Apologies for the extended delay between posts here – As you can tell, JK and I made up for the fact that his father was unable to join us for the epic trip to Scotland, and naturally we had to blog about that too. (See “Sand Rocks“)

On to Fife/St.Andrews!

Summary: In this section, I’ll discuss the particulars of our visit to the New Course, the Old Course, the Eden Course, the Jubilee Course, and Kingsbarns.  Various and sundry other locations in and around Scotland will be noted and discussed accordingly.

After our whirlwind time in East Lothian with our new friends, and in particular crossing the behemoth of Muirfield off our respective bucket lists, JK and I hopped in our tiny rental car (he drove) and we made our way to Fife as quickly as possible.  One quick tip here, it is helpful to have someone in your party that can drive stick, and then drive stick completely backwards.  There is no shot we’d have made it to Fife if I were the one that were driving.  Fortunately, we were able to navigate our way to our lodging at Agnes Blackadder Hall, and then over to the St. Andrews Golf Club.  We met with our host there who took us over to the New Course.

The New Course

As with most of the humor in Scotland, the name of this course in somewhat tongue in cheek.  The New Course was built in 1895.

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In a word, I’d describe the New Course as comfortable.  Without a doubt, it truly is a links course.  The New is tucked between the Old and Jubilee Courses.  Indeed, many of the front nine holes play adjacent to the Old Course, and it is even possible to play some of the New Course holes from Old Course fairways if you hit wayward tee shots.  However, the lack of major championship history for this course or indeed, much general knowledge about any significant professional or other championship golf reduced the insane urge that we felt to perform well in storied theaters.  JK and I stepped up to the first tee here with our host and were able to just play.  We hoofed our bags, chatted with our host about golf, Scotland, the U.S., politics, food, etc., and managed to get a perfect introduction to the history and culture around golf in St. Andrews.

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The New Course essentially acts as the locals’ home course.  Naturally, when tee times are available on the Old, they will take them as we would, but when the opportunity arises to shove off work early or get in a late afternoon round, the New Course is the first option.  As you might imagine, the course gets less play than the Old, so rounds take less time.  One would think that conditions might be better with less play, but it would be doing a disservice to the Old Course to make that assertion.  Links turf is remarkably different to any turf that is commonly available in the U.S., and is very hearty.  The greens tend to run a bit slower, of course, but no less true.

The New Course also has incredible views of the surrounding area, and of its two neighboring courses.

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View from 9th tee, I believe?

Upon ranking the St. Andrews Courses and trying to decide where we would advise our readers to play during their own trips, we agreed that the New was certainly one that folks should incorporate into their rotation if they are in St. Andrews for multiple rounds.

That Night

The date is August 4, 2016.  The time is 4:15 AM.  Two lunatics arrive at the starters tent at the Old Course upon the advice of their host earlier that evening to queue up before the break of dawn to the following scene:

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Believe it or not, at 4:15 AM, JK and I are respectively 11th and 12th in line for the standby list to play the Old Course.  So we sit there for what feels like 2 days in the cold waiting for the shack to open.  We try to catch some zzz’s… Some more creatively than others:

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But eventually we are told that we should come back at 2pm and that we should have a tee time shortly thereafter.

Dutifully, we arrive at 1:30 and are told that we are to report to the first the tee at 3:50pm.  Ecstatic, sleep deprived, and hungry, we trudge over to the Dunvegan pub.  More on this amazing place later.

The Old Course

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The words that come to mind when I think about the Old Course: Timeless, Unique, and Epic.

What can I say about the Old Course at St. Andrews…. Well, I sat for about two hours pondering this exact question, and it turns out that I could say quite a bit.  However, what I’d say you could read in any number of likely much better written reviews than this one.  JK’s initial post about our trip sums up my particular experience with the Old Course, which was memorable to say the least.  (Not so humble brag… I shot 74, my career low to date).

I’ll limit my observations on the Old Course to the following two:

  1. If there were only 1 course I could play for the rest of my life, it would be the Old Course at St. Andrews.  If this were the case, I’d still play golf every single day, and twice on Saturday because it’s closed on Sunday.
  2. If you get a chance to play, on your way back in, be sure you pay attention to the town of St. Andrews on the horizon periodically.  It’s truly awe-inspiring to see this tiny little town grow and grow until it surrounds you as you walk back toward the R&A clubhouse.  This is one of the coolest unintended effects of the Old Course that I feel is an underrated part of the experience.  A very small piece of this is captured in the images below.

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The Dunvegan Pub (again)

Yeah, we got hammered after that round.  And drank more Kummel.

The end.

The Eden Course

The one memorable thing about this course was that we almost played the wrong hole at one point.  Had we not run into the only other person playing this course, we likely might have only played 11 holes and wondered where the rest of them where.

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I shot 78, JK did not.  Our thoughts as we were waiting for the shuttle back to the Old Course clubhouse after the round: “why did we just play that course?”  Guess you can’t win them all.

The Jubilee Course

The Jubilee course, like Spyglass Hill, is a wonderful example of a course that would be more well-known if were located more than 10 yards from one of the most famous courses in the world.  This course was truly fun.  The course felt a bit shorter than the other links courses that we played, but much tighter and more fraught with danger.  Nearly ever hole includes some incredibly menacing rough or bunker that a careful player must avoid or contend with.  I honestly can’t remember a single shot that allowed the player to lay back or make a small mistake.  That being said, I also don’t remember hitting a single long iron, so really, there shouldn’t be many mistakes…

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The Old Jigger Inn

JK ate Haggis.  Gross.

Kingsbarns

And finally, one of the true jewels of this trip – Kingsbarns.  This Kyle Phillips masterpiece was truly one of the finest courses I’ve had the chance to play.

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Panoramic view of 18 from the clubhouse at sunrise

To get a few non-golf things out of the way: 1) the non-golf experience at Kingsbarns is far more typical of the experience at a high-end U.S. resort than the other Scottish links.  That is to say, there are at least two sets of tees that almost no one should be allowed to play for the sake of enjoying the game, the food and drink are actually quite good, and your wallet is going to be a good bit lighter when you leave.  This is due in part to the fact that the owner of Kingsbarns is actually an American that lives in Pleasanton, CA.  2) The clubhouse was one of the best I’ve seen anywhere, ever. 3) They have their own whisky.  It’s really good.

Regarding the golf: awe-inspiring is the phrase that comes to mind for me.  Nearly every hole has an epic view of the North Sea.  The whole course was built upon a fairly flat spit of land, and apparently required over 200,000 cubic meters of dirt to be moved for its construction.  This allowed Kyle to create some truly stunning golf holes that likely wouldn’t be easy to form naturally.  It is one of the few courses we played that had any kind of a forced carry, but even those felt quite manageable.

One hole that stood out to JK and me as not really fitting with the rest was the par three 15th.  This hole required a forced carry over part of the North Sea to a tucked green.  While it was a great hole in its own right, it didn’t feel like it fit with the typical style of the area.

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View from the 15th tee at Kingsbarns

JK also took issue with driveable par four 6th hole.  I’m not sure why, honestly.  I loved it.

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View from the 6th tee at Kingsbarns.  (Hole is above the two bunkers on right side)

In my opinion, Kingsbarns could be one of the best ever.  It looked as epic as Pebble Beach on every tee shot, played like a true links, and had incredible shot value.  While some shots didn’t fit the true links style, the result is still a course I feel could be imminently playable any time of the year, and could certainly host an Open Championship any time.  The one piece of advice JK and I agreed on for this course that we wish we had followed was to take a caddy.  Oh, also, I hope you’ll agree, Kingsbarns was far and away the most photogenic course we played.

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Odds and Ends (Rapid Fire Edition)

  • If you get a chance/invite – visit either the St. Andrews Golf Club or the New Club.  Great insight into the difference between the attitude toward golf in the U.S. and Scotland
  • Agnes Blackadder Hall is the best kept secret for lodging in St. Andrews.  Your own room, good shower, and breakfast for £40 a night.  We booked using Hotels.com.
  • If you’re going to wait in line at the Old course, get there at 4am or earlier.  Bring warm clothing and sleeping bag.
  • Amazing pro tip: there are LOCKERS at New Course Club House that you can use for free (£1 refundable deposit) that hold a full size golf bag.  Store your crap here between rounds, or while you’re waiting in line to play the Old Course.  Be careful about leaving things overnight though – not sure of the policy here.
  • If you’re a stickler for having “official” gear, be careful of shopping anywhere else besides the St. Andrew’s branded pro shops at the clubhouses.  There are lots of duplicates and unofficial suppliers, but that doesn’t mean they don’t make good stuff.
  • Belhaven’s Best Beer.  Locals call it Bell’s Best.  Drink it.
  • If we were going to do it again, we’d eliminate the Eden, and wait in line to play the Old again.  If you want other recommendations in the area, we heard great things about Crail and the Castle Course.
  • Finally, if you’re lucky, you might get a view like this one before you leave:

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Thank you for reading!

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