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Fairmont – Kittocks Course

Designer: Gene Sarazen, Bruce Devlin, Denis Griffiths
Championship Length: 7192 yards
PAR: 72
Type: Cliff-top
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Who this course is best for:

A golfer who wants to play a newer links course near St Andrews, and needs to use a golf cart. Also ideal for those staying at the Fairmont Hotel.

Overview:

Any pilgrimage to St Andrews must include strolling the streets from one end of the old town to the other. The shop and tavern-lined streets converge at two key points: the cathedral grounds on one end and the first tee/18th green of St Andrews’s Old Course at the other.

At one end of town, Old Tom Morris and his son, Young Tommy, are buried within cathedral ruins dating back to the 1100′s. The Morrises dominated the British Open in its first dozen years, each winning four times. Old Tom survived his son and was a fixture at the Old Course until his death in 1908. His granddaughter has an apartment overlooking the 18th green.

In the face of so much history, it took a daunting soul to build new golf courses (designed by Americans, yet) and an American-style resort within sight of the old town’s skyline. Entrepreneur Dr. Donald Panoz (founder of the luxury Chateau Elan resort group based in Atlanta, Georgia) bought 540 oceanfront acres three miles up the coast from St Andrews, and built the $80 million, 209-room St Andrews Bay Resort, spa and two golf courses. The Fairmont Company bought the resort in 2006 and renamed it.

Golf was the driving force behind the creation of the resort, and a dream come true for Panoz and his friend, the late Gene Sarazen, who saw the setting “and knew we had something special,” says Panoz. With Sarazen as a consultant, both courses were built by the U.S. firm of Denis Griffiths and Associates, who worked with designer Sam Torrance (2002 European Ryder Cup captain) on the Torrance Course in 2001, and Aussie designer Bruce Devlin on the Devlin Course in 2002.

At the heart of the two courses is a $3.5 million clubhouse with a balcony facing the sea. Off to the west is the skyline of St Andrews. Across the bay is the lighthouse of the Carnoustie Golf Course. To the east is the 17th green of the Devlin Course, under which lies the remains of a 500 A.D. fort where Roman sentinels once watched for invaders from the sea.

Head golf pro John Kerr believes the two courses will become as famous in time as the area’s historic tracks. “With the designers involved and the setting, they’re great courses,” he says. “There aren’t many courses with a better view, and they’re challenging. The first pro-am we had on the Devlin, the scores from the white tees (not the back tees) ranged from 70 to 83. On the Devlin, there are places you have to put the ball up in the air and fly the greens or you’ll lose a ball in the thick rough.

“The Torrance is more traditional,” he says. “You can bounce the ball into the greens. With the wind waving the tall yellow fescue, the Torrance rough is intimidating, but you can walk in and find your ball. It may grab your club getting out of it, but at least you can find it.”

Both courses are checkered with ancient stone walls, and stone bridges span the burn (creek) running through the Torrance. On the cliff-side perimeter, stone walls are overrun by flowering yellow gorse and broom, white quince, red campion, and tiny, delicate bluebells clinging to the precipice above the ocean.

Bussed almost constantly by winds, the Devlin is home to high rough and devilish bunkers. The oversized greens, some serving two holes, look inviting but are subtly sculpted. The track follows rolling high ground around duck ponds, stone walls and copses of trees, then loops back to the cliffs, where the greens become optical illusions suspended against sea and sky, and confound club selection.

The finishing holes are superb. 17, a long par-4 hole, is a blind shot over the crest of a hill. The fairway falls away to the right, 175 yards downhill to the seaside green. Go long on your first shot and you’re in bunkers beyond the dogleg; fall short and you have to skirt the precipitous ravine called Kittocks Den. 18 is a well-guarded par 3 with a backdrop of St Andrews and the beach.

From the hotel, the Torrance looks like a sea of rippling brown grass-seamed here and there with stone walls. A traditional, walking only course, it becomes more impressive with every hole, unfolding with the character and forethought of a lovingly crafted quilt.

Though it looks as if it has been here 100 years, two things about the Torrance are unusual. Most links courses are deprived of sea views by a range of dunes. On the Torrance (and Devlin), the sea is visible from most holes. Secondly, few older courses loop back to the clubhouse on the ninth hole as these tracks do – a convenience most Americans expect.

Chief greenskeeper Neil Ballingall is a pleasant fellow who is attentive to detail, as the condition of the course shows. His greens are fast and true, and the sand in his bunkers is precisely the right grain size (fine sand will blow out).

Scottish fairways are typically seeded in fescue and bentgrass, but the mix on the Torrance incorporates a bit of rye, says Ballingall. “It’s a conference hotel (with the largest hotel-based conference facilities in Scotland), so the rye makes the ball sit up for people who play infrequently. Yet the pros like it too, because they get the reaction they want from the ball.”

There are no dull holes on the Torrance, but the back nine has the most spectacular ocean holes. At 14, a short par 4, the track drops to a pretty seaside green by way of a split fairway lined with a rock wall overrun with flowering bushes. The floral show extends along the next hole, a 183-yard par 3 where the wind calls the shots. The top-handicapped 17th hole is a par 4 with a brush-filled gorge and rock wall intruding on the fairway. Depending on the wind, it can be a long shot over the wall to the green. 18 is a long uphill par 5 that breaks sharply left on the third shot to a seaside green.

Heading home late in the day on either track, the setting sun casts a golden glow over the courses, and it’s easy to pretend they’ve occupied this precious bit of land forever.

Course review content courtesy of Golf Publisher Syndication

 

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