The medieval town of St Andrews in Scotland is known around the world as the Home of Golf, and it’s a golfing pilgrimage that all golfers should undertake at some point in their golfing lives, if time and fortune permit.
Located on Fife’s northern coastline, St Andrews is just over an hour’s drive from Edinburgh and 30 minutes from Dundee, both of which are served by international airports. The Fairmont St Andrews resort sits on the clifftop to the south east of the town, along the coastal road towards Crail.
Edinburgh – 1hr 15min (drive)
Dundee – 30 min (drive)
London – 2hr 30min (flight & drive)
A luxurious resort with two courses and a fantastic range of clifftop holes…
It’s difficult to pen an opinion on any golf course in St Andrews without first addressing the elephant in the room – that it’s likely the main reason you’re visiting the town in to play (or try to play) the Old Course. You really won’t find anyone doubting that fact. But it’s also true that there aren’t many people who visit St Andrews to play just once before going home. So, if you’ve been fortunate enough to secure an Old Course tee time or you’re taking a punt on the short-term ballot, the question then becomes one of where you stay and where else you play to warm up (or cool down) the golfing muscles.
St Andrews is a golfing town, through and through. Here, it’s perfectly normal to see people walking down the high street in golf spikes with a set of clubs over their shoulder, all of which adds to the wonderful and unique atmosphere – this is the golfing town, where it all began (so they say). Simply immersing yourself in the aura that surrounds the 18th green and the famous R&A Clubhouse is a highlight of any visit.
Just a few miles out of town, away from the old, you’ll find modern luxury and some of the most dramatic holes in the region. Voted European Golf Resort of the Year in 2012 by IAGTO (International Association of Golf Tour Operators), Fairmont St Andrews has received numerous awards since opening in the early part of the millennium and it’s easy to see why.
The two golf courses, The Torrance and The Kittocks, both feature coastal holes with sheer drops from the cliff edge that are only protected by a modest stone wall, while wispy fescue grasses shape the routings and define the golfing landscape. In places, the rough takes on a ghostly white appearance, whipped by the wind, while elsewhere there are darker and thicker patches. Combine all this with the waters of the Tay Estuary and views of the Auld Grey Toon and there’s an unquestionably moody, cinematic quality to it all.
Despite the foreboding appearance, the two courses are set up very successfully to be playable for any level of golfer – fairways are generous, tees are numerous, and there aren’t any buried elephants under the greens. Here, the message is that golf is to be enjoyed, which can be a welcome respite if you’re also booked to play one of the championship links that takes no prisoners. Across the resort, there’s an emphasis on the contemporary – the golf boards to hire, the ‘gong’ and barrels on the driving range. Without sacrificing the traditions of the game, effort has clearly been made to ensure that golf here is entertaining and accessible. There are no dress codes and the service is exemplary and personable.
Early holes on both courses make use of the higher land neighbouring the hotel, and both have a cracking stretch of holes around the cliff tops. The attractive stone walls line the fairways and provide features and boundaries on many holes, while the wild grasses that line the humps and hollows all add to the Scottish character.
The impressive Fairmont St Andrews Hotel itself surveys all before it, with views stretching across both courses. It’s an exceptional grand and imposing building with a modern feel and impressive facilities. Bedrooms are well equipped and comfortable, while the selection of bars and dining options provide an option for all tastes.
Established 2001 Architect Gene Sarazen, Sam Torrance, Dennis Griffiths
Par 72 / SSS 75
The opening hole of the Torrance Course offers first sight of the distinctive stone walls that are a feature throughout the course, in places lining the margin of a fairway, marking the cliff edge, the elbow in a dog-leg, or jutting out to create a hazard. They are an attractive reminder that the course wasn’t always here, having opened as recently as 2001.
Given the cliff top setting, you couldn’t describe The Torrence as a links course, but it bears many of the links hallmarks. There isn’t a traditional ‘out and back’ design either – where the wind will help and hinder in equal measure – instead the course cuts back and forth, playing in a variety of directions at the top of the resort during the early holes, before settling down into the wilder and more rugged surroundings for the back nine.
Rivetted bunkers, moody-looking rough, and smooth expansive greens are common features, but the fairways are generous enough when required, and teeing options are plentiful, meaning the course is playable and perhaps most importantly, fair, to all.
It has pedigree too, having hosted the Scottish Seniors Open from 2009-2014, as well as Open Qualifying in 2010.
The risk on this driveable par four isn’t so great as to deter you from pulling out the driver, with any likely punishment being one of the pot bunkers some 30-70 yards short of the green which still presents a chance to make par. It’s a straightforward hole if you choose to lay up, but the joy of the challenge will see the driver headcover coming off for most.
The back nine holes are where the Torrance course finds it’s character. The par four 10th is a fine example, with a swath of wispy, tousled grasses lining the right-hand edge of the fairway. The hole sweeps round to the right as it gently descends, and it requires two good hits to get home. There’s a fine view of St Andrews town as you wander down the fairway.
At well over 500 yards, uphill, and protected by a burn just short of the green, the par five 12th isn’t one you’ll overpower. A good drive will thread between bunkers on either side of the fairway, but there are several grassy humps protruding up on either side that snake the routing over the middle portion of the hole. You really need to hit three good shots to get home, with the last approach having to navigate a substantial burn that most certainly comes into play.
Holes #16 & 17
Flanking the left side of the 16th fairway is an arrow-straight stone wall that really only comes into play in the landing area of your drive. That said, the prudent line is well away from there, down the right-hand-side. The hole plays downhill and towards a green perched on the cliff edge. It’s fair to say that when the pin is at the back of the green, there will be several balls lost to the sea!
The par three 17th is perhaps the best of the short holes on either course at Fairmont St Andrews. The long, undulating green is nearly 50 yards in depth, and is angled from front right to back left. Bunkers protect on all sides of the putting surface and, again, the stone wall that marks the course boundary and cliff top provides a superb frame to the hole. The further left the pin placement, the harder, longer, and more daunting the hole becomes, but it could equally be a short iron to the front right portion of the green.
Established 2002 Architect Bruce Devlin, Gene Sarazen
Par 72 / SSS 75
The Kittocks Course, much like the Torrance, opens with a stretch of holes which provide little suggestion of what’s to follow from the panoramic 7th hole. This first third of the Bruce Devlin design is good, but it’s the cluster around the turn that live longest in the memory. The run from the 14th back to the clubhouse provides a strong finish with some impressive and striking landscapes
Opened in 2002, a year later than the Torrance, the course plays across and alongside Kittock’s Den, a deep ravine that’s home to native deer. The design has more than a nod to the St Andrews Old Course, with huge double greens in play, and several pot bunkers waiting to spoil your card, given the opportunity.
The course presents tremendous aesthetic variety, too, with views of The Auld Grey Toon, the double-crossing of Kittock’s Den, railway sleepers lining several bunkers, and attractive shaping of the holes through the fescue grasses towards the Tay Estuary.
In contrast to its ancient neighbours, The Kittocks is an unashamedly modern design and presentation – and memorable for it, which is always the sign of a good golf course.
Not a long par four by any measure, especially playing downhill, but the strategy and look of the hole make it one of the most enjoyable. Fairway bunkers wait to gobble up any tee shot favouring the right, while a stone wall lines the left-hand side of the fairway and provides a barrier to the cliff-edge as well as the out of bounds threshold. It’s really a case of threading the straightest tee shot as far down the fairway as you dare! A large ‘St Andrews’ style double green leaves a lot to think about with the approach, too.
Hole #9 – 11
The turn provides a great stretch of holes on the Kittocks course, as you play along three sides of a triangle. The 9th is a long downhill par four that heads straight towards the cliff top. Indeed, anything long over the green will disappear into the abyss but it’s the tee shot that is the more demanding, with a contoured fairway kicking balls from left to right. It requires a long drive down the left side, with anything right leaking into the tall storm-whipped grasses.
The short par four 10th, playing along the coastline, is billed as “driveable”, but standing on the tee you can’t help but think it’s only the very bravest or foolhardy that would take it on – unless there’s a very favourable wind. Anything short or right will be 100ft below on the craggy beach. The more prudent play is an iron off the tee and a clip into the double green shared with the 7th.
Hole 11 is a long steady ascent, and almost certainly a three-shot par five. Again, hugging a stone wall (although this time just an internal boundary), the hardest part is unquestionably the tee shot which must cross the corner while climbing steeply. Play this run of holes to your handicap and you should be very content.
Perhaps the biggest test comes from the 14th tee onwards. Here, and at the par four 15th, the drive has to be long and straight to have a chance of par. They’re very different holes, mind you, the first being fairly straight and gently uphill, while 15 hits to a dogleg in the fairway before turning right and descending steeply down towards the cliffs. The pretty par three 16th has a little of the North Berwick about it. While providing some respite (at least in as far as it’s shorter), the stone wall, just inches behind a green protected by bunkers at the front, make this a tricky hole to play well.
The final cliff-edged hole is the long par four 17th. The temptation is to feed a drive cautiously down the left, but bravery is essential as the middle of the fairway is likely the only place from which you’ll get home in two, given the forced carry over the gorge short of the green. It’s a fine hole.
I had no idea what to expect before setting off for Fairmont St Andrews, other than knowing that any trip to Home of Golf is always a thrill. I’d heard murmurings that the Kittocks is supposed to have the edge on the Torrance, but in retrospect I genuinely still can’t pick one ahead of the other.
At the risk of suggesting butchery, a hybrid of the two courses would surely create one of the most spectacular in Scotland. But in doing so, you’d probably create a monster – a course so hard that it wouldn’t be any fun. And that’s probably the greatest beauty of Fairmont St Andrews, that in amongst the spectacular and challenging holes there are moments of respite that allow you to catch your breath, take in the views, score, enjoy your golf. It’s these moments that help to present a fairer and more enjoyable experience. That you can do this twice, with two different courses, and with the hotel on site, is a formidable bonus.
My suggestion would be to stay two or three nights, entering the Old Course ballot each day in the hope that opportunity will also present itself and make this a once-in-a-lifetime golfing experience. Honing your skills ahead of that chance over the two courses at Fairmont St Andrews is no bad way to while away the hours. You may have time to take in some of the other gems in the region too – the New Course, Crail, Kingsbarns, amongst others. But you’ll be impressed with Fairmont St Andrews in its own right and for many reasons. Yes, the resort is comfortable, lavish, and well-equipped, but you’ll be here for the golf, and I must say that both courses surpassed my expectations.