Kingsbarns Review: Scottish Links Golf
02 Feb 2015
see also: Kingsbarns Golf Links, All Course Reviews

by David Whyte, go-golf.tv

Kingsbarns was a new concept in golf for Kingdom of Fife when it opened in 2000. It’s wide, swooping fairways and exemplary standards of service quickly caught the attention of touring golfers and locals alike and the new kid on a very old block was soon the talk of the town. 

The shine has come off this fine facility ever so slightly these past two seasons with trouble on the greens but we’re sure its managers are doing all they can to keep up the high standard they set out in its first few years. 

The course presents a tremendous layout with views of the North Sea from almost every point on the course. The 1st is a good opener, not too taxing and usually playing downwind. The approach shot can be its hardest, an ‘illusion play’ with the feeling that you could knock the ball through the green and into the sea. In reality what you are usually left with is a moderately sloping green that can be quite demanding to hole out on. 

Crossing the road, this is a delightful section of the course but far from trouble-free. The 3rd is a short Par 5 doglegging gradually left to right, its fairway sloping similarly. Kingsbarns is noted for its large, deep revetted bunkers and it is here, front right of the 3rd green their presence becomes glaringly evident. This is a baby ‘Hell Bunker’, much smaller than its Old Course equivalent but in strategic positioning and unyielding punishment, far more malicious, a cruel trap that could do some early damage; steer left the length of this hole and play it as a Par 5 even though many good players could reach the greenside area in two quite easily. 

When you do make it to the sanctuary of Kingsbarns’ greens, you will find them generally long but not overly wide so good club selection is critical if you wish to get near the pin. With subtle rather than tricked up borrows, it’s the sloping surfaces on a number of greens that poses the greatest challenge. With wind constantly in evidence along this exposed coast, the speed of the greens can be also be quite fiery. 

Crossing back across the road, the 6th and 7th holes are quite memorable, the 6th with its banked fairway that could gather the ball and funnel it all the way onto the green – but it’s a shot that needs precision – or luck. The 7th is a more strategically demanding hole with little room for anything bar good golfing ability. Calling for a well-struck drive to a limited stretch of fairway on the right this gives some access into the long, raised green. But everything seems to conspire against you here, the seaward slopes, the predominant headwind and the repellant green. 

To be honest, each hole on this course is memorable, a tribute to the eye and enthusiasm of its principal designer, Californian Mark Persinen. I knew this land when it was cow pasture and a rough campsite so they have done a magnificent job. Kingsbarns, to my eye doesn’t yet have the intrinsic, antique quality of older Scottish links, but year on year it gets closer. 

The short, downhill 8th might seem a tad too tricky depending on the pin position but even middling holes such as the 9th and 10th stand out as good stretches for anyone’s game. The 12th is a feature hole, a Par 5 measuring 595 yards. The longest hitters might be tempted to take on the carry over the beach but the consequence of landing on the beach boulders is surely too devastating. The 15th tee is a tough Par 3, a long-short hole where you have to play to the green; there is no option bar trees and again, beach boulders. This is a gorgeous looking hole though.

I’ve always found the last three holes almost impossible to Par. 17 is a demanding “muscle” hole at this late stage of the game; off the tee there’s plenty room to the left but the resulting long approach to a narrow, well-bunkered green makes it near impossible to hit and hold. The 18th is a conundrum I have yet to unravel. Suffice to say you must nail a solid drive usually into the wind and up the left side avoiding the long, wispy rough, setting up for a cavernous carry across a gulf. Fall one foot short and you’re dispatched down into the burn. To the wind-swept, walking-weary golfer not used to such a day of exposure to unadulterated links conditions, this is almost too demanding. 

Kingsbarn’s diminutive clubhouse has its charms but again, we’ve been mildly disappointed of late compared to its Halcyon early days. Staff change! Bring back Elsbeth! Otherwise their Kingsbarns Beef Burger is about best bet on the menu. 

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