Castle Stuart Golf Links
Inverness, Scotland, United Kingdom

Fourteenth hole, 385/360 yards; Devious and difficult, the golf simply must be played down the left side of the fairway. Sneakily, a mound off the tee obscures how generously the fairway extends to that side. Far too many golfers inadvertently head down the middle or right side of the fairway and find themselves confounded by an oblique approach into the long, narrow green that slopes away. Parsinen’s article in the February, 2014 Executive Golfer ‘Can a Straightaway 386 yard par 4, with a 50 Yard Wide Fairway and Only One Small Bunker in Play Be Worthy of Interest?’ says it all. Only those who haven’t played it consider it a birdie hole!

As seen from behind, the angle of the green to the fairway and the ‘s’ drop in the front to back sloped green conspire to give all players fits.

Fifteenth hole, 420/ 410 yards;
A handful of professional golfers that played in the Scottish Opens here sniffed that the course is a bomber’s paradise because the fairways are so wide. The ignorance of their comments is bemusing. At Castle Stuart, we see only intelligent width, that which affords an advantage by playing to certain sections of the fairway. Castle Stuart was designed with options in mind and the savvy golfer exploits the width to benefit his approach. The author applauds 2013 Scottish Open winner Phil Michelson who opined that every golf architect should come here to understand how courses should be built.

An approach shot played from the right must carry the fierce embankment 80 yards short of the green. Meanwhile, approach shots played from the left ...

An approach shot played from the right must carry the fierce embankment 80 yards short of the green. Meanwhile, approach shots played from the left …

… offer a more enticing prospect. This is yet another example of how a 50 yard wide fairway is cut in half in terms of an optimal hitting area.

Sixteenth hole, 335/325 yards; A supreme example of ‘less is more’ architecture, the golfer stands on the tee and sees nothing but acres of friendly short grass in front of him. With no apparent trouble, the golfer is wooed onward, having a slash at the green. Then … issues! Driving too close to the green as well as driving over it lead to all sorts of squirrelly positions. The fact that the domed, angled green is the highest, most exposed point on the property portends difficulty in controlling one’s ball in a normal two club wind. Perhaps the sweeping views from the green will provide solace because nothing else will. Over time the golfer will learn a variety of the ways to deal with this testy, tiny terror, including restraint from the tee.

The sixteenth fairway is disturbingly wide. At 90 yards, it’s the widest on the course.

The oft-visited bowl front left and the heavily trafficked two rear right bunkers instill ample defense to this angled green.

Note how the fairway feeds only into the front right portion of the green.

Note how the fairway feeds only into the front right portion of the green.

Seventeenth hole, 225/210 yards; Many designers talk about ground game options but few deliver and even fewer actually do so meaningfully. For instance, providing a sidekick just left of a green is nice but usually the golfer can just as easily aim for the middle of the green. Here, the architects massaged the land twenty yards short of the putting surface to wonderfully expand the range of shots available.  This is especially apropos at a windy site. Watching a ball catch the subtle left to right slope and feed onto the green is one of the most rewarding shots at Castle Stuart. Such slow developing scenes are a delightful reminder that golf is most enjoyed along the ground.

In any wind, the seventeenth plays as good as it looks.

Eighteenth hole, 595/510 yards; This hole joins the Home holes at the Plantation Course at Kapalua and Cabot Cliffs as the author’s three favorite finishing holes built since World War II. All are three-shotters that promote a huge range of outcomes thanks to their topography and shrewd design. All three possess in spades a sense of excitement and the joy of being alive that comes from playing downhill amid stirring panoramic vistas. This hole perfectly encapsulates Parsinen’s goal of golf that promotes ‘an expansive mindset’; the views each step of the way fill every golfer with hope. The golf is excellent and the land is such that the tiger can continually seek an advantage. Perhaps he can use the fairway contours to propel his ball forward until it reaches a flat spot from where he can go for the green in two? The rest of us tack our way down, and if we stumble, there generally exists the ability for recovery and redemption as enunciated by Parsinen in the yardage book.

Be it stroke or match play, the stage is set for high drama.

The morning sun accentuates the fairway contours that were coaxed out of the ground during construction.

The morning sun accentuates the fairway contours that were coaxed out of the ground during construction.

Note the depression along the left side of the green that complicates matters for those who approach from that side.

Few better places exist for shaking hands after a well-fought tussle than the rolling Home green at Castle Stuart.

We have gone too long without commenting on the distinctive art deco inspired clubhouse, a style born during the Golden Age of golf course architecture. Initially polarizing à la Royal Birkdale’s clubhouse that broke new ground from the traditional, boxed slate roofed building, this unique structure on the Scottish landscape has turned doubters into admirers in a few short years. Its interior is expertly laid out for efficiency and the floor to ceiling glass enables spectacular views from the semi-circular lounge. The professional shop is perfectly positioned so that visiting golfers are promptly greeted and so that the practice area can be monitored. To the author, the clubhouse’s singular style is the perfect fit for such an original course design.

Given that land easily accessed that is also ideal for golf is almost impossible to come by, Castle Stuart provides hope that vision, brainpower, and in-the-dirt talent will yield courses that can compete with the best. Of course, some travelers to the United Kingdom desire to play only courses designed by architects long dead. Such a simplistic approach has served golfers well but now it’s a serious mistake. For width, strategy and enjoyment, the author puts Castle Stuart on par with Royal Dornoch a little farther north – you wouldn’t dream of skipping that course, would you?

Here is the entrance drive to both the Castle Stuart cottage as well as the castle itself.

No need to wonder about the source of the course’s emblem!


The End