castle stuart - 18 POINTS
What does the man who built the best new course in Scotland for over hundred years do for a challenge? Tries to build a better one of course. The owner, Mark Parsinen, teamed up this time with architect Gil Hanse to build a simply magnificent golf course just east of Inverness.
The land they had to build it on was perfect. Running along the estuary with views over to the Black Isle, Castle Stuart takes the golf porn that is Kingsbarns and elevates it to another level. There are some features he has incorporated which are designed to entertain the eye all the way around - from the infinity greens to the natural bunkers the golf course looks just great.
It also looks great off pretty much every tee box. The philosophy they had when building the course was a good one - it should be playable for the average golfer but reward the better one more. As such the fairways are wide and generous and it isn't the kind of course which will intimidate the average golfer from the tee. No horrible carries and plenty of safe options. However, it's probably true to say that those taking the braver line will be rewarded with easier approach shots and scoring will be easier.
Castle Stuart has hosted the Scottish Open on three occasions, and it's fair to say the players didn't find it too tough but generally raved about the surroundings and the gentle warm up for the following week's Open on great turf. The only criticisms were it was maybe a little too straightforward for what is to come and courses like Royal Aberdeen or Gullane may make slightly sterner tests.
After you warm up on the fantastic range and huge putting green in front of the great Art Deco clubhouse it's a short walk to the first tee where you are greeted by a medium sized par 4 with the estuary on your right and a lovely fairway stretching out in front of you. I played it on consecutive days in simply atrocious conditions but still had a smile on my face on the tee.
The first three holes are along the water before moving up to the higher level for the rest of the front nine, still with great views of the water. For the back nine you drop back down to the estuary for holes 10, 11 and 12 before going back up to the higher level. It is fair to say that the front 9 is probably the stronger of the 2 but there are many great and beautiful holes on the back 9 too. There is a fantastic range of holes - from a driveable par 4 (shouldn't every course have one) and 130 yard par 3 to longer holes which will require all that you've got to get up this course will get the average golfer using every club in the bag.
I have one small criticism which may sound bizarre but I need to get it off my chest. The course guide we had supplied by the very friendly chap in the pro shop contained the most amount of utter guff I have ever come across in a yardage book ever! It was written by the most over the top, flowery prose with so much discussion about the owner's vision and dreams for every hole that it pretty much lost all semblance of reality! If that is your kind of thing there is a documentary about the creation of the course here.
Anyway, what a unnecessary criticism of what is a truly wonderful place.
For me, I think this just beats Kingsbarns. Maybe that's because when we played it didn't feel as over-run by tourists, the course had a more natural feel and the holes seemed to be more in keeping with the surroundings. Of course it is manufactured, they moved immense mounds of earth in creating the course, but they have created something very special that is immense fun for the average golfer.
BOOKING THE COURSE
Like all of these new courses set up for green fee play it is easy to get access to Castle Stuart any day of the week. The course is open from the end of March through to mid November. It's £140 a round in April and November rising to £190 from May to October. Look out however for good discounts if you play other courses in the area and book accommodation too. There are more details on the Royal Dornoch page and here
Castle Stuart is very close to both Inverness airport and the city centre so basing yourself in Inverness is a great option. Nairn is very close by as well so a 36 hole day with those two is very doable in the summer. If you are coming this far though do make sure you get up to Royal Dornoch as well. You could also combine this with a trip to all that Aberdeen has to offer but that is a good couple of hours drive away and there are so many great options both here and in the North East they would warrant separate trips. Again, have a look at the Royal Dornoch page for some inspiration in Inverness.
One other thing to consider is staying on-site at Castle Stuart. There are some good options and deals available on the site and looking over the 18th green