Mark Parsinen is often an over-looked figure in the recent renaissance of classic design harkening back to the heady days when Colt, Fowler, Park Jr, Mackenzie, Alison and Simpson held sway in nearly all architectural matters. No stranger to links, Parsinen was delighted in the brilliance of Dornoch as a visitor and later, member, for nearly 35 years. It should come as no surprise then that after successfully developing Kingsbarns, Parsinen would seek out another prominent golf project. The site, a rather awkward assemblage of farming fields over-looking Moray Firth, is not wholly unlike Dornoch in that it is split level. The views are arresting, but it would take a creative design to marry the various fields into a harmonious 18 holes. Step up Gil Hanse, co-designer and with courses such as Rustic Canyon and the Craighead Links under his belt he is no stranger to strategic or seaside design. See the video below for more information on the construction of Castle Stuart.https://vimeo.com/36066304
The ample width of fairways and fairly large greens surrounded by short grass make it clear Parsinen wanted to buck the recent trend in GB&I of visually attractive, yet overly demanding courses. Living on site for two and half years to ensure his design principles were successfully implemented, Parsinen was clearly determined. On hole after hole it is abundantly obvious the mantras of more than one route to the hole and golf being much more about recovery than perfection are incorporated into the design. I was expecting a monstrously wide course. To the contrary, I experienced a course which is well balanced in terms of width while offering plenty of opportunity for risky play.
With holes such as 2, 3 & 9 the front nine has to be considered among the finest in the British Isles. But first let us back up to #1. The tee shot is visually severe, but the fairway must be at least 50 yards wide with a bit of light rough which can be negotiated without too much difficulty.
The course really kicks into gear on the par 5 second. This is one of a handful of holes where there is a clear choice to be made off the tee. The higher left side of the fairway will open up the green, but playing to the south east, reaching this green in two will often be daunting task.
It may be wiser to play out left for the second and attack the green head-on.
Moguls await to the left and bunkers to the rear. On more than one occassion one will find bunkers in unlikely places near greens.
The third continues the brilliant golf with another clear choice off the tee...though the better approach is from the right. The bunker protecting this angle is well short of the green. The sub-300 yardage suggests the green is within reach, but playing in the same direction of the 2nd means the wind will more often than not be unfavourable.
It is often the case at Castle Stuart that while the fairways are wide, many greens are not terribly forgiving.
One of the real issues with raised greens is deciding where to cut-off the green. To my eye, this cut line visually disturbs the setting, especially with a wavey green edge. It would be better to put up with the maintenance headache and cut the bank at a less obvious height differential to the green.
More to follow.