‘From my first visit to the site I could see the potential for a great course.’ Kyle Phillips
Opening in 2000 to unprecedented levels of international acclaim, Kingsbarns is a remarkable links achievement that stretches along one and a half miles of Fife coastline just outside St Andrews. Covered in a sublime dunescape and with outlooks across the North Sea from every hole, the site appears ideal for golf, yet the virgin land here was devoid of any natural feature, clay based and mostly unsuitable for the game.
Golf on this particular property actually dates back as far as the 1790’s when the Kingsbarns Golfing Society was formed, though the land had been used as agricultural ground ever since the Second World War. When American designer Kyle Phillips first saw the property during the 1990’s he immediately recognized its potential, and dreamed of converting the flat site into a big dune links complete with high hills, rolling fairways and constant sea views. His concept was sold to Californian developer Mark Parsinen, who helped finance a project that required a considerable amount of earth moving to complete.
The key to making the Phillips vision effective was building a realistic dune system. Drawing upon previous experiences in the field and extensive studies in terrain analysis, he first created an immense artificial landscape and then spent weeks roughing up the hills to make them look natural. The result is the most authentic looking set of dunes constructed for golf, with a series of attractive parallel ridges built along the thin strip of coastal land and the fairways then cut into staggered sand shelves to ensure panoramic and uninterrupted views of the water. Complimenting the gorgeous playing corridors are highly contoured target areas that are generally angled to offer the bold driver a range of approach shot options.
The round begins with a terrific starter that tumbles toward the sea and immediately introduces golfers to the views and the layout’s classic links characteristics. The rest of the journey is rock-solid with great design variety and a routing full of visually appealing holes that are exciting to play. The best stretch of golf comes through the middle of the round, with the short par four 6th a particular favorite. Its green is simple and open for golfers able to drive onto the narrow right shelf, but blind and treacherous for those bailing down the safer left side. Also excellent are short holes at 2 and 13 and the dramatic par five 12th that sweeps around the shoreline. The closing stretch, from the beachside par three 15th, is especially strong and ends with a fine par four that demands a bold approach across a burn into its steeply tilted green.
Kingsbarns was a massive opportunity for Kyle Phillips and came shortly after he left Robert Trent Jones Jr to start his own design business. Although he did an exceptional job, in many ways the links is a triumph of vision and construction rather than design, with the experience more about the authenticity of its appearance than a large number of standout moments. There is no denying that Kingsbarns is scenic, challenging, well built and kept in super condition, were there just a couple more outstanding golf holes, however, it would unquestionably rank among Scotland’s finest few.