Ian Wood - Castle course poses sternest of tests

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WITH that uncanny sense of timing given only to a selected few, I found myself in a car park at St Andrews last Wednesday on a dark and dreary morning, trying to detect any faltering in the teeming rain which would enable me to make a dash to the Links Clubhouse where I could prepare myself for a round on The Castle course which opens officially on the 28th of this month. The occasion was the Scottish Golf Writers' championship and the underlying objective, I suspect, was to see how many com

The Castle, which becomes the seventh course to be managed and maintained by the St Andrews Links Trust, turned out to be impressive or, if you play at my level, impossible. The course was close to its sternest on the day in question. No doubt there will be days when it is sterner, but I'll make a point of not being there at such times. A par 71, it measures 6,759 yards from the back tees, 6,376 yards from the ones we played and there were moments when it felt like 8,000.

For the more easily daunted, there is always the option of looking out to sea. The course, designed by David McLay Kidd, is beautifully sited and the architect has revelled in the setting. The views are stunning. You couldn't see much of them on Wednesday, but local sources assure me they are something else, though the only thing I can vouch for personally is that the sea is close at hand and there appears to be plenty of it. You could, however, just about make out the headland whereon stood Kinkell Castle, the stronghold after which the new course is named.

Signature holes are all the rage these days and, unless my old eyes deceive me, The Castle has come up with a prime specimen in the par-3 seventeenth, a hole measuring 184 yards at full stretch and which requires the tee-shot to carry an abyss where the sea has taken a bite out of the coast. The green is a welter of humps and hollows and getting good position from the tee really matters.

While on the subject of greens, the surfaces at The Castle at this early stage in their development are true, but slow. This comes as a surprise, for they look fast and with all the myriad slopes and breaks, the tendency is to go easy when faced with anything downhill. It is strangely difficult to give a putt enough steam when there's a suspicion of pace around and the members of the threeballer in which I played spent much of the day gazing balefully at putts which had drawn up dead on line and an inch short of the hole.

Oddly enough, the field in the Wales Open at Celtic Manor were having to cope with slowish greens and some didn't cope very well. I suppose the professionals have the excuse that they are programmed to putt on consistently fast greens and when they're required to switch from a softly-softly approach to one which calls for something along more hearty lines, it must be somewhat disconcerting.

It might be felt, however, that adapting to varying speeds on greens should be part of a professional's art. Perhaps it was this sort of thing to which Peter Alliss was referring when he suggested that the old players – and he was talking about players who were plying their trade 100 years ago – had more strings to their bows than the players of today. They certainly seemed to have a more extensive repertoire when it came to putting methods.

One day in the dim and distant, a friend and I went along to the Musselburgh Golf Course at Monktonhall and were told, rather brusquely I felt, to clear off by the then professional, Jack White, the Open champion of 1904. Deeply hurt, we loitered at a safe distance and then, as the evening shadows began to lengthen, White, who had a regular army of young admirers hanging on his every word, went out to the putting green where he proceeded to dole out advice on request. Stealthily, we joined the throng circling the green.

He'd been rolling in putts with consummate ease, when he was asked about borrows – right to left ones, if ensuing events were anything to go by. He immediately sought out a suitable area, opened the face of the putter – an old, blade model – and began cutting across the ball, spinning it, I suppose, against the borrow.

As far as I could make out, he hadn't altered his stance much, he simply seemed to "straighten out" the putt by rotating it against the weight of the borrow. The putts went in more or less as they'd been doing before.

I've no way of knowing whether he used this technique during competitive play or whether it was just a party piece he threw in to entertain the troops. I tried it, of course, but it didn't work.