Gil Hanse and Mark Parsinen had the intention of designing a golf course with great visual impression that afforded a playability factor an average golfer would enjoy. Standing on most of the tees a player sees an expansive and receptive landing area for their drives-not a whole lot of fuss to clog the mind-yet obvious tactical choices are available and it is easy to process them at first glance. The result is a championship course to challenge the best players in the world that is playable by mere mortals full of memorable vistas that create pulse racing shot opportunities without the imminent doom awaiting every good intention gone awry.
For me the design has much of the look and feel of David Kidd’s creation at Bandon Dunes. Expansive landscapes stretching along the Moray Firth with accents of gorse and heather covered dunes and rugged natural bunkering that looks like it was blown out by the seaside winds. The bunkering is a blend of the raw appearance accented by selective landscaping, some sleepers, and hand revetting to give them a wild but finished look. The style of bunkering belies the recent vintage of the course-it looks like it has been there for a hundred years.
(Click on any picture to get an enhanced view of the image)
The generosity of the driving areas are not harrowed with disaster, they provide opportunities to find your ball and figure out what to do next. The next is full of challenge because rumpled fairways, roll offs, and punitive bunkering can put you in a spot of bother. But Parsinen says it was not their intention to terminally punish you for a mistake, rather your fate is still in your hands if you have the imagination and courage to play the recovery available to you. Not many “in your pocket” experiences. Instead there are going to be some very gratifying recovery memories when you are done, true postcards for the mind of the thrill of the little challenges that add up during your round here.
The opening holes on both the outward and inward nines are literally on the sea and share an intimacy with the beach and water. The first three holes have a tall gorse dune wall on the left and open exposure to the Firth on the right so wind behind or off your right shoulder will present an opportunity to challenge the short length of the holes . Your position off each tee will help determine how aggressive you should be on your approach shots. Take the bait if the reward outweighs the risk because the second part of the outward nine will not afford many scoring chances. The key to doing well on this course is to get to the fifth tee close to par. This may happen because of a birdie or two or simply resisting adrenaline decisions and protecting par.
From five to nine the holes sit atop an ‘old sea cliff’ and meander high above the coast like the middle holes at Pebble Beach with panoramic views of the Firth and the Kessock Bridge in the distance. Being on the high ground the wind is more influential because you have no tall dune wall to protect one of your flanks. Five, six, and seven are long holes with plenty of fairway contour to deflect your approach lines so navigate carefully, using the ground as your friend, to avoid roll offs into arduous bunkers or gorges of heather and seagrass. The last two holes before the halfway house don’t scare you with length but you have to carefully manage your misses to protect par.
The halfway house is tucked in a bunker building with the starter’s station just above the first and tenth tee. Dry, wind protected, and not a bad cup of soup will provide a welcome sanctuary. If you are going to indulge in the chocolate bars make sure to ask for the frozen ones they are a real treat. Eventually they will throw you out to face the elements again on the inward nine.
The first three holes are scoring opportunities of similar ilk to the opening holes just headed in the direction of the Chanonry Lighthouse to the North. Between all the photo opps you will have to hit some shots with clear intention but if you pull them off there can be good numbers to add to your scorecard. Be aware that the left side is not as buffered from the Firth as it was on the opening segment. Three pars will do fine to get this side off to a successful start.
After a cardio climb up the face of the dune (do not ignore the water oasis station half way up if for no other reason than to rest your aching quads) the finishing six are the balcony seating in this theater where you will enjoy exhilarating views of the Moray Firth. The next three par fours are very demanding as they traverse the high ground and provide little opportunity to make up ground. A par and a couple of bogies would set you up for one last dash down the final three holes.
If you are hopelessly down in the match don’t despair because lots of things can happen on these closing holes. A driveable par four, very difficult par three, and a five par with lots of options could make a 3-4-4 finish to steal the bacon a real possibility.
The key is to get through the seventeenth without serious harm-as a par three with the sixth handicap hole designation you have to blend some courage with sanity to get to the eighteenth with a chance. From the last tee you see the entire links set against the sea below and it will take your breath away. Cue the camera there will be a full handful of Kodak moments over this last 500-yard walk.
The clubhouse is an art deco design which looks like the stacked deck on a cruise ship. Full featured with a nice golf shop, casual grill room, and locker rooms from a first class private club make sure to take the time to wander about and enjoy the amenities. The view of the sea from the deck is just astonishing-take a moment to take in this moment from the balcony off the locker room. The layered windows from each area provide sitting opportunities within for watching the golf below.
A rarity in Scotland this place has a first class practice ground-driving range, short game area, and practice putting greens. One should take advantage of this before or after a round. The yardage book for course is supreme as it has topographical detail that helps on the shot planning and very nice color photos of each hole for some fond remembrances months later.
All in all they have provided a creative, challenging, and forgiving design for you to enjoy. If you have spent the week getting thrashed by one course after another on your Scottish Tour this will be welcome relief if you can put together some solid shot making.
Architect: Gil Hanse and Mark Parsinen (2009)
Tees Par Yardage Rating Slope
White 72 6553 71.6 133
Green 72 6153 70.2 126
For more pictures click to review Northern Scotland-Day 4: Castle Stuart Golf Links