The internationally-acclaimed Castle Stuart Golf Links has been named by a prestigious golfmagazine as one of the Top 10 courses in Scotland for the first time - in just its eighth full season.
Golf World says the course overlooking the Moray Firth is in a superb location and “aesthetically pleasing”. It puts the course at No 9 in the list, up four places on last year.
Castle Stuart has had a rapid rise to fame since opening in 2009. It hosted its first Scottish Open within 18 months and has staged the European Tour event on another three occasions since, including last year when Alex Noren triumphed.
Designed by Mark Parsinen and Gil Hanse, the course presents a memorable seascape, using infinity greens to showcase local landmarks such as the Kessock Bridge, Chanonry Lighthouse, Fort George and Ben Wyvis.
It is regarded as a model for modern golf course architecture, being fun, engaging and playable for every-day players of all abilities, but also a challenge for the very best.
This philosophy is increasingly gaining support among course designers, players and decision-makers as efforts are made to make golf more enjoyable, increase participation and speed up play.
Stuart McColm, Castle Stuart’s general manager, said: “This is a great achievement for Castle Stuart and a significant milestone in our short but eventful history.
“Being named as one of Scotland’s Top 10 courses is a huge honour and a tribute to the way we have built and developed the course in line with contemporary thinking on course design.
“When we were creating Castle Stuart, we centred in on fun, enjoyment, playability, beauty and engagement, whilst still making it challenging rather than difficult for the sake of being difficult and golfers losing a dozen golf balls per round.”
Stuart McColm said that course architects had a responsibility to help grow the game and have strike a balance between testing the top players and making the course enjoyable and playable for the rest.
He added: “The way we have tried to achieve that here at Castle Stuart has been to widen fairways, but offset the axes of the greens and place bunkers asymmetrically to promote certain angles of attack. It means if you are not in the right spot you are in recovery mode, but typically from the fairway rather than knee-length rough or deep bunkers
“We also set greens to have infinity edges to showcase landmarks to create interest and beauty in one’s shot-making efforts. We omitted carries of deep rough and minimised bunkers in a bid to help the enjoyment for the mid-handicapper, as well as reducing the time it takes to play a round.
“We put the destination on show and created a sense of place, which all adds up to a memorable experience.”
In line with that philosophy, at the start of this season Castle Stuart’s team filled in and turfed over a large bunker guarding the front of the 6th green to create a different type of hazard.
The change makes the hole more playable for higher handicappers, but it still presents a real challenge to the lower handicappers who now have a number of options to reach the green; flop shot, bump and run or even a long putt.