Mark Parsinen doesn’t do things by half. After steering the development of Kingsbarns towards what can only be described as a categorical triumph, the American visionary turned his wagon north in search of a parcel of land upon which to repeat the feat.
Ambitious you may say, and most golfers who have played Kingsbarns but not Castle Stuart remain in the ‘unconvinced’ category. But the first glance of the Moray Firth played out from the striking new clubhouse will be enough to vanquish any lasting doubts. Castle Stuart is a victory for modern golf course design, and stands as a testament to a new expression of links golf whereby traditional assumptions have been curved with spectacular results.
Parsinen identified the stretch of land, to the east of Inverness on the southern shores of the Moray Firth, and it must have struck him that it exhibited many of the same character traits that have helped Kingsbarns make such an impact in its first decade of existence; the immediate border of the water and beach, allowing the creation of holes right along the shore, the steep changes in elevation and the raw, rugged look.
In conjunction with his design partner Gil Hanse, Parsinen also strived towards the creation of so-called ‘infinity’ views, whereby the golfer is presented with a clean line – normally the back edge of a green – with nothing but expanses of water behind it. This no doubt involved the shifting of colossal volumes of Highland soil, but the effect, now recognised as the signature of Castle Stuart, is immense.
Like Kingsbarns, playing at Castle Stuart is a rounded and well calculated experience, drawing from the most effective parts of the American country club concept, from the bag drop and valet parking to the starter’s welcome with a signature branded souvenir pack. Out on the course, the manipulation of the dunes and the intelligent routing means that each hole is self-contained, and sightings of other holes, and other golfers, are a rarity.
There’s no hiding from the get-go at Castle Stuart, which introduces itself briskly with a short but menacing par-4 opening hole tracked all along its right-hand fringe by the Moray Firth. A spectacular long second leads along the coast before the route heads inland for the short fourth, whose green lies in the shadow of Castle Stuart itself. Continually the design plays with the eye and perceptions of distance and slope, while the cavernous waste bunkers are a constant reminder of the lurking danger.
Further highlights include the long sixth, whose narrow green is wedged up between two gaping bunkers, and the dinky 11th, a par-3 played back toward the Moray Firth. The rich variation includes a number of pretty fair birdie opportunities, particularly the par-5s that play downwind, and results in the same pleasant Kingsbarnsesque feeling of a good challenge but not being beaten up by the golf course.
Castle Stuart’s closing hole is the fitting cap to a marvellous layout, a real risk and reward par-5 (aim your tee shot at the tall flagpole flying the Saltire – which gives a great chance of a birdie but an equal likelihood of disaster. Adding to the appeal of the 18th is its proximity to one of the best clubhouses in the UK; the semi-circular frontage with wrap-around balconies creates magical views of the Firth and the Kessock Bridge, and is the fitting accompaniment to the golf course.
The Links is merely the starting point for Castle Stuart, which has approved plans for a 57-bedroom hotel, a collection of luxury lodges and another golf course. The future looks bright then, and it will no doubt transform the appeal of golf in the region, but lovers of top class links golf should not delay – the word is out on Castle Stuart.
Click here for more Castle Stuart reviews.
Golf tour packages including Castle Stuart, plus regional gems like Royal Dornoch, Nairn and Spey Valley, are available from Your Golf Travel.com. Call 0800 043 6644 or email email@example.com.