Letter from St. Andrews: Is Eight Enough?

Earlier this year, the St. Andrews Links Trust announced that its No. 7 course, currently under construction on a clifftop two miles southeast of town, would be named the Castle, in recognition of the fact that a medieval stronghold had occupied the approximate site of the intended 9th and 18th greens.

The name was one of several hundred entries in a contest that elicited more than 4,000 responses from around the world. (Among the other, slightly more inventive suggestions were Fairway to Heaven, Dragon’s Lair, Sevinfauld, Ruggedoon, and the Back and Beyond.)

While the Castle surely is the most highly anticipated, it is far from the only major course on the Scottish horizon. Indeed, it may not even be the best of the new batch. In every corner of the country, high-profile designs are taking shape—and at least three will also have “castle” in their names!

Truth be told, the Castle’s own designer may quickly top himself on Scotland’s west coast. Barely had David McLay Kidd completed his routing and shaping at St. Andrews when he turned his talents to the Kintyre Peninsula and the creation of Machrihanish Dunes. Hard by the famed original Machrihanish but on even more spectacular terrain, the new links will have six greens and five tees on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. The developer, Australian Brian Keating, is also building 32 lodges and renovating one of the local hotels, in hopes of transforming this remote outpost into a major golf destination. The course is scheduled to open in the spring of next year.

Venerable Muirfield also is getting a new neighbor as the game’s hottest architect, Tom Doak, makes his U.K. debut with the Renaissance Club, literally a stone’s throw from the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. The course will be a hybrid, its opening and closing holes winding through stands of tall trees with the middle stretch opening onto linksland with commanding views of the Firth of Forth. Several ancient stone walls will add to both the character and challenge.

American Jerry Savardi heads a consortium of owners whose goal is to produce the premier private club in Scotland, with most of the members coming from overseas. The initial memberships went for  $50,000 but already have risen to $75,000. As at Muirfield, a few tee times each week will be set aside for visitors, with play set to begin next spring.Speaking of ultra-private clubs, Scotland’s most exclusive enclave, Loch Lomond, has had plans for a second course, by Jack Nicklaus, for over a decade. Thus far, however, no dirt has been moved, as approvals remain pending. But just a mile or so down the bonnie banks, a course has taken shape at the De Vere Cameron House hotel. Named the Carrick after its Canadian designer, Doug Carrick, it is a testing and scenic heathland layout with plenty of twists and turns, ups and downs. It opened only last month but will host the Ladies Scottish Open in September.

Meanwhile, Nicklaus has busied himself in Ayrshire, where Ritz-Carlton has gutted the derelict Dalquharran Castle, about five miles inland from Turnberry, and is converting it into an upscale 130-room golf resort, with Jack’s course meandering around it. It’s due to be unveiled next year.

Also in Ayrshire but farther north in Fenwick, just 20 minutes south of Glasgow, another fortress facelift is ongoing at Rowallan Castle, a baronial estate dating back to the 13th century. Colin Montgomerie’s first course in his native Scotland—a rolling, tree-clad parkland layout—will be accompanied by a 62-room country house hotel and spa. The developers hope to draw a mostly local membership while leaving the course open for daily play by visitors, beginning next summer.

Up north, just five minutes from Inverness Airport, Kingsbarns creator Mark Parsinen is well on his way to producing another show stopper. His Castle Stuart will unfurl majestically along the east bank of the Moray Firth. The five-year plan calls for a boutique hotel and spa, 148 “resort ownership lodges” and a second seaside course. But the Castle Stuart Golf Links will have a soft opening much sooner, in the fall of 2008, with full-time play beginning the following spring.

Finally, there is another course taking shape in St. Andrews. Contiguous to the recently remodeled Duke’s course, on a hillside overlooking the town, Loch Lomond designer Tom Weiskopf is building a course for Tim Blixseth, the billionaire developer of Yellowstone Club World, a network of playgrounds for the super rich from Palm Springs to Paris, Montana to Mexico.

Blixseth’s aim is to have 10 such properties in place by the end of the decade, with membership in all 10 going for $3 million plus $75,000 in annual dues. (One wonders what Old Tom Morris would have said.) Ground has been broken on the St. Andrews course, which is scheduled for a 2008 opening—but don’t expect to just waltz onto that one.

So there you are: No. 7 plus seven more. The Castle and three other castles—all set to enhance the firmament of Scottish golf. And I haven’t even mentioned Donald Trump. Yet.