St Andrews has everything a man could possibly want? pubs, glorious sandy beaches, the odd golf course or two (dozen) and yet more pubs. It’s possibly the only place in the world where you can walk down the high street with a golf bag slung over your shoulder without feeling in the least bit self-conscious. People won’t stare and the few that bother to look up as you stroll past are almost certainly only interested in what clubs you’ve got.
Golf is the common language spoken here. Albeit in a variety of accents and with varying degrees of fluency, people are talking golf. In the pubs, restaurants, hotels, everywhere you go there are earnest discussions taking place about lob wedges, the Ryder Cup, slow play and how quickly Tiger Woods is losing his hair.
You need never be on your own in St Andrews. Comfortable amongst their own kind, singletons can confidently latch onto any likely-looking threeball whilst pairs frequently join other pairs in the certainty that they will be welcomed. Although you might well be asked your handicap, you will never be rebuffed.
Although comfortably clear of the rest of the field, the place is not simply content to rest on its centuries-old laurels and is keen to develop the “product” all the time. The most spectacular manifestation of this push for improvement is the new Castle Course just south of the town. Treated to a sneak preview, I can reveal, almost exclusively, that it’s fabulous. My only real concern is that the heavily contoured greens will prove extremely problematic for those of us less than confident with the short stick. It will open in June to rave reviews.
The Duke’s Course sits high above the auld grey toon and is undergoing reconstruction to give it a more authentic heathland feel. Much still remains to be done but what is emerging is undoubtedly considerably better than the course I played three or four years ago. The old-fashioned, rough-hewn bunkers are a particularly appealing feature of what is going to be a terrific test.
Another indisputably great heathland course is Ladybank. An Open qualifying venue and a real treat, it is a genuine championship challenge that oozes class and doesn’t have to try hard to impress. Although I didn’t play terribly well, I enjoyed the round enormously, which speaks volumes for its quality? and, of course, my admirable temperament.
Kingsbarns may not have the history of its more famous near neighbours but it certainly has the quality. Built along a stunning stretch of craggy coastline, this Kyle Philips design is quite simply breathtakingly beautiful. Purists may moan about the 300,000 cubic metres of earth that was shifted when it was built, but what is surely indisputable is that this man-made creation is a work of art.
The fact that it co-hosts the annual Dunhill Links Championship in conjunction with the Old Course and Carnoustie says much about its ability to live with the very best. Indeed, the exposure it has received on television has further enhanced its burgeoning reputation as one of the most magnificent courses in the world.
On a personal note, it was a thrill to play Kingsbarns alongside my fellow blogger, Fergus Bisset. Not only is he a magnificent 1-handicap golfer, but he’s also great company. Not wishing to place any strain whatsoever on our burgeoning relationship, I shall leave it entirely to him as to whether or not to disclose the result of our encounter.
Finally, I must urge you all to visit St Andrews at least once in your lifetime. And if you do, be sure to stay at a decent hotel; the magnificent Rusacks or else the simply splendid Scores. Both are brilliant and are as much part of the St Andrews’ magic as the Swilken Burn itself.