Kingsbarns Golf Links Feature Review

By: Alex Picken | Mon 23 Sep 2019 | Comments


Each year during the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, Kingsbarns showcases itself on the main stage. For an event that hosts two prestigious Open venues in St Andrews and Carnoustie, to some fans Kingsbarns can seem like an inferior sidekick to these giants. However, in my experience playing Kingsbarns I realised this was not the case, while it may not have the long history of its fellow Scottish courses, Kingsbarns stands alone when it comes to outstanding modern luxury and golf course innovation.

For a golf course designer who has created courses in six of the world’s seven continents, including 17 different countries in total, Kyle Phillips is a relatively underappreciated of name within the golf architectural community. Throughout his career, Phillips courses typically emphasise a site's existing natural features, location and history while still managing to create their own distinct personality and character. With factors like improved physical fitness and drastic technological advancement in golf equipment allowing players to hit the ball further, Phillip’s courses aim to challenge this progression by designing courses filled with distance and difficulty, whilst simultaneously showcasing the location's natural beauty and unique topography.

In my opinion, Phillip’s distinctive brand of golf course architecture highlights the changes that have occurred within the game of golf, his young and refreshing courses aim to promote the beauty and challenge of the game for the next generation of golfers.

Introduction

Designed in 2000, Kingsbarns Golf Links is one of the most innovative golf courses located in Scotland. This modern course offers visiting golfers a links golf experience that challenges the stereotypes and expectations guests have when they think of a traditional Scottish links. Arguably, due to its prestigious location and championship history, Kingsbarns is one of Phillips’ most well-known golf courses, however, it still continues to go under the radar for many golfers visiting Scotland.

The first stand out feature of Kingsbarns Golf Links is the immaculate attention to detail the entire facility encapsulates. From the practice range and short game area all the way through to the clubhouse and locker rooms, Kingsbarns prides itself on its appearance and this is evident throughout every aspect of your trip.

The long driveway and towering clubhouse initially give the impression of an American resort, but behind this eccentric facility lies a golf course beaming with natural beauty and a historic links legacy.

While the course may be a modern approach to links golf, the landscape itself remains a truly Scottish golf environment, rich with breath-taking natural imagery of coastal views and mountainous terrain. The elevated tees provides visitors with a consistent supply of stunning scenery throughout their round. In my opinion, when it comes to golf course topography, Kingsbarns stands alone as one of the most scenic golf courses in the entire United Kingdom. In my brief time playing golf, I can safely say I have never experienced a course with so many spectacular views on almost every tee.

The complex layout at Kingsbarns is an architectural masterpiece. The unique design cleverly utilises the links’ natural coastline features whilst carefully adding its own contemporary and authentic feel to the course.

The course offers a variety of tees that aim to challenge golfers of every ability. Expert professionals will be challenged off the tips just as much as a high handicapper would be off the greens or blues. I particularly liked the fact that the course starter was happy to allow our group to tee off on whatever tees we felt comfortable on, a nice gesture for golfers playing the course who may not want to feel embarrassed or overwhelmed by a golf course that hosts some difficult and long holes.

The Course

As your round gets underway you’re instantly thrown into the extreme beauty that this course offers. After the very strategic and daunting dog-leg right 1st hole, the par-3, 2nd hole will undoubtedly take your breath away. Playing anywhere from 200 yards to 150 yards, this intricate par 3 sits peacefully beside the powerful North Sea coastline, embedded into the land so flawlessly it feels as if it has been a part of this landscape forever.

The 3rd hole is another impressive par-5 that requires an accurate tee shot no matter the weather conditions. The rocky coastline and high mounds of rough shield the right side and make the fairway on the left feel miniature. The humps and hollows of the 3rd hole make the second shot an intricate layup or a powerful attempt to run the ball up a heavily sloping green.

The 6th hole is the golf course’s only driveable par-4 and brings a very real risk and reward theme to the hole. The hole hosts a small fairway that is staggered with bunkers to make the simple layup shot an intricate task. The green itself gathers at the bottom of a sloping plateau, where its two levels slope front to back, aiming to bring the hidden water hazard at the back of the green into play. A good tee shot will trickle down the slope and make the hole a lot easier, but errant tee shots can quickly add up to a big and penalising number.

The 11th hole is a fairly short par-4 that can potentially go unnoticed compared to the other more extravagant holes on the course. The layup shot requires golfers to favour the right side of the fairway to avoid the lurking bunkers, but too far right can quickly block out the green for the second shot. The backdrop of the hole is the feature I found that makes this hole so visually stunning. The woods that surrounds the green at the back highlights how unconventional this links course is, the walk to the next tee box through these woods immerses you in an environment that feels completely alien and challenges the traditional idea of what a Scottish links course should look like.

The signature 12th hole is an iconic par-5 that moulds its way down the coastline of the North Sea, the undulating fairway and strategically placed greenside bunkers fiercely protect the hole. With subtle similarities to the 18th at Pebble Beach, the 12th hole at Kingsbarns emphasises this course's exceptional championship quality.

Following on from the 12th is the stunning par-3, 13th. This short hole highlights Kingsbarns Golf Links incredible changes in gradient. Teeing off from the edge of the valley, the green below is surrounded by bunkers, elevated above the ground with sloped run-offs all around. While it may seem a simple hole on the scorecard, in reality this par-3 epitomises Kingsbarns’ uniquely challenging and unpredictable nature.

Possibly the most famous hole at Kingsbarns is the fantastic par-3, 15th. Walking onto the tee box, Kingsbarns' natural beauty is instantly showcased in its purest form. The daunting tee-shot demands accurate placement in-line with the bunker at the back of the green, in order to gain a helpful roll into the centre of the green from the sloping hollows. The trees on the left block out the view of the course, perfectly alienating the hole into an isolated strip of land strategically placed next to the unwavering North Sea coastline. The contrast of the pristine green on top of this rugged and rocky coastline is the perfect analogy for Kingsbarns, an immaculately well-kept course lying on top of an ancient links landscape.

The 18th hole is host to one of the best views on the course, with the clubhouse located in front and the 360 degree view of the course and coastline all around, this is one of the most picturesque spots at Kingsbarns. The difficult layup shot to navigate the tricky gorse and bunkers in the fairway leaves a short iron into the final green. The water hazard or cundie built below the green retrieves any golf balls falling short of the high-tiered green. This 17th century cundie, built to help with drainage from the sea water and fields above is the perfect contrast between the lands modern and rustic features. This original feature of the course distinguishes itself brilliantly from the luxurious clubhouse next to it.

This final hole emphasises everything Kingsbarns stands for, while it remains one of the most contemporary and extravagant courses in Scotland, the course still rings true to its historic and traditional landscape.

Reflections

When it comes to luxury and modern renovation, the Kingsbarns clubhouse and pro-shop has it all. Visitors can enjoy the outstanding quality local food in the traditional setting of table and chairs or sat in the comfortable leather armchairs and sofas overlooking the course and its sensational sea views. The contrast of a contemporary building on the outside combined with a traditional and comfortable clubhouse setting on the inside is a very clever and attractive look.

The locker rooms are located upstairs in the clubhouse. Walking up the staircase the walls are littered with pictures and records of famous winners at Kingsbarns. The locker room itself acknowledges the previous winners of the Dunhill Links Championship with individual lockers with the players’ names and the year of their win stamped on them, free for guests to use to help them spark their own piece of golfing magic.

There is no doubt that Kingsbarns comes with an expensive price tag, at nearly £300 for a round during the summer months Kingsbarns is certainly not the cheapest course to play. While junior golfers (under 18s) are given a special discount of £80 to play and PGA professionals and BIGGA members at £90, for the average golfer Kingsbarns still remains a very expensive experience. But that is one thing that Kingsbarns guarantees, this outstanding golf links provides more than just a round of golf, it’s an entire golfing experience that you’ll remember for a lifetime. Whether you agree with their price tag or not is a completely personal opinion, but personally, I believe that what a round at Kingsbarns provides is an experience unlike any other golf course.

From the moment we arrived at Kingsbarns, the staff immediately welcomed us like family, as well as golfing royalty. Their smiling faces and helpful hospitality create an environment I instantly felt at home in. In previous trips to other similar courses, one complaint I have sometimes had is that some areas like the clubhouse feel very exclusive and slightly unfriendly towards guests. Kingsbarns is by far the best golf venue I have ever been to that challenges this outdated tradition. The clubhouse and locker rooms are completely accessible for all golfers and visitors to use. The noticeable lack of Members Only signs around the complex and open-plan layout of the clubhouse really made the entire facility feel like an inclusive environment for all guests.

The openness of this atmosphere also infiltrates their practice facilities. The short game area is state of the art and perfect for getting a practice feel of how the greens on the course will react and roll. The range is gigantic and was kept in immaculate condition during our visit, its no coincidence the R&A chose this location to create their new Ball and Equipment Test Centre.

The golf course speaks for itself. Phillips’ challenging and innovative layout utilizes the interesting landscape that the eastern coast of Fife provides to create a course that is trying to embark on its own Scottish links story. As scenery goes, Kingsbarns is clearly in its own category completely, the breathtaking views and picturesque panoramas will supply every guest with moments that make even the worst golf shots feel insignificant. The course is consistently kept in immaculate condition, with fast rolling greens and tight fairways offering the perfect conditions for golfing paradise.

What Kingsbarns Represents

When I visited the golf course three years prior to playing it as a volunteer at the Dunhill Links Championship, walking the course inside the ropes immediately created a fondness in my mind for its design and incredible natural beauty. Returning to play the course years later, I realised these feelings were amplified once again.

At first thought, you can’t help but feel like a modern course and clubhouse created in the heart of a historic part of the world like Fife seems almost insulting to its predecessors, but its only on a visit to Kingsbarns that you realise how wrong this thought is. This tremendous golf course challenges the stereotypes of what a Scottish links should be like, while simultaneously respecting those same roots with gracious humility and admiration.

Kingsbarns' modern approach to the ancient traditions of links golf set it aside from comparison and in my opinion, Kingsbarns firmly remains in its own category of innovative architectural genius.

This unique golf links is destined to be a contemporary classic for the future generations to enjoy.


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