We watched the sunset over the ….
I lived in the UK for 30 years before making the move to Australia and this is my first trip to Scotland. Really poor form on my behalf but here we are and Castle Stuart is the first course we’re due to tackle in a busy itinerary. Weather forecast is shocking but we’re greeted by bright blue skies on arrival and the facility is spectacular. Caddymaster provides a warm welcome and we’re first to tee off for the day. Gorse is in full bloom and the Moray Firth a picture so to steal a line from the Golf Show – How Good is Golf!!
Before moving onto thoughts about the course, wanted to share one of the best deals I’ve come across. In the shoulder seasons (April and October), CS, Royal Dornoch and Nairn can be played for 340 quid a person. This includes two nights stay at either Kingsmill, Culloden House, the lodge at CS or the Golf Hotel at Dornoch. Facilities are great at each site and Outlander or Nessie enthusiasts have lots of activities to do bar the golf. This presents fantastic value considering the green fee is 170 at CS alone plus you avoid the numbers visiting in the summer.
2nd is a par five that snakes to the right and down to a green complex framed by beautiful views of the Firth. There is a steep downslope before the green and moguls to the left making for an interesting chip and run.
3rd is a short Par 4 again played into the distracting backdrop of the Firth and the Kessock Bridge to a slightly elevated green. Fairway is fairly wide which makes it tempting to have a go, I miscued my teeshot and ended up in the rough towards the 4th hole, certainly not a good spot to be.
4th is a gem of a Par 3 featuring views of Castle Stuart in the distance and trouble to the left.
Skies were starting to darken by this point but what a great photo this would be in the heart of summer. At this point we were hit by a brief snowstorm with temperatures plunging below 0. Luckily the Galvin Green’s were able to provide some protection, it was to get worse! The 5th and 6th holes are played back to back, some fearsome pot bunkers await to the right of the fairway on the 5th. The 6th is a longish Par 5 played into the wind again to the Kessock Bridge. Green site is small but boasts similar views to the 2nd and 3rd holes.
7th marks the turn back to the clubhouse which can be viewed in the distance and is a long Par 4. Wide fairway provides a good excuse to pull out the driver.
Following hole is a long Par 3 protected by deep rough. Pin was located right to the left of the green on the day so ideal shot was a low fade.
Opening nine concludes with a short Par 4 and a tricky tee shot. Best to exercise caution and hit the fairway to the right to open up the approach to the green. After some poor scoring, managed to the par this one to setup the back nine.
Snowstorm started again at the halfway house and the forecast wasn’t good, met some Americans with caddies who were about to tee off. Caddies certainly didn’t fancy going out. I asked one of them which direction the wind was and his reply was ‘you’re always hitting into the wind on this course!’. Sounded about right. After a hotdog and cessation of snow it was onto the back nine.
10th is another hole played along the Firth and a mid-length Par 4 surrounded by gorse, another beautiful hole. Green slants left to the Firth so ideal line from tee is centre left of fairway.
11th is a short Par 3 with green complex again right by the water, trouble all around and played into 3 club wind.
12th is the final hole which plays directly alongside the Firth and a long Par 5 especially into the wind on the day. The photos below don’t do the first three holes justice.
The trek to the 13th is uphill and a fair distance. Remaining holes are played from the most elevated part of the course. First of these is the 13thwhich requires a blind tee-shot to a sharpish dogleg left uphill pin position. These holes were reminiscent of Barnbougle in Tasmania. I think in general Barnbougle Dunes in particular feels similar to Castle Stuart. Green complex at the top is one of the highest spots of the course and again views are spectacular. Unfortunately also gave us a glimpse of the weather to come so we started hurrying. Check out the photo with the green caked in hail!
14, 15 and 16 are par 4s played along each other and in my opinion are probably the weakest of the course. Wind started really blowing on the SI 18 16th – 50-60km winds. I nailed a hybrid, the wind took it and ball only travelled 60 yards. The easiest hole on the course had become a nightmare.
The 17th was even harder, a par 3 exposed to a crosswind from the Firth. Dad somehow got the ball fairly close but the wind took my 5 iron and ball was buried in rough. I have a natural draw so hole was as hard as it gets for me. Would love to see a Pro play the hole in such conditions. A low punch shot is out of the question because of the copious clag in front of green.
Onto the last, a Par 5 played towards the clubhouse with the worst conditions I had experienced on a golf course. Wind chill was -3, winds already stated plus snow\hail. Got a drive away (with the wind) and punch shot to hit green in two. Came away with a par but thankful to be in the clubhouse. Passed the folks we spoke to earlier who decided to call it a day which I could understand. Golf was unplayable for the last three holes. We were due to play Nairn in the afternoon which was a concern and the forecast for Dornoch the day after was even worse. Suffice to say we got lucky on both counts there.
Changing rooms are located upstairs and provided welcome shelter from the raging weather outside.
So how good is Castle Stuart? Well very good. When I walked off I thought it was the best I’ve played. Its hard to compare say Kingston Heath with a Castle Stuart since the locations are at such opposite ends of the spectrum and CS or say NSW will always have an edge here so all you can do is enjoy what is in front of you. Even with such inclement weather, the golf was so much fun. Green complexes need to mature a bit and the walk to 14 kind of kills the momentum a bit but the golf over the two days in Inverness is the most fun I’ve had period. Check them out.
Favourite Hole – 10th
Hardest Hole – 16th (SI 18 but on the day would have been 1!! I jest)
The routing is interesting at CS, the first nine plays close to sea level to the left of the clubhouse. The second nine on higher ground to the right of the clubhouse meaning that wind becomes a bigger factor. The 1st hole is sandwiched between Gorse and the Moray Firth and played into heavy wind on the day. Fairway slopes towards the Firth so best line is the left of the fairway, predictably I hit right! Other than the NSW GC, this is the closest I’ve played to the water setting up a quintessential Scottish experience.