slope 136
Mark Parsinen, Kyle Phillips
The first 'Running-golf' course built in the UK for over fifty years. Tremendous sea views. Expensive 'Pay & Play'
On Fife's east coast six miles south of St Andrews. KY16 8QD
Alan Hogg
+ 44(0)1334 460860
Alan Purdie
Green Keeper
Innes Knight
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kingsbarns golf club, mark parsinen, dunhill links,
kingsbarns golf club, mark parsinen, dunhill links,
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kingsbarns golf club, mark parsinen, dunhill links,
Access Policy:
Visitors welcome
Dog Policy:
well-behaved dogs welcomed
Open Meetings:
Fees in 1960s
Fees today
£200+ - 2015


Kingsbarns was and is a vitally important development in golfing history.

It marks the beginning of the end of the ‘Target-Golf’ era of course-design and the start of the return to ‘Running-Golf’.

kingsbarns golf club, mark parsinen, dunhill links,

The seventeenth hole

When Kingsbarns opened in July 2000, (timed to coincide when The Open Championship was up the road in St Andrews and the world’s golfing media was on hand), it was the first ‘Running-Golf’ course to be constructed in the UK for over half a century.

Many courses were built with bulldozers in the 1980/90s on the back of the golf boom and the belief that ‘Target-Golf’ would be a winner, but subsequently many have gone bust, some more than once!

Kingsbarns marked the beginning of a resurgence of interest in ‘Running-Golf’ and the creation of new courses including Castle Stuart, Dundonald Links, The Renaissance, Trump’s Aberdeen course, the St Andrews Castle course, Spey Valley and Machrahanish Dunes.

The Kingsbarns construction, design and business model created by Mark Parsinen, the American entrepreneur (who also went on to create Castle Stuart and is a member of FineGolf’s Advisory Panel), together with Art Dunkley is a high-end ‘Pay and Play’ course without any membership of any kind. Despite being closed in the winter months it has proven to be a financial success attracting golfers, happy to pay over £200 at peak season, from around the world as well as locally.

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McIlroy at Kingbarns

In 2000 the Alfred Dunhill links tournament was looking to change to a pro-am format  and Kingsbarns has enjoyed an enhanced TV presence by being chosen to co-host with The Old Course, St Andrews and Carnoustie and it has filled that role well ever since.

There are a number of reasons why there are only a few reviewers or visitors that have been anything but effusive in their praise of Kingsbarns.

It is nevertheless built on not the most propitious of clay based meadow land running down to a rocky coast, with only a couple of fairways that have not had to be newly constructed, layered and sculptured anew by massive bulldozers.

Mark Parsinen and American golf architect Kyle Philips designed each hole with a prime objective of maximising the ‘seascape’ aspect of the views along its 1.5 miles of North Sea shoreline. Because of this Kingsbarns is a very beautiful place.

kingsbarns golf club, mark parsinen, dunhill links,

Dexter on thirteenth tee

How many great links courses are hidden behind dunes from the sea? At Kingsbarns the sea is in your gaze from every hole, while on the par three fifteenth and par five twelth, the beach actually comes into play.

Mark was subsequently to take this concept even further forward at Castle Stuart with the creation of ‘infinity’ greens pointed at distant landmarks and with quirky green complexes.

At Kingsbarns, though the bunkering is mostly attractive revetted links-style pots, strategically well placed, the green complexes rely to some extent on the ‘American-style’ moundings of the 1980/90s ‘Target-Golf’ builds. Parsinen is a great design tweaker and removed or built mounds to enhance the overall feel of a hole in its connection to the seascape.

The crucial investment that was made that ensured success was ‘ample drainage’.

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fine fescue grasses

Stuart McColm the Course construction manager, (see his FineGolf Enjoyment Day YouTube video) while using modern construction techniques learnt from previous ‘Target-Golf’ course construction, created deep drainage using sand/gravel/silt to 2 meters on the fairways so fine fescue/browntop bent grasses developed from ‘grow-in’ by the legendary greenkeeper Walter Woods, would thrive and give the ‘Running-Golf’ that they knew their target customers were seeking when playing golf in Scotland. This is in contrast to a number of soggy fairways on the new Castle course, as well as the others next door along the cliffs above St Andrews.

So here we have a course with abundant movement in the ground giving interestingly different strategic holes, tremendous sea views and a fine agronomy of predominantly tight fescue/browntop bent turf.

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Annual meadow grass (Poa annua)

As the greens have matured it has been difficult to maintain 100% fescue/browntop bent turf and they are now some 40/50% invaded with annual meadow grass (Poa annua). Not needing to be used in the winter they still provide fast and true putting surfaces. Indeed the STRI reported in 2014 that Kingsbarns’ 13th green was recorded as one of the ‘smoothest’ in the UK.

The Welcome in the course guide says “the closely mown fairways and greens (cut at 4mm) support fast running shots”.

As Malcolm Campbell (ex-editor of Golf Monthly and author of the 2010 well-researched coffee table-style True Links book) says in a further introduction. “They have proved that it is possible to blend the classic early days of golf course architecture with the technology of the modern day. The original form of the game of golf will only survive in a low fertility, minimal irrigation environment that is vital to sustaining the fescue and bent turf. Without that vital component there is golf by the seaside, but its not ‘running’ links golf”.

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The original Course Guide

The course guide claims: “There is a need for intellect and strategy like playing the St Andrews Old course, in that aggressive driving lines are rewarded with angles into green contours which are favourable. Conversely safe driving lines often result in approach angles which turn green contours from supportive or manageable to troublesome and confounding”.

This is a useful design concept that could well have been written by the great golf designers of GB&I’s ‘Golden Era’ of 1900 to 1935 and is evident for example on the approach shot to the 14th green. The green readily accepts shots from the more difficult right side of the fairway while it deflects shots from the easier to reach left side. I am not sure though how true this actually is at all the Kingsbarns holes but what must be commended is their wish to see their design within the context of the ‘Running-Golf’ game and the recognition that this is only possible across fescue/browntop bent turf.

kingsbarns golf club, mark parsinen, dunhill links,

The clubhouse

It is good to see that the more recent course guide has dropped the mention of a links legacy as the fescues have not always flourished in the original heavy soil at Kingsbarns as they first claimed (apart from perhaps the sandier soiled area of the 16th and 17th holes) and is perhaps one reason why it is difficult to keep Poa annua out of the new greens. This course has started a wonderful new ‘Running-Golf’ heritage and should have the confidence to not need to rely on some insignificant links course legacy.

Parsinen did not make this mistake at Castle Stuart where his second bulldozer built course has a pure fescue agronomy and Chris Haspell’s team has continued to keep it pure fescue.

I have played Kingsbarns twice and both times the ‘American’ welcome, the professional starter, the attractive, sumptuous but traditional feel clubhouse that is classy, all wraps you in a ‘special’ feel and in addition there are quality caddies available.

The latter was important as the Fife kingdom’s eastern coast can be cloaked in a ‘harr’ at anytime of the year which reduces visibility to 150 yards.

kingsbarns golf club, mark parsinen, dunhill links,

The par three Fifteenth hole across the sea

For the first fourteen holes before it burnt off, I had no idea where I was playing; nevertheless I played below my handicap, believing in my caddy’s choice of club and direction of play. It is remarkable how if you can keep focus and uncertainty is taken away, how extraordinarily well one can play!

Kingsbarns is so confident that their caddies will help visiting golfers enjoy their round that they guarantee a good caddy experience or the caddy fee is fully refunded, no questions asked.  Apparently out of the twenty thousand caddy rounds since the guarantee was introduced at Kingsbarns only four refunds have been requested and refunded.

When Parsinen moved on to Castle Stuart he sold his stake in Kingsbarns to Art Dunkley, who hired the very able Alan Hogg to run the business and what a clever caddy policy they have.

kingsbarns golf club, mark parsinen, dunhill links,

Greenside bunkers at third hole

Keep to the left on the outside of the dogleg on the opening hole and the green is opened up for you.

Built with American tourists in mind, the fairways are wide and the par five third hole fairway undulates, setting up the possibility downwind of running your second into the first of a number of enormous greens from off the left hand banking, so avoiding the cavernous right hand green-side bunkers.

There is a risk reward bunker to fly on the corner of the fourth hole and the fifth similar to the first opens up a punch bowl green if you resist attempting to cut the corner.

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The short par four Sixth hole

The sixth, a short par four is driveable from a high tee across a valley to a plateau fairway that feeds a long ball down to a double tiered green. A weak drive is penalised with a blind approach. Creative and challenging fun!

The seventh and ninth are what could be called sloggy par fours and fives to bring you back to near the clubhouse, while in between is a medium iron par three with a dramatic two tiered green.  It’s called ‘Wee dunt’ suggesting a “small bump” shot. One would not call Kingsbarns quirky, it really is quite straight forward but this eighth perhaps can be played in a number ways, depending on the wind.

The tenth (‘Cambo’, named after the estate behind the golf course, which also owns the land) has another two tiered green above the fairway and the eleventh the most parkland style of all the holes, called ‘woods’ has had a bunker added in a dip front right of a large green. The run-off left calls for a ‘bump-and-run’ if your ball falls off that way.

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The Twelth hole

The twelfth hole in some ways similar to the second at the Gleneagles Ryder Cup course is sometimes called the signature hole. It bends round the rocky/sandy beach and indeed I played my third shot to the green from off the sand when I last played! The green is 75 yards long so in American style one is trying to play to the pin rather that to just the green.

The thirteenth and fifteenth are glorious par threes. The first a short iron from a high tee across a valley to a well-drained, high in fescue/browntop bent grasses, shelf green and the second a long iron across the rocks and sea to another long green with a number of steps in it, sticking out into the ocean.

The finish at Kingsbarns is stretchy and testing as any championship course should be. The sixteenth 500 yards and seventeenth 430 yards both follow the shoreline as gentle right hand doglegs with numerous pot bunkers strategically positioned and both greens are raised higher than the fairway. It is across these two holes and six and seven that the original nine hole course, that was ploughed-up in the Second World War, was.

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The Eigtheenth green

At the eighteenth one realises with delight that this is the first time a penal hazard has obstructed one from running ones ball on to the green. This penal hazard is a very deeply sided burn requiring a full fly at the sloping green back to front, off a hanging lie if ones drive has achieved the run up and over the hill in front of the clubhouse. That green has another step in it and like all the others has that modern look of having been designed by computer that gives predictable movement rather than traditional quirky bumps and hollows.

Kingsbarns has certainly caught the imagination of wealthy golfers and particularly Americans. It is the transition course and Parsinen, Kyle, Woods and McColm should all be proud of their pioneering work.

Again it is lucky to be just down the road from St Andrews where traditionally American tourist golfers congregate, though visitors looking for special heritage accommodation especially if they are travelling with non-golfers should try the Cambo Estate owned by Sir Peter Erskine. The magnificent Victorian accommodation ranges from B&B to self-catering apartments within the mansion house or traditional fully self-contained farm cottages and even some luxury tents for the real adventurer! There are 1200 acres of beautiful garden and woodland walks right next to the golf course plus a host of other activities.

Reviewed by Lorne Smith 2015


Reader Comments

On April 25th, 2015 Robin Brown said:

Kingsbarns certainly set the trend for design
of fast running links courses and the whole
experience of a day there is excellent.The
holes along the sea are spectacular

On April 25th, 2015 Ralph Romanis said:

Having played both courses several times I must pick Castle Stuart as the more pleasurable to play. I find all the holes at Castle Stuart designed so that golfers of all ages can enjoy the challenge without, in most cases, seeing anyone else on the course, a unique experience on most link’s courses and, at my skill level, not having to be too careful on driving direction thereby allowing us aged ones to give the ball have a good “dunt”. Also I think the clubhouse at Castle Stuart is a better, simpler more golfer friendly than that at King’s Barns, as you would expect, since both Mark Parsinen and Stuart McColm had a very good base of knowledge to draw on having designed and built King’s Barns. Certainly I and my friends from the Atlanta area ensure that we enjoy Castle Stuart each year.

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