I was so excited to write this review about Kingsbarns Golf Links, a modern links course located seven miles southeast of St. Andrews, Scotland. When I started though, I ran into a mental brick wall. The mental block was simply due to the massive amount of information, photos and thoughts I have on this brilliant course. I didn’t know where to start. So much to say. Words can’t adequately convey how great the golf experience at Kingsbarns is. That being said, I’ll take my best shot.
Location Location Location
As I mentioned, Kingsbarns is about seven miles southeast of the “Auld Grey Toon” (old gray town) of St. Andrews, Scotland. The road from St. Andrews to Kingsbarns is tight, windy and scenic, in typical Scottish fashion. Driving on such roads can be a “wee bit” frightening for an American, as the cars are driven on the “wrong side” of the road. Of course anyone from the UK would say that us Americans drive on the wrong side…
Kingsbarns sits on the coast of the North Sea, many of the holes featuring fantastic views. There is a two mile stretch of the course comprised of six holes, which are entirely on the shoreline. Several times during my round with my good friends this past summer at Kingsbarns, we looked around at the holes adjacent to the North Sea saying, “Pebble who?”
Designed by Kyle Philips, Kingsbarns opened in July of 2000. The terrain the course occupies is far different than the relatively flat area most of the courses in St. Andrews proper occupy. The hilly cliff area the course winds through serves as an amphitheater for the North Sea. That unique terrain provides spectacular elevation changes, far more dramatic that anything found on the links in the Auld Grey Toon.
Another mental block just hit me. I’m looking at the aerial photo and course map, thinking of each hole. Man what a course. I’m coming back to reality…
The routing of the course is wonderful and takes full advantage of the landscape. There are only a couple of holes which don’t have views of the North Sea, #1 and #10.
From the championship tees, this par-72 course measures at 7,181 yards. Course rating from the champ tees is 75.8 with a slope of 142. Only real “professional” golfers are allowed to play those tees though. There are four other sets of tees for regular play. The longest of those measures out at 6,659 yards with a rating of 73.2 and a slope of 136. That is the tee set I played and I’m quite happy with my 82, especially considering the strong winds.
Mental block #3… I can remember every tee shot vividly. Every one. I’ve been going through them all in my head for the last few minutes. I absolutely love the visuals you get while standing on the tees at Kingsbarns. It doesn’t take long to get to the “wow” stage on the tee, starting on the 2nd hole (par-3, 190 yards). Then when you get to the 3rd hole, a par-5 of about 500 yards, you exit the wow stage and go to the jaw drop stage. The way the hole frames up with the hillside left and the North Sea right is amazing.
So many tee shots at Kingsbarns deserve a mention. Naturally all of the ocean side holes do. The par-3 13th (below) isn’t ocean side, but is a spectacular shot of about 150 yards with a large elevation drop. The green looks like an island. Tough to calculate the drop and the wind. Then a couple of holes later the tee shot on the par-3 15th (above), over a bit of the North Sea, is stunning.
There isn’t a lot of deception from the tees at Kingsbarns. Most of the trouble is easy to spot and the lines are fairly well easy to choose. Caddies though, help greatly in telling you exactly where to land your shots for the best results.
The fairways are not overly hard to hit at Kingsbarns. They are fairly wide, but the sloping can present many challenges. Those challenges are all magnified when the winds are up, and they usually are.
One must land the ball on the high side of many fairways, allowing for the ball to release and finish in the right place. Hitting the middle or low side is almost guaranteed to finish in the rough or worse, a bunker. On hole #3 that could mean landing the ball high on the hill in the rough left of the hole and counting on the bounce and release to put the ball in the fairway.
Uneven lies make approaches and layups more challenging. It is easy to lose concentration a bit and not realize you’re hitting from a side slope or down slope. If that happens, the results can be penal.
The greens are very large at Kingsbarns, making lag putting very challenging.
Like most Scottish links courses, one can usually run a shot up to the green. There are some approach shots though, which require the ball to be flown all the way to the green. Once again the par-3 13th and 15th holes come to mind, though perhaps a power cut could bounce up from the left on the 13th.
The greens were hard and fast when I played Kingsbarns. Loved them. Many have some severe tiers like the par-3 8th, which present some tough putts if you find the wrong portion. If the flag is on the bottom of the 8th green and you are on the top above the tier, I’d bet you 10 pounds you couldn’t two putt, or even keep the first putt on the putting surface.
Stay out of the bunkers at all costs! If you find a bunker, it is almost a guaranteed bogey or worse.
If you make a par from a bunker, especially greenside, you’ve done very well. Many of the stepped bunkers may force the player to exit the bunker sideways or even backwards.
The pro shop and restaurant at Kingsbarns are very classy and appointed nicely.
The patio in the back overlooks the 18th hole. We had a fabulous time enjoying a frosty Belhaven’s Best and lunch, while watching players on their way home hit their approaches over the ravine short of the 18th green. Nothing better than that experience.
The range, though I didn’t use it, looked amazing. Very large and pristine, lined with trees on both sides. The practice green was a perfect representation of the greens on the course.
I have to mention the starter shack. In the windows of the starter shack are 100’s of golf tees from around the world. One of those tees is from my golf site TheGolfSpace.com. See if you can find it.
There’s a reason why GolfWeek recently rated Kingsbarns the best modern course in the world. It is that good. The course has won dozens of other awards and is ranked in the top of nearly every course ranking category it qualifies for.
Every golfer dreams of playing the Old Course in St. Andrews and yes, the Old is a must. But if you don’t drive down the street and play Kingsbarns while you are there, you are making a big mistake. Do it.