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OVER recent years, the rhetorical question had been annoyingly posed to me as often as I miss putts from inside four feet: “So, you've played golf in Scotland. Then I guess you must have played Kingsbarns.”

My testiness sprang from the fact that my subsequent revelation that I had not was met with the tacit implication that I must therefore be a complete idiot. “But you have to play it,” I was told on each and every occasion. “It is one of the greatest golfing experiences in the world.”

Happily, I am now able to answer in the affirmative when the subject of this glorious Scottish links course is raised and dish out my own mixture of disdain and sympathy for those who have not revelled in its excellence. It is difficult to comprehend that it was opened just eight years ago such is the established nature of its tees, fairways and greens – even harder to assimilate that it is man-made.

Some 300,000 cubic metres of earth were nudged into place along one and a half miles of Fife shoreline under the guidance of course architect Kyle Phillips and owner/developer Mark Parsinen with the intention of sculpting terrain that looks as if Mother Nature was its creator. The result is both effective and stunning, a course bordered by rugged North Sea coastline where the beauty of its surroundings will captivate and absorb the golfer between shots as much as will the technique required to play each and every stroke.

Kingsbarns' stated philosophy is that the game of golf is to be played on the ground as much as in the air and the imaginative player has the chance to play the chip-and-run shot and reap its rewards rather than just reach automatically for the lob wedge. Playing Kingsbarns is an experience that extends beyond the actual playing time, one of its initial striking impressions being, almost paradoxically, that the clubhouse is beautifully understated. The emphasis in its construction was placed on intimacy rather than ostentatious grandeur and the effect is complemented and enhanced by staff who positively beam with a sense of pride at their daily involvement with a venture that became world-renowned within a few years of its completion.

Just a little older than Kingsbarns is The Duke's Course which was opened in 1995 and this heathland layout provides an alternative form of golf for visitors to the St Andrews area.

It has been extensively remodelled by Kohler Co, owners of the Old Course Hotel which overlooks the famous 17th Road Hole at St Andrews, with the intention of providing its guests with guaranteed tee times on a championship course since the Old Course finds itself oversubscribed daily. The Duke's – stage of the fifth International Pairs world final this autumn – is less than 10 minutes' drive from St Andrews and many of the holes offer spectacular views over both the historic university town and the Fife coastline.

Given time it seems destined to mature into a course to rival nearby Ladybank, which has the advantage of being almost 130 years old and deserves its status as one of the finest heathland courses in Scotland.

It has a lineage of visitors that extends from its original designer, Old Tom Morris, all the way through Seve Ballesteros and Jack Nicklaus in 1983 to the current crop of hopefuls who face the course's challenges when it stages regional qualifying for the Open.

While my golf game is as far removed from the above-mentioned as it is possible to be, I can at least lay claim to having stayed in the same room as not only a British Amateur Championship competitor but also a film and singing legend – golf addict Bing Crosby.

My accommodation at the Macdonalds Rusacks Hotel overlooked the 18th green at St Andrews and surely the next-best thing to playing the Old Course itself (and, no, I haven't played it – but did I tell you I've played Kingsbarns?) is to sit in the comfort of a warm hotel room, a reviving drink to hand, watching golfers from around the globe tackling the Valley of Sin on the most famous finishing hole in the game.

Just along the road is the Best Western Scores Hotel, from which can be seen the Old Course, the R&A clubhouse and the British Golf Museum.

Both Rusacks and Scores offer modern-day comforts in buildings steeped in history with rooms both spacious and agreeable – and which make you feel truly at home at the Home of Golf.


Kingsbarns
& The Duke’s,
Scotland

Published: November 29, 2008

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