The surprise of the latest Top 50 ranking (see sidebar) is the new Castle Stuart Golf Links of Inverness, Scotland, which debuts at No. 10. A collaborative effort by Philadelphia-based architect Gil Hanse and American developer Mark “Kingsbarns” Parsinen, Castle Stuart opened last July to rave reviews from the dead-tree publications: “Destined to become one of the best courses in the world.” (Links Magazine. … “A Masterpiece!” (Bunkered) … “Effortlessly blends the best elements of St. Andrews and Pebble Beach, Ballybunion and Royal County Down.” (Golf World, U.K.)
“Yes, it is that good,” wrote the Links reviewer, prolific author and former GOLF Magazine editor, George Peper. “Succinctly put, Castle Stuart will be the most significant British Isles debut since Loch Lomond in 1993. It should be well on its way to the top echelon of the world rankings.” I’m guessing that Peper was paid by Links to write that, but you can’t argue with his call. Castle Stuart, at No. 10, is the highest-ranked new course in Top 50 history.
My own first impression*, garnered on a bright, windy afternoon in late July, was as positive as Peper’s. Most of the holes have views of the miles-wide Moray Firth, from the Kessock Bridge to the Chanonry Lighthouse, and an improbable number seem to be right on the water. It’s an illusion. When you play the holes that parallel the Firth on the higher ground, it’s like playing the cliffside holes at second-ranked Pebble Beach Golf Links; you don’t see the beach or the lowland duffers, you see only sparkling water and breaching whales. (Or, in this case, breaching Loch Ness Monsters.)
*I have no financial, professional or prurient interest in the Castle Stuart development, but my middle name is Stuart and I claim, by royal birthright, to be the rightful monarch of both Scotland and England via my great-great-great-great-etc.-cousin, Mary Stuart — a.k.a. Mary, Queen of Scots — and the other golfing Stuarts, including James IV of Scotland — “the first golfer known to history” — and James I of England, who is best remembered for appointing the first royal club maker. For more on the Stuart golfers, see the just-released paperback edition of my book, Ancestral Links: A Golf Obsession Spanning Generations.
I’ll discuss the course layout in later postings, but there’s no reason to withhold the fact that Castle Stuart dominated our “top lavatory view in golf” category, displacing Newport Country Club of Newport, R.I. The shower stalls and urinals on the third floor of Castle Stuart’s art-deco clubhouse provide panoramic views of the course and the shoreline through eye-level, wraparound windows. Dropping to No. 3 is the locker room pissoir at California’s venerable Cypress Point Golf Club (No. 13). “An awning somewhat restricts your view,” reports Sports Illustrated’s Gary Van Sickle, “but you can see a big tree and some of the ocean.”
Equally surprising is the disappearance from the Top 50 of the Jupiter Hills Club of Tequesta, Fla., which held the No. 10 spot now occupied by Castle Stuart. Knowing how computers work, I suspect that the Jupiter Hills listing has somehow been covered up by Castle Stuart, concealing a tenth-place tie.
We’ll get to the bottom of that. In the meantime, Jupiter Hills moves to No. 1 on the Challenged and Disputed List, replacing Liberty National Golf Club of Jersey City, N.J..