There can be no doubt that Kingsbarns Golf Links is one of the top courses in the UK and the world. The hospitality is amazing and the course is great but the feeling is a lack of authenticity.
According to golf historian Bobby Burnet, golf at Kingsbarns dates back to 1793. A nine-hole golf course once played over part of the current layout. The “nine-holer” was commandeered by the military at the outbreak of the Second World War because they felt that the beach at Kingsbarns was an invasion risk. The golf course disappeared until American architect Kyle Phillips came along at the close of the 20th century.
The opening is a gentle one, a lovely wide fairway and inviting green on a relatively short par 4 (rescue and 9 iron should do the job) and then you are off. The first 4 holes are probably the least spectacular on the course as they wind their way between large dunes but by the time you get to the 5th tee you can see the rest of the course laid out before you and it really is a great feeling knowing that you have all those holes waiting.
The most difficult hole is certainly the 7th. Lang Wynd is a strong par 4 often playing into the wind. Aim up the right side and the slope will bring the ball back into the centre of the fairway. Longer hitters pay attention to the run out off the tee.
The best stretch of holes comes after the turn. Following eleven– a nearly unprecedented links hole that plays into trees– the next four cavort across a peninsula created by a fast-running burn flowing into the sea. Number twelve presents an epic 606-yard par five that curls around the ocean to a green 72 yards deep and set tightly beside the water. Thirteen plays in a natural stone-walled canyon– come on, a stone-walled canyon on a links course! Fourteen offers a short respite on a high ridge above the water, and fifteen, a par three over the ocean, captivates with a combination of beauty and danger.
Kingsbarns closes with what sounds like Morse code for an ecstatic climax: long, long, long. Sixteen’s 565 yards include revetted bunkering and a sneaky burn behind the green. Seventeen unfurls to 474 yards that will be difficult to gobble in two bites with less than a perfect tee shot. Eighteen concludes with an aerial golf ball crossing of another hidden burn and a terrestrial walk over the exhumed stone bridge from Napoleon’s day to a green that seems to float among tall grasses.
Forget your links courses like St Andrews and Muirfield where you barely see the sea, Kingsbarns ensures that you get a great view of the water from pretty much every hole and that definitely contributes to the sheer exhilaration you feel when playing. It really isn’t the hardest course in the world and that’s great, it means you can enjoy the whole package without sweating a la Carnoustie over every shot.
Note that the course is closed in the winter but you can get the reduced green fee in April.