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  • Neil White

St Andrews Castle

Away from the hectic of the town are quirky, unforgettable links with all the quality of the St Andrews brand.

The Castle is perched on the cliffs, two and a half miles from the bustle of the Old, New and Jubilee courses.

It is popular and it took another five hours to complete our round but there is tranquillity here and the views and our company were so good that the time passed in a trice.

There are echoes here of Cabot Highlands, aka Castle Stuart, and this was probably Mrs W's best round since we played there.

She brushed aside pre-game warnings not to count one's scorecard and just enjoy the fun of the madly undulating greens.

To be honest, they aren't quite as crazy as some were suggesting. Sure, the putting surfaces are huge and have severe dips and hollows but they aren't as fast as many we have played (I remember laughing at the speed at La Reserva and Finca Cortesin).

The feel of the Castle is different to the other St Andrews links from the moment we drove onto the property.

The car park is less busy and service at its reception, shop and in the clubhouse is more personal. The practice area is just yards away rather than the shuttle bus ride when we played the New.

Mrs W and I were playing with a couple of excellent compadres (low-handicappers from Turnberry and Carnoustie) who took us on in a friendly match.

The writing was on their wall from the first hole when Mrs W bombed her first tee shot down the centre of the fairway.

A gentle hole by comparison to some on the Castle, it lays a marker for rolling fairways and cunningly-placed bunkers.

Accuracy and correct judgment of length are essential. Even slightly wayward approach shots are heavily penalised.

The views from the Castle are memorable in all directions but especially towards the town and its beach.

They are truly startling and become evident from the green of the tricky par-three third but are even more stunning from the sixth.

Every hole here is an adventure but, with the exception of the 17th, the par-fives stand out the most, in my opinion.

The fourth hole sets the tone - 515 yards of bumps and hollows, deep bunkers, heavy rough for those offline, leading down to a green guarded by a burn which is a magnet for the over-ambitious or the errant.

It is followed by the Castle's Stroke Index one which I thought I had played like a pro with a seven-iron approach taking into account its huge left-to-right slope.

Not for the first time on this day did my ball appear to defy gravity and leave me with a downhill put of terrifying speed.

The sixth is a wonderfully picturesque hole with a blind tee shot over the brow of a hill before attacking a green with the backdrop of the sea on one side and St Andrews on the other.

But its drama is more than matched by the closing hole of the outward nine, a relatively short par-four with bunkers strewn down the right and heavy bunkers defending the left.

Its huge curving green is shared with the 18th and sea cliffs beckon for those who overhit.

The dangers are not confined to the Castle's course. One of its common elements with the previous day on the New was the number of huge crows who were even more daring, snaffling Mrs W's halfway sausage roll as she was on a phone call.

Fortunately, I was not denied my meat and pastry intake and, with renewed ballast, accepted a par-three on the gentle tenth and, more impressively on the par-four 11th after firing a three-wood across mounds, bunkers and onto its sloping green.

The final four holes on the Castle are up there with the best I have played, beginning with the par-five 15th.

Here, the unfortunate will be literally caught between a rock and a hard place because a lump of stone on the right is the best target from the tee while sand traps and grassy hillocks await to the left.

The fairway then sweeps down to a fiendish stream which protects a target which has the sea on the horizon, It is a tremendous hole.

The brine becomes closer on the 16th - a par-four with a crazy uneven fairway and a putting surface to match.

But they are mere hors d'oeuvre in preparation for the 17th.

A par-three over a rocky chasm, this has very distinct echoes of the 16th at Cabot Cliffs but is about 50 yards longer,

A golf assistant in St Andrews town had told us that we should aim just inside the left-hand bunker even though it would be counter-intuitive.

I thought he had a point when my compadres both went for the flag and flew the green. But I will never know whether his advice was sound because I failed to commit and the ball I had kept for the previous 34 holes, sank into the abyss, followed by another.

This encapsulates all of the key elements of the Castle in one hole. The need for course strategy, fiendish bunkers, an undulating fairway and huge, sloping green.

It was a top finish to a cracking day in great company.

For the second time on my top 100 travels I had been told a course was "Marmite". Previously, I had loved Perranporth and now I adored The Castle. Obviously, I like the yeasty spread.

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