The best views of St. Andrews come from two completely different courses


The view of St. Andrews from The Duke’s Golf Course.

Sean Zack

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — There is a small schism southeast of the harbor at St. Andrews. Walk along the Fife Coastal Path (which can take you as far as Kingsbarns, eight miles away), and suddenly you come across Castle Course, David McLay Kidd’s 2008 addition to St. Andrews Links.

Kidd may have had an impossible job, injecting something so new into an area where hundreds of years of golfing, fishing, and hunting had taken place. You learn what he was up against by talking to the locals. El Castillo remains a polarizing entity 14 years later.

“It was a missed opportunity,” Ronald Sandford said the other day over breakfast at The Cottage Kitchen. After 45 minutes, he was sure no one in the area knew golf like he did. Except maybe for his breakfast partner, Jim Rait, whose earliest memory of golf was watching Sam Snead win the 1946 Open. But he had played the course with a friend who essentially majored in golf in college, and he liked the game. challenge. Me too, but once I shared, Rait chimed in to agree with his friend, saying that the earth was waiting for a great course and didn’t receive it.

The three of us had a lovely chat about all things golf (The Open, Bryson, LIV, etc) and were able to agree on one thing about the Castle Course: it has one of the best views in town.

The view from the Castle Course is so good that it is literally the main photo on the St. Andrews Community Council website. Capture the evening sun splashing against St. Andrews Pier jutting out into the sea, and the remaining framework of the original St. Andrews Cathedral, rock laid over 800 years ago.

The view of the city from hole 7 on the Castle Course.

Sean Zack

If it’s windy in town, I was told, you’d better believe it’s windier on the Castle Course. It was sound advice, and perhaps a major reason the locals don’t like it. The course’s greens are unlike any others in the area, apparently staggered and intense. In the firmness of summer, wedge blows with a light breeze are pushed back left and right. Maybe that’s the point, but you can feel downright vindictive. Play on a windy day and the Castle Course may be the most difficult layout in St. Andrews, and perhaps that’s why it’s so polarizing. The Old Course is as simple as it sounds: if it ends there, why did you hit it there? On the Castle Course, not every good shot is rewarded with a good result. They removed some mounds of grass from the middle of the fairways, as that was a contentious issue from the start. It felt good when another friend of mine mentioned how it felt to play Whistling Straits, the Midwestern interpretation of links golf.

There is a challenge in that type of course that crazy people like me love: make me gain that 86, and maybe some locals despise it. I implored Jim and Ronald with my obsession with the challenge, and we agreed on one more thing: Any lingering unpleasantness is washed away by holes 17 and 18, which completely reset the palate. They are an absolute delight.

Five miles uphill, you’ll find an even tougher course: The Duke’s.

Few outsiders know much about The Duke’s (it’s only 27 years old and surrounded by centuries of history), but they’re sure to start to. The course is owned by Herb Kohler and is connected to the Old Course Hotel. Are you visiting the city for a few days? The hotel offers a free shuttle service to The Duke’s. Key word in that sentence: Up.

The Duke’s is a heathland field raised above the hills just outside the official city limits of St. Andrews. Sean, the 8 handicap, has struggled hard to get over 90 from his men’s tees, which stretch to 7,000 yards. He has championship tees, called Tiger Tees, dating back to over 7,500 where, for a decade, the course record was 73, one more. He names another course whose record is on pair.

2021 amateur champion Laird Shepherd is a member, who finally shattered that record last year with Duke’s Fresh Story: Even Par. He names another course whose record is even pair. Shepherd leaves The Duke’s for that very reason. It’s tough, and it’s a happy medium between linksland and the more Americanized version of the courses that professional golfers must master to make a career. Winning the Amateur for a place in the Masters this year was a very good start.

Like the Castle Course, it’s easy to get beaten by The Duke’s. Guys like me need to pluck up the courage and play from a tee (or two) up. But just like the Castillo, the 17th and 18th, again, are phenomenal holes of golf. A pair in either will set you straight with the prize of ending being as simple as turning around to see the town and all its tan rock bathed in sunlight.

The St. Andrews thing I’m obsessed with now: no ball games

Among the relics of history scattered throughout the city’s residential areas are signs that read simply “No Ball Games.” No football, no kicks. No games involving balls.

These signs are scattered throughout various green areas in the residential part of St. Andrews.

Sean Zack

The signs are so confusing to me this time of year, when the sun doesn’t officially set until after 10 pm, something 8-year-old Sean would have loved to experience in a neighborhood dominated by kickball. But here in Scotland, some green spaces are appreciated and controlled.

Until it isn’t.

The signs have actually been a huge point of contention in various places around the country as they encourage a “no fun” mentality for local youth. According to the Scottish Government, these signs are no longer issued and, more importantly, are not enforceable. Here in Fife they stay up in places where they’re asked to stay awake, and they’re knocked down in places where they’re asked to put them down. Add it to the endless list of things that make life in St. Andrews simple.

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