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Crossing Scotland, Day 7 - Home of the Scottish Open
An exciting new addition to the repertoire of Scottish links golf courses is Castle Stuart, site of the July Scottish Open. In fact, take a look at it when the Golf Channel brings us Euro golf. It is the week before the British Open and a perfect warm-up for the year's third major.
Castle Stuart's 2nd Hole
The day we were there Paul Lawrie, the Scot and improbable Open winner at Carnoustie in 1999, teed off a few hours before we did. There is not much not to like about Castle Stuart. As one Scot who should know told us, Castle Stuart is Kingsbarns without the mistakes.
It reminded us of Bandon Dunes. Here was a successful replication of the old links courses. Indeed, at the same time showing some improvements on them.
Designer Gil Hanse, based in Pennsylvania, has said that he sought drama on a course that engaged players of all levels. Give him an "A" for that.
The course is the privy of Scot Mark Parsinen, who some time ago developed Kingsbarns - a wonderful modern links course near St. Andrews - only to sell it and look for another, and more exciting, piece of property.
The 3rd Hole along the Beach
He found farmland running abruptly into the Moray Firth near Inverness. It was farmland on one side of a ridge and a strip of land below it right on the beach. With a clever design, Hanse takes us along the beach for six holes - three on the front and three on the back - and then works over the ridge and into the farmland for the other dozen.
Fairways are wide as they should be on a wind-blown course, and forced carried are at a minimum. The course is difficult enough as the pre-Open competitors will find out. But it's also very playable for the rest of us, or the "Retail Golfers" as Mike Keiser, the Bandon owner, calls us.
In some ways, it was the course that pushed Hanse into the forefront of American designers. A protégé of Tom Doak, Hanse first did the Craighead course at Crail, just south of St. Andrews.
Parsinen knew something good when he saw Craighead, picking Hanse for Castle Stuart before the Olympic folks in Brazil did, and before Keiser did in naming him the architect of the so-called "Bandon Muni" south of town that awaits state and county approval.
Castle Stuart isn't a private club the way most of the Scottish courses you will play. The parking lot looks and feels like one at Bandon Dunes, with players coming in from all over.
The daily fee rate is $150; it isn't cheap, but the course is in great condition - "best in the U.K.," said the starter. Not bad for being only four years old.
All in all, it's a wonderful experience, lacking, surely, some of the quirks and tales of original links golf. But with so many views and so many interesting hole and shots, Castle Stuart affords a chance to take them all in.
Blaine Newnham has covered golf for 50 years. He still cherishes the memory of following Ben Hogan for 18 holes during the first round of the 1966 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. He worked then for the Oakland Tribune, where he covered the Oakland Raiders during the first three seasons of head coach John Madden. Blaine moved on to Eugene, Ore., in 1971 as sports editor and columnist, covering the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. He covered five Olympics all together - Mexico City, Munich, Los Angeles, Seoul, and Athens - before retiring in early 2005 from the Seattle Times. He covered his first Masters in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman, and his last in 2005 when Tiger Woods chip dramatically teetered on the lip at No. 16 and rolled in. He saw Woods' four straight major wins in 2000 and 2001, and Payne Stewart's par putt to win the U.S. Open at Pinehurst. In 2005, Blaine received the Northwest Golf Media Association's Distinguished Service Award. He and his wife, Joanna, live in Indianola, Wash., where the Dungeness crabs outnumber the people.