By Anita Draycott
An irresistible invitation to attend the 2013 Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at the Castle Stuart Golf Links and play some of Scotland’s greatest courses had me packing my clubs with great enthusiasm last July. I must confess that my idea of heaven is hitting true seaside links by day and enjoying a wee dram and genuine Scottish hospitality in a snug pub or castle by night.
The Inverness area in the Scottish Highlands, I soon discovered, is full of fabled links, including Royal Dornoch, The Carnegie Club, Boat of Garten and Nairn—all brilliant and worth the trip to Scotland. However, my greatest thrill on this trip was the opportunity to play the Castle Stuart Golf Links the very Monday after Phil Mickelson won the 2013 Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open. After watching the pros, playing this course under competition conditions was both humbling and exhilarating.
Castle Stuart, a co-design by Gil Hanse and Mark Parsinen, opened in 2009. Praise for its grand debut came from Golf Magazine whose editors rated it number 56 in the Top 100 Courses in the World List also in 2009. The property on which it sits has a regal and rich history. Mary Queen of Scots gave the land to her half-brother, James Stuart in 1561. The castle still stands and belongs to the Stuart family who offers five-star accommodations in eight lovely bedrooms. Groups may also rent the entire castle.
Golfers will spot the castle with its unique crowning open spire (the logo of the golf course) from the fourth hole. Many fairways run along the Moray Firth, thus providing exhilarating briny sea breezes.
Distinctive features of Castle Stuart design include rumpled fairways that can cause your ball to bounce and roll in all manner of directions; infinity-edged greens that afford splendid views of local landmarks such as the Kessock Bridge, Chaonry Lighthouse, Fort George (home of military’s elite Black Watch) and Castle Stuart; a natural landscape mosaic of swaying marram grass, gorse, heather and broom. Perhaps the most striking feature of the course is that it follows the doctrine of Alistair MacKenzie whose seminal book on golf architecture stipulated that the best courses must be pleasurable to all players. And even though it was humbling to play in the footsteps of Phil Mickleson and the other pros in the Scottish Open, Castle Stuart’s beauty and fairness proved to be an exceedingly enjoyable test of golf. Even a high handicapper like myself managed to score a few pars. As the yardage book says, ”The course is more about interesting and manageable issues than difficulty for the sake of being difficult. It is about hope and redemption.” Touché.