Craig, Stu and I played this superb links course on 3 September 2010 with Susan, a cousin in law to Claire, one of my daughters. Susan plays golf for Scotland and had played the Castle many times before, so we were in good hands trying to play this, the latest addition to the list of excellent courses in St Andrews. Polly came along to help with the yardages and photography. The Castle Course has only been open for play for a few years but was in fabulous condition throughout and looked as though it had been there for many, many years. We all agreed to play off the White back tees, making the course a really formidable test at 6759 yards, par 71. I'd already played all of the other courses in the management of the St Andrews Links Trust (Old, New, Jubilee, Eden, Strathtyrum and Balgove) in all sorts of weather conditions, so it was a real treat to play The Castle on an almost windless and warm sunny day. The course guide tells us that it is "Set on a dramatic cliff top location with stunning views over St Andrews Bay and out to the North Sea. The Castle Course combines breathtaking beauty with wonderful golf." Such blurbs can sometimes be taken with a pinch of salt, but not in this case. Perhaps it was the weather, the good golf (some of us) played or the friendships shared, but for all us of us, this was simply a great course, beautiful to see and play. This is a typical view, taken from the 3rd tee, with St Andrews in the background.
The course straddles a gently sloping clifftop, with each fairway crumpled by all sorts of humps and hollows. The course guide might say aim down the left, but even when I managed to hit a drive in that direction a bad first bounce would take the ball off elsewhere. Equally, a slightly mis-directed drive could be deflected back on line. I'd heard that a common feature of the layout was tussocks of rough grass in the middle of fairways, adding to the difficulty of the course. Thankfully some these features appear to have been removed to make the course more playable, but I was having one of those days, scoring wise. For example, I just missed the fairway on the 404 yard par 4 second and had a poor lie with the ball well below my feet. Rather than take a conservative wedge back onto the fairway, I went for the green with a 5 iron, only to sh--- the ball into the real bundai, for an eventful 8. Anything off line was severely punished. I was hitting the ball well, but just too often. When I did get a kindly bounce and a chance to restore some semblance of order to the scorecard, my putting let me down. I'd been forewarned about the Castle's greens - big, fast, almost impossible to read and full of humps and hollows, but even those warnings didn't prepare me for what was to come. For example, this is my 40 foot birdie putt on the 10th an excellent 167 yard par 3. I'd aimed around 10 feet to the left of the pin, but even that was nowhere near enough, so another bogey went down on the card. I'd actually gone out in a remarkable 53, with 2 pars (including the 536 yard 5th, the Stroke Index 1 hole!), so another bogey was really helpful. Susan and I were playing Craig and Stu and were by then heading for a likely defeat, but such was the quality of the course I didn't really mind.
I'd already taken 90 by the time we got to the Castle's signature hole, the outstanding 17th, a 184 yard par 3 played over a gap in the cliff face. This is me on the tee, wondering how to minimise the damage! I settled on a 3 wood to the left of the green, hoping the slope would carry ball greenwards. That strategy worked reasonably well and a bogey was OK, but I still needed a par down the 18th a 555 yard par 5, to break 100. Thankfully, I was on in 3 but I needed (and got) a smelly downhill 12 footer for the par. Craig, meanwhile, had to apologise to the 3-ball in front for hitting through them on the green with his second (the boy can play and went round in an amazing 73!) My dismal performance had played its part in Susan and I losing 5 and 4. We'll be seeking a rematch at the Duke's or elsewhere in due course, so remember guys, modesty in victory, gracious in defeat.
We'd thoroughly enjoyed our day and agreed that The Castle was a fitting addition to the Trust's other outstanding St Andrews courses. I'd recommend anyone to play it at least once. You might not score well, but I guarantee you'll love the experience, from the welcoming staff and the great clubhouse to the maddening humps and hollows on the fairways and greens. I hope to play The Castle again sometime and knock a few shots off that 99!