The heritage of the Kingsbarns Golfing Society dates back to 1793 but the availability of golf under their name was interrupted twice over the centuries. Most recently during World War II when ground was taken by the military for defensive war purposes.
In 2000 Kingsbarns was revived under the watchful eye of a couple of Americans, Mark Parsinen and Art Dunkley, who hired Kyle Phillips to manufacture this stunning links course on 190 acres of farmland in the current location. Kyle gave it the full high-end treatment complete with grand scale dunes, crumpled fairways, bumps and hollows galore, revetted bunkers, and sprawling green complexes with character.
They spared no expense in creating this place, tapping into the knowledge of Robert Price the author of Scotland’s Golf Courses for advice on design features and Walter Wood the retired greens superintendent at St. Andrews for guidance on local turf issues. They created a bit of Whistling Straits in St. Andrews……to even the experienced eye it looks like it is nature’s work. This stiff links experience is not for the faint of heart, it was built for hosting professional championships like the annual Dunhill Links and Ricoh Women’s British Open.
Click to see the panoramic shoreline view of the finishing holes
The course plays hard and fast with generous run ups from as far out as 100 yards to accommodate play along the ground. By no means is this a target golf course, it will punch and counter punch you during the round so you have to be ready to respond. Plenty of swerve in the fairways so don’t be surprised if your ball is not as obedient to your commands as you expect. Bunkering is not overdone but it can be severe around the greens where the revetted faces are quite steep. Further sculpted ground contours can gather balls without sufficient intent into the bother. The greens have robust engineered undulations so a sharp short game and focused putting are very important to success out here.
Appreciate the severity of the greenside bunkering and green surface undulation
The day begins temperately enough off the side of the clubhouse to a high fairway overlooking the sea. The approach into a green complex with deep face bunkers and the steeply undulating green set the tone for the day. The story continues to unfold as you look down the short downhill Par 3 2nd where the North Sea crashing into the shore behind is a breathtaking sight to behold. A little out with a long par 5 at sea level followed by a pair of difficult par 4s turning back just above will get your game to full throttle.
The backdrop of the North Sea seems to be everywhere
Stepping on the high tee on the wondrous short Par 4 6th you get a stunning panoramic view of all the holes along the sea. This is a little downhill 300 yard shot that tempts your mischievous side but it will take a perfect strike with the right curve to get the reward they are dangling in front of you. From the teeing round, if your eyes are 20 x 15, you can just make out the clubhouse at the Crail links down the coast.
#1 handicap 7th presents a stiff challenge, especially if the breeze is in your face
What follows is the challenge of the #1 Handicap hole on the course which, to add insult to injury, often plays into the wind. You get a bit of a breather on the 8th with a very technical short pitch Par 3 that looks like it tumbles right into the surf.
Another stunning Par 3 against the sea at the 8th
It is a long trek back up the 9th to the clubhouse and a chance to catch some replenishment at the Halfway Hut before taking on the very difficult inward half.
The second nine begins with a pair of tumbling par 4s that bring you back down to the sea next to the 8th green. Both of these holes have severe downward elevation change and lots of side contours as well. A couple of pars would be good for the scorecard storehouse before getting to the technical part of the course ahead.
The sequence of the 12th through the 15th will leave you breathless
Now you venture around the corner to a spur of land that holds four breathtaking holes that will challenge your full skill set. As Malcolm Campbell says in his descriptive of the course, “It is a gentle walk to the 12th through a woodland…..where the ocean is stolen from our gaze. When it is given back at the top of the incline at the tee, the assault on the senses is often difficult to believe. The spectacular view ….is the one instantly recalled by many long after they leave Kingsbarns. Here we find not only one of the most memorable …three-shot holes but one that cunningly conceals iron within the velvet glove”. Hitch up you pants, aim at focused targets, and play away with abandon.
The 13th proves that three-par challenges your skill set in a different way
The Par 3 13th is a lovely short pitch down to a well guarded green complex wedged into a hill with a harsh stone wall covered with foliage. Sorting out the wind effect and the elevation change makes this an elusive target.
After a scoring opportunity on the 14th, you meet face another windblown postcard Par 3 that completes this section of the course. This requires a difficult uphill shot into a precipice green sitting on a jetty overlooking the raging sea. Aim at the pot bunker nestled in the left third of this green in that the forced carry over the rocks gets much longer as the breeze blows the ball out to sea.
Managing the approach to the Par 5 16th is about lay-up positioning
If you got through this section with minimal scorecard damage what comes next are three strong finishing holes where, with strong execution, good scores are there to be had. The first of which is the 16th, an ambling five par along the shore. Long hitters can try to cut the corner but if the wind direction is off the left you are bringing a high score into play with anything wayward right. Aiming at the corner of the clubhouse will leave you with a layup from the left center of the fairway to a safe space between the bunkers about 75 yards from the green. Worth noting on your approach, there is a pesky burn that runs right and behind the green.
Wending one’s way on the last march up to the high ground to the 17th green
One last one along the coastline, the penultimate hole is a punishing dogleg right par four if you do not hold you intended shot lines. The drive is into the dogleg elbow well left and what remains is a daunting uphill approach into a perched green with three tiers. Make sure you embrace the extra club required to get up into the middle of the putting surface.
The approach shot into the 18th green is a doozy…..or could make you woozy
The day finishes with an inland par four that plays across a high ridge adjacent to the first fairway. With a strong drive you are left with a approach carry to a very difficult green shelved into a hill below the clubhouse. The green complex really affords no safe lay up area so if you choose not to go for it over the burn you are probably laying up outside of 125 yards to an area on level to the green. Try to ignore all the noses pressed up against the windows of the clubhouse grill room who are soaking their bruised egos having already failed to negotiate what you are currently trying to pull off.
Once the last putts fall, I do recommend you visit the members grill for some adult refreshment. It is a beautiful vantage point from which to appreciate the vast beauty of what they created at Kingsbarns Golf Links.
St. Andrews, Scotland
Architect: Kyle Phillips and Mark Parsinen ( 2000)
Tee Par Rating Slope Yardage
Medal 72 73.2 136 6807
Regular 72 70.7 132 6351
Ladies 72 70.7 126 5238
(Click to view a downloadable hole-by-hole description of Kingsbarns Golf Links)