When Kingsbarns hit the scene in July 2000, it was easily the most talked about new golf course to have opened in Europe... ever since new golf courses were a thing.
Designed by Kyle Philips – with heavy influence from the late great US-based entrepreneur Mark Parsinen – Kingsbarns Golf Links made it very clear from the start that it was designed to be “a big deal”.
The focus was on the golf course and the golf course alone. This was a proper golf course concept. No housing. No luxury lodges. And definitely no hotel. Even the clubhouse was small and understated. When you come to Kingsbarns, all eyes are designed to be on the golf course.
For me, that’s the biggest plus-point of this place. It’s brilliant, but they don’t shout about it.
Back at its launch, the US market fell weak at the knees for a new Scottish links, with a Golf Digest writer saying it was “worth a king’s ransom to play”.
Colin Montgomerie called it “world-class”. Others simply wanted to see it, never mind play it. There hasn’t been a noise made about a new golf course in Scotland quite like it, until Dumbarnie Links opened up last year. And, refreshingly, the two courses don’t see each other as rivals.
Twenty years later, Kingsbarns remains one of the biggest pulls for incoming golfers to Scotland.
Just a 13-minute drive from the heart of St Andrews, the left turn off the A917 through the village of Kingsbarns remains as exciting as ever. It’s unlikely you’ll be as quick to get your golf bag and shoes out of the car just so you can get to the clubhouse and check out the views. It’s a property that’s well worthy of your camera phone.
Here, the emphasis is on making sure you get the “Kingsbarns Experience”. Countless awards later, they’re still focusing on making sure you have the time of your life. And you will.
I always like a course that lets you play off any set of tees you wish. Having played it a few times from different tees, it’s quite the thrill and absolutely makes a difference to your ability to score. If you’re not especially long, don’t go from the tips because you’ll just makes things difficult for yourself.
I always remember Peter Dawson, formerly of the R&A, saying that the R&A could pitch up at Muirfield any time of the year and play for the Claret Jug, such was the pristine year-round condition of the Open venue.
I hold Kingsbarns in that same regard. Having played the course in all weathers – never better than when the sun is going down on a warm July evening – you will struggle to notice any difference in the golf course. It is always as good as it has ever been. Yes, it closes down over the winter months and there’s a team of world-class greenkeepers (who you rarely see) but, still, its condition is flawless.
For a non-links aficionado, you may be slightly terrified of the putting surfaces, which are true and exceptionally fast. The best advice is definitely hit a few putts on the practice green next to the first tee before you tee off, otherwise you’ll get a fright.
The course is laid out on three plateaus, with wide fairways and large greens – but it’s not all scary. There are drivable par-4s and truly brilliant par-3s (more on them below), again, depending on what tees you play off. Just because it’s a big, modern championship test doesn’t mean you have to play it as such.
This is one of the greatest Scottish golf success stories and remains, to this day, a massive draw for golf tourism in the home of golf. Whatever standard of player you are, you will revel in the sheer size and spectacle of this place. Kings ransom? Absolutely. Do whatever you can to make sure you have ticked Kingsbarns off your list, it’s that good. I love the fact that it’s all about the course, and that the clubhouse is pretty small. But when inside, you feel privileged to be there.
This isn’t going to be easy. There’s a few that make the grade in terms of being'standouts’. The fourth is a bit of a risk/reward par-4 for big hitters and I love the sixth, another par-4 that just wants you to rifle a driver to set up a birdie. The par-3 15th is another that gets your phone camera going – but the real gravy here is the 12th, above, a stunning par-5 with the rocky shoreline to your left giving you the constant fear as you tee off, lay up and approach. Outrageously pretty.
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Did you know
The course record at Kingsbarns is 60, held by Branden Grace, which he set nine years ago. Play off the tips, use the same gear as Grace, and fire your way round this place and then ask yourself the question: do you want to roll back technology? It makes you recognise just how good these guys are. Incredible.
And another thing
If you’re staying for a bite to eat after your round, have the Chilli Bowl. Sensational.
The standard green fee for a visitor playing 18 holes is £328. That reduces to £164 for a Scottish resident and just £90 for a member of the PGA or BIGGA.
You can also enjoy the best value 'Stay & Play' deals at Kingsbarns courtesy of bunkered Golf Breaks. Check out bunkeredgolfbreaks.com now for the latest offers.
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