Castle Stuart Golf Links
Inverness, Scotland, United Kingdom

Sixth hole, 560/520 yards; Straightaway, each shot gets progressively tougher with the screws applied at the green where some of the most vertical bunkers on the course chew into either side. While the professionals have fared well with this hole at three Scottish Opens held here, it needs to be noted that the wind only blew for two of the eleven rounds. The author looks forward to the return of the Scottish Open here in 2016 – and for some windier conditions when holes like this take on an entirely different character.

Stylistically, the design team decided that bunkers surrounded by short grass would present clean, crisp hazards, like this one 50 yards from the front of the sixth green.

Stylistically, the design team decided that bunkers surrounded by short grass would present clean, crisp hazards, like this one 50 yards from the front of the sixth green.

Yikes! There’s peril both sides of this 42 yard deep green. Left isn't great ...

Yikes! There’s peril both sides of this 42 yard deep green. Left isn’t great …

… and right is worse! You may get near the green in two blows but securing birdie is far from given.


Seventh hole, 460/450 yards;
The mark of any great design is how often the golfer must play it to appreciate its subtlety. If he can do so the first time, then the course assuredly lacks enduring merit. The longer the learning curve, the better because a golfer approaches each round with a new eagerness. So it is with this hole where the natural tendency is to shy away from the fierce drop-off and hazards left only to realize how approach shots played from the right side of the fairway are shunted away by broken ground in front of the green.

The seventh fairway swings around this fierce hazard. A fine view of the green and the ideal approach angle is afforded only those who position their tee ball near it.

Eighth hole, 220/210 yards; Surely the set of one-shotters here deserve mention among the best in the world. The uphill fourth, the sunken green here at the base of a hill, the downhill eleventh against the firth and the ground-hugging long seventeenth provide variety beyond reproach. On the November day that the picture below was taken, the hole played downwind, requiring a shot to land some thirty yards short of the putting surface. The tee ball went up and over the mound before the flag, out-of-sight … wait … and re-emerged on the far bank, before falling backwards toward the hole. The exact fate of the tee shot was unknown for most of the tee-to-green walk. That anticipation made the exactitude of American golf pale in comparison.

Parsinen and Hanse didn't have to build a sunken green. Thank goodness they did.

Parsinen and Hanse didn’t have to build a sunken green. Thank goodness they did.

The nest of bunkers left of the eighth green is one of the most attractive hazards on the course. Narrow and odd shaped, neither a backswing nor follow-through is guaranteed. Given that the green is open, no golfer should ever find himself here.

The nest of bunkers left of the eighth green is one of the most attractive hazards on the course. Narrow and odd shaped, neither a backswing nor follow-through is guaranteed. Given that the green is open, no golfer should ever find himself here.

Ninth hole, 365/350 yards; Intermediate holes need to have punch or the good player relentlessly exploits them. Water is the obvious but boring crutch that this design team mercifully eschewed. Instead, a two-tiered fairway and a wicked false front create the tension. The fairway appears ample but its right third is well below the putting surface. A subtle front right knob that slopes left makes approaches played from the right problematic. The sight of an under-struck ball that hits on the putting surface only to be whisked backwards into the short front bunker is demoralizing. Once seen, the player readily cedes this hole the respect it deserves because no one, absolutely no one, likes a 40-50 yard bunker shot. All told, the ninth is another example of how a hole with width can still demand precision.

The ninth green is the smallest target on the course, and it plays even smaller thanks to its dramatic false front.

Tenth hole, 405/360 yards; Golfers yearn to return to golf alongside a body of water. That’s true here but the merits of the last several high plateau holes are such that the author finds the return to be more pleasant than necessary. As the right handed golfer shies away from the firth with his tee ball, several design features conspire against him. His angle of approach worsens, the ball hangs above his stance promoting a pull, and the high right side of the green does all it can to shove balls hard left.

The well-situated tenth, eleventh and twelfth holes are certainly an enticing way to commence the inward nine.

The golfer’s tee ball curled past the well-positioned pot bunker some 90 yards from the middle of the green. He still faces a difficult angle.

This ground picture highlights the pronounced but graceful green contours that divide the green into upper right and lower left sections.

This ground picture highlights the pronounced but graceful green contours that divide the green into upper right and lower left sections.

An overhead view provides a different - and illuminating - perspective of the spine that bisects the tenth green.

An overhead view provides a different – and illuminating – perspective of the spine that bisects the tenth green.

Eleventh hole, 145/130 yards; Examining a series of scenarios is the best way to understand the care that was taken to create flexibility within this design. On this hole, forward hole locations are worrisome as the green is narrow in front and the steep revetted bunker doesn’t portend an up and down. Nonetheless, the tiger grinds away in expectation of a birdie, given the hole’s modest length.  Should the lesser player’s tee ball peel right with the prevailing wind and end up on the tight fescue right of the green, he does well to avail himself of the tightly mown mound, which can now serve as a backboard behind the hole. Lots and lots of ways to use it for working a recovery shot if you keep your wits. Such features are laced around the course and the shots they inspire are slowly revealed to the golfer over a series of rounds. The important thing is that they exist – and that makes the course a delight to understand.

As seen from the tee, there is a lot more going on at the beguiling eleventh than most golfers first discern.

As seen from the tee, there is a lot more going on at the beguiling eleventh than most golfers first discern.

This aerial view captures the angle of the green hard against the shoreline. A slight pull is no friend to the right handed player.

One type of recovery shot is demanded from the front left revetted bunker.

One type of recovery shot is demanded from the front left revetted bunker.

An entirely different play can be made from the short grass right of the green, especially if used in concert with the mound left of the flag.

An entirely different play can be made from the short grass right of the green, especially if used in concert with the mound left of the flag.

Thirteenth hole, 440/415 yards; This was an important hole to get right. The golfer has just played the long uphill par 5, no one’s favorite hole, and he now climbs further uphill. To justify the trek the golf needs to be inspiring – and it is. The drive over the steepest valley on the course is pleasant enough but the approach is the real surprise. Defying convention, the golfer turns his back to the water on the tee and then surprisingly reacquaints himself with it and the Kessock Bridge at the green. Unsentimental old troopers who are more impressed by ground playing features in front than by distant views will be mightily impressed by the little ripples in the fairway and especially the field of crumpled ground near the green. Haspell details how those exquisite contours came to be:

Simple really, we would visit other links courses, play golf even just go for a walk, get the picture in our minds of the random nature that is rumple then we would shape with different width knuckle buckets on 2, 7 or 13 tonne 360 machines. You cannot do it with a dozer, it just does not work the same. We tried but it did not work as well, our method gave the difference in scale. Jim Wagner and I did most of it and I think it helps that two different people do it as nothing gets repeated. It certainly takes a while to mimic nature but I hope we got away with it. Some of my friends in the industry joke that we spent more time shaping fairways and even some roughs to get the aged effect than most people spend on greens and surrounds, all of which were finished by hand to produce the desired result.

Though bunkerless, the crumpled thirteenth green complex confounds.

Are these landforms not gorgeous?! All the lessons learned at Kingsbarns coupled with the talents of Hanse and Wagner were brought to bear at Castle Stuart.

Something for everyone – stunning long views matched with humpy-bumpy golf.

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