Kingsbarns has been one of the most widely praised golf courses to be built in the last 50 years. This was considered the first great golf course to be built in Scotland since the Mackenzie Ross reconstruction of Turnberry. The course was a project that Kyle Phillips had looked to get built for quite a few years before finally linking up with Mark Parsinen. What Kyle had to begin with was a spectacular setting that sloped quite severely toward the ocean. It was not ideal for a lay of the land course but would be exceptional with lots of earthmoving. Instead of trying to route around some very difficult cross-slope Kyle and Mark simply shaped the entire site to bench a series of holes, which also means that every hole looks easily out towards the ocean. Why Kingsbarns works is because of the shaping. Where this could have been a very American style “faux links” golf course, it was not. Faux links usually feature repetitive looking with shaping but Kyle and Mark went to great pains to emulate the land found on the existing dunes courses, including using a dune expert. The shaping here is a model for all projects and may be some of the best ever on a course built with almost no natural contours.
The cool part about the shaping was that Kyle and Mark built literally 1000’s or irregular shapes including scars, ridges, straight lines, sharp slopes, sloughed faces, and small scale rumples until the whole site looked as if it existing like that in the first place. Even the land immediately in front of the 6th tees featured rumples a few small gorse bushes to providing a very “natural” appearance. It still looks shaped at times, but at other times the work is so good that you wouldn’t know. The best way I can describe the work is there was almost no detail missed no matter how seemly insignificant. That definitely teaches any golf architect is that once again it is the level of detail and the level of commitment to finishing everything off properly that is the difference between a great course and one that is worthy of discussion among the world’s best. This seems also to be further proof that the commitment and interest of the owner is very important to ensuring that everything is done well
Kingsbarns reinforces my belief about having an opening vision on what you want to build. If you want to build a links then you must spend the time observing and learning what a dune line is supposed to look like. You need to understand the irregularities of links land and the small features that also come with the much larger features. You need to be able to think through what erosion and rehabilitation look like. You also have to understand the hole concepts and style found on a links and not resort to more standard American style ideas, like raising all the greens. My favourite work at Kingsbarns was the many greens that come in on grade or others that fall with grade. Rather than having the greens always pitch from the traditional back to front he mixed up the variety which held far more interest. I think one of our biggest failings in North American golf architecture is not building enough greens that are extensions of the fairway. That is one of the ideas that I will certainly bring to my first solo course. This style of green play encourages the option between using the ground or flying it in, the traditional North America style green site almost always requires a ball in the air.
Does Kingsbarns deserve the praise and world attention it gets? Yes, they were able to create a modern course from scratch that appears like a links course. Considering what they started with, this is a testament to some very talented people and a fantastic imagination. It is one of the best four or five modern courses I have seen.