slightly overcast sky however a tiny patch of blue sky lurked in the distance. Could this be the day that would help us to remember what a proper summer looks like?

With great anticipation we headed to Kingsbarns, a relatively new course in the St Andrews precinct, and one that is privately owned. On the way we picked up Ron (Gary’s travel partner for groups that come to this part of the world) who lives just around the corner and made our way to the course.

As we unloaded the clubs the sky progressively got brighter and bluer so by the time we hit off just after 12pm it was blue sky (hooray) with white puffy clouds. Perfect golf and photography weather! Finally.

We were warmly greeted by Alan Hogg and his wife Audrey who gave us some history of the course before sending us on our way.

This course is fun. Almost every hole provides a panoramic view of the water and it is laid over three levels that criss cross back and forth across the landscape.

One of the original owners of Kingsbarns, Mark Parsinen, has now completed a course we played a few days ago in the Scottish Highlands – Castle Stuart. Even though the designers of each course are different there are distinct similarities including holes on different layers, panoramic views, large greens and similar playing surfaces. Course conditioning is top notch at both courses providing excellent playing conditions.

The par 5 holes are reachable however the large size and contours within the putting surfaces provide a form of defence against a guaranteed birdie or better. Fairways are generous and the hole is laid out in front of you with no blind shots to speak of.

There were a number of standout holes with the par 3 15th providing memories for all the wrong reasons (we both played it badly…). A longish hole playing over the water into the prevailing wind to a green situated on a rocky outcrop provided visual beauty as well as golfing challenge.

A number of elevated tees helped you to see the hole before you and give you a sense of invincibility before the slight breeze took a number of our tee shots sideways and into the semi long fescue grass rough where extricating the balls was manageable to hit out of but hard to hit the green from.

The last hole is a stern test to end the round. A par 4 of over 400 metres the tee shot plays uphill before a slight dog leg left with the approach shot requiring a well struck shot over the ominous burn that guards the front of the green. Severe fall off from the front of the green guarantees that any shot not hit perfectly will find a watery grave.

Kingsbarns is very playable and we found it enjoyable. It is a course that, along with the Old Course, should be experienced when visiting this part of the world.

Post game we took Ron, his wife Jen and his colleague Donna (who lives on a farm…) to the best Thai restaurant in town. Nahm Jim on Market street – you must go there but be sure to book.

Shot of the Day

The 9th hole is a reachable par 5 with a heavily sloping, two tiered green. David hit two great shots with his approaching finding the putting surface – albeit on the higher level. A skillful two putt ensured the only birdie of the day.

Overall birdie tally

Gary (0 birdies, cumulative 39)

David (1 birdie, cumulative 14)

Tomorrow the Old Course awaits. Enough said. Stay tuned…

By golfselect

Carnoustie – the toughest 3 finishing holes in golf. Really?

For Jean van de Velde the last 3 holes at Carnoustie are memorable for all the wrong reasons. Coming to the 18th hole on the last day with a three stroke lead all he needed to do was make a double bogey or better to be the 1999 Open Champion.

An errant drive, followed by a shot which hit the grandstand and another which landed in the burn in front of the green saw his lead evaporate in the space of 10 painful minutes. An up and down from the greenside bunker for a triple bogey 7 saw him into a playoff where he lost to Paul Lawrie.

Dave and Gary on the other hand found these holes to be memorable for all the right reasons. The 16th hole is a 220 metre par 3 with a relatively small raised green with run off on both sides. The 17th hole is known as “Island” with a burn running through the hole twice creating an island landing area and requiring pin point precision off the tee. The famous 18th is a long par 4 with a treacherous burn that almost abuts the edge of the green.

Dave’s par, par, par finish was complemented by Gary’s par, birdie, birdie finish with putts of 3 feet on each of the last two holes. Need we say more?? Easy game…

Carnoustie is a commercial operation with 54 holes of golf located near but not on the water and has a very steady stream of visitors. The staff were genuinely friendly and we felt at home from our initial interaction with the starter through to the pro shop staff.

We were paired with two Indian visitors who thankfully had caddies (we listened in quietly on which direction to hit the ball…).

The first tee shot at Carnoustie is daunting and sets the scene for the day. A water hazard running down the left hand side of the first fairway was the first of seven holes that had a similar challenge. Fortunately we are not big hookers so this was not a problem for us.

The greens are large and fast which we enjoyed once we got the pace sorted. Having said that we still managed to 3 putt a number of holes early in the round.

The heavily bunkered fairways we found to be fair and generally visible from the tee. It was a contrast to Royal Lytham and Royal Aberdeen where there was a greater uncertainty about where one could safely hit the ball.

Fairways were generally flat and in good condition even though they play over 40,000 rounds a year.

Our Indian friends used all of the course and ensured a “relaxing” pace was the norm with minimal concern about our speed of play. To be honest having 3 practice swings per shot (including putts and bunker shots) is probably a bit much. The four and a half hour round was at least an hour longer than what we have become used to.

Admittedly we did not experience Carnoustie with the teeth that it is renowned for. With only a one club wind at most we did not feel as intimidated as we had alluded to in our blog yesterday.

“Hogans Alley” is a long par 5 with out of bounds extending down the left hand side. Bunkers guard the middle of the fairway. During an Open Championship Ben Hogan threaded this very narrow fairway on all four days to set up the hole perfectly. David did likewise with a fantastic drive that found the “Alley”.

Bunkers and burns offset the relatively flat terrain and require some thought to negotiate without peril. In fact neither of us hit into the water all day and our lost ball count collectively was one.

For a moment we thought we were good golfers.

Post game we knew what we had to do. We then headed to the land of Jean van de Velde with a quick trip to the 18th hole burn, socks and shoes off with wedges in hand. Fiona from the pro shop kindly took a number of photos of us while other golfers looked on with bemusement.

St Andrews was our next stop and is located 45 minutes down the road – easy!

Aslar House is our great little B & B located in the centre of St Andrews, a short walk to the first tee of the Old Course. Stan, Mary and Katherine were there to greet us when we arrived at 9:30pm.

Shot of the day

Gary’s rescue club on the 18th hole, over the burn to 3 feet for a grandstand finish – birdie!

Overall birdie tally

Gary (3 birdies, cumulative 39) – 38 points
David (1 birdie, cumulative 13) – 35 points

A good nights sleep and ready to tackle Kingsbarns in the morning. Stay tuned…

By golfselect

Wind farms, Narrow fairways and Scottish summer

A Saturday morning sleep in. Not something we are normally used to back home with Gary going to his daughter’s basketball game (normally at 8am) and David working at the club.

So this was different and appreciated. We have been averaging around 6 hours sleep this far so an 8 hour sleep is exciting.

We are staying at a funky boutique hotel called Malmaison in the oil industry focused town of Aberdeen. The rooms are nice, breakfast great and atmosphere just right. Highly recommended if you are visiting this area.

The coastal city that is the nucleus of the oil industry, Aberdeen, is a really nice looking place. Every house has a facade of beautiful stone that oozes class and well manicured gardens complete the picture.

A mid morning breakfast and then some work and email catch up saw us leave for Royal Aberdeen around 2pm.

If playing Royal Aberdeen get ready for the ride of your life. The front nine holes are carved through moderate sand dunes with as much fairway undulation as we have seen anywhere. Fairways are very narrow (15 metres across in some cases) demanding precision driving and local knowledge on where to hit the ball.

We coped with moderate winds for the whole round (Gary’s 4 iron has never been hit so much) and persistent rain for at least 10 holes. But hey we are used to this now and the Scottish summer is becoming familiar to us.

The course plays out from the clubhouse into the prevailing wind before turning around on the 10th and playing downwind for the remaining holes.

Playing surfaces on fairways and greens and the sand in the bunkers were the best we have seen to date.

We would recommend playing with a member or getting a caddy as we found the fairway landing areas difficult to negotiate with only slightly errant drives ending up in some long and challenging rough.

Scotland is known for wind (and lots of it) and the emerging industry of natural power through wind farms. This was evident at Royal Aberdeen with wind generators being visible on all holes (not overly detracting from the view though).

We were however amazed at how quiet the propellors were even though hey were constantly turning. The sound of the ocean cancelled out any noise of the propellors.

The Aberdeen area is well worth visiting if you are going to the East coast of Scotland as it is only 85 minutes from Carnoustie and 2.5 hours from St. Andrews.

Shot of the day

The 3rd hole is a 200 metre par 3 playing into the prevailing wind. Bunkers protect left and right. Gary’s tee shot started right, fed off the bank and finished 15 feet from the hole. The putt never looked like missing.

Overall birdie tally

Gary (2 birdies, cumulative 36)
David (0 birdies, cumulative 12)

Tomorrow we head south to Carnoustie – one of the most difficult Open venues and scene of Jean van de Velde’s demise in the Open a few years ago. No birdies expected but stay tuned…

By golfselect