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The Duke's St. Andrews ©

You've just spent a fortune for a face lift, a tummy-duck, and a hair transplant. You''ve slimmed down and purchased a new Rollex watch and expensive clothing and shoes. Everyone who knows you says you look marvelous. Just as important, they say you're great fun to be with. Then you're invited to a dinner party in the most exclusive neighborhood in Hollywood and are seated at a table with the world's most famous and beautiful people. Got the picture? Do you think you would get much attention?

That's how The Duke's St. Andrews must feel. There it sits, smack dab in the middle of the most famous golfing area in the world, bedecked in garlands of heather and clothed in the most beautiful of nature's finery. The Duke's even has stunning panoramic views of the surrounding counryside and overlooks the town of St. Andrews.

Everything about The Duke's is elegant, comfortable and warmly welcoming. First class all the way, from golf course to personnel to manager. Even the buggies are deluxe.

The golf course has undergone a million dollar face lift that's made it a much more challenging and enjoyable layout. Yet,
not more than ten minutes away is Mecca--The Old Course-- every golfer's dream play. Fifteen minutes from that is Kingsbarns,a golf course that's on just about veryone's Top 100. Another ten minutes takes you to the corner of Fife where the North Sea meets the Firth of Forth and the venerable Crail Balcomie links sits. And to top it off, less than an hour's drive to the north the ever-challenging Carnoustie beckons. What's a golfer to do? Then add to the equation the fact that almost every other golf course in the area is a Scottish links course and The Duke's is a heathland course. If you were The Duke's Course wouldn't you be templed to feel the world is a black tuxedo and you are a pair of brown shoes!

The Duke's opening hole. How this for starters?

I was impressed....

I first played The Duke's Course several years ago and thought the layout was okay but the maintenance was less than satisfactory. In the winter of 2007 I happened to be watching the Duke's Skins Game on TV (played, obviously, on the Duke's Course) featuring a multitude of British and American professional golfers and won by Darren Clark. I was impressed with what he and the other professionals were saying about the course. So I decided to give it another try. I met with Neil Paton, the Head Professional at The Duke's Course and David Scott, the Manager, and they told me about the extensive changes the course had undergone. I played the course again recently, and I am so impressed.

If you noticed I just used the word "impressed" three times here, it's because I am genuinely...impressed !!
Away From the Sea

Marvelous views from The Duke's, overlooking the town of St. Andrews

The Duke's St. Andrews is owned by the Old Course Hotel St. Andrews Golf Resort and Spa. Yes, the very hotel you have to hit over when you tee off on the 17th hole of St. Andrews Old Course. A hotel's golf course is usually right next to it, but considering that the hotel is in the middle of the St. Andrews Trust's six courses, it was impossible to obtain the land to build aother golf course. Instead, the hotel purchased 333 acres of farmland on the outskirts of town and in 1995 opened the course.

The all-new redesigned Duke's Course is in great shape

I was very pleased to find it is now in excellent shape--and getting better by the week. Thousands of heather shrubs have been planted, trees trimmed and bunkers redesigned and added. The fairways have matured so that every ball that lands in the fairway has some grass underneath. The ball rolls true on the excellent greens and the bunkers add a touch of fear as you eye up each shot . And the layout has changed quite drastically. Par 4s and 5s have been changed to add to the flow of the course. For instance, the last four holes were pars 5,4,3,4. They are now pars 4,3,4,4. The last hole in particular used to be a 381 yard par 4 slog up hill. Because of the change in elevation and the 3 foot high wall about 25 yards in front of the green, there was no rolling your second shot to the green so the hole played as if it were closer to 450 yards. And with a stiff wind in your face it became a par 6 for a mid-handicapper like me. Now it's been redesigned into a more manageable finishing hole and one I have at least a chance of parring.

The Duke's Course St Andrews 5 par opening hole
First hole, a par 5, on the newly re-designed Duke's Course St Andrews.
And thanks to The Duke's manager, David Scott, for the photo.

Peter Thomson, five-time Open Champion, was the original designer of the Duke's Course. Thomson's philosophy is quite charming: "Golf is a game of strategy…the real challenge should be getting to the green, not just landing on it. Once there putting should be fun on generally flat surfaces, just as you find on classic golf courses." He's my kind of golf course designer! Thompson's hero is Alistair Mackenzie, among the finest ever golf course designers. In quoting Mackenzie Thompson said, "He intended holes to be 'enjoyable', 'tempting', free from irritation and torment, and certainly 'free from the humbug of lost balls.'" Don't you just love that "free from the humbug of lost balls!" Ben Hogan, one of the greatest ball strikers ever to play the game but not the best putters, thought whoever landed closest to the pin should win and that putting should be eliminated from the game.

6th tee, Duke's course, in Fife
View from the 6th tee--a 567 yard par 5 slight dogleg right with ten bunkers awaiting your ball. Oh, and don't forget the big bad wolf in the forest.

The Duke's course is no pushover

The Duke's is a full-fledged championship course, greens included. The International European Amateur Championship--one of the four majors in the world of amateur golf--was played here in 2014. In contrast to most of the other course in the area, however, it is not a Scottish links course but rather an inland, heathland course with lots of hills and trees and changes in elevations. What it does share with St. Andrews Old Course is plenty of bunkers--many of them pot bunkers and all of them grizzly looking and as au natural as they would have been a century ago. Another aspect it shares with Scottish links golf is that on many holes you can putt from far off the greens. So many inland courses are like the courses in the USA, i.e. the apron around the green is usually cut much longer than the grass on the green itself. This makes it unlikely you will choose to putt from off the green and so you usually end up using a lofted iron to chip onto the green. Not so in Scottish links golf or golf at many holes on The Duke's Course. Often you can putt from quite far off the green. And, by the way, it's a good idea to putt every chance you get. Next time you find yourself off the green and the grass is short enough, put that wedge away and try your putter.

Duke's course yardage book
This is far and away the finest and most helpful yardage book I've ever seen. The top photo in the book as you hold it (on the left side of the above photo) is the view of the entire 11th hole from the perspective of the tee. It shows yardages from tees to various bunkers. The bottom half (right) shows a closer view of the green and approach from the perspective of your second shot and gives you distances to the front edge of the green. It also includes advice on how to play the hole. If you don't have a caddie, this book is a must.
Duke's course yardage book Yardage book at Duke's course is excellent
Enlargement of top part of yardage book showing a photo of the entire 11th hole including distances to bunkers, etc. Enlargement of bottom half of yardage book showing photo of approach area of 11th hole plus advice on the best way to play the hole.

The Duke's is a thinking person's golf course

Management 101 -- First off, get yourself a yardage book before going out. The Duke's yardage book is the best I've ever seen bar none. It is a bit pricy, but if you don't have a caddie or are not playing with someone who knows the golf course, it's worth every penny. Next, match your game to one of the five available tees. They go from the Blue tees which play to 7,002 yards to the Red tees at 5,216. (The competition Black tees which play to 7,512 yards? Fuggedaboudit!) Pay particular attention to the flag location and the terracing of the greens. If you are at the wrong end of a terraced green, you have little hope of one-putting and a good chance of three putting. And speaking of the greens, many of them are inverted saucer-shaped, so be careful coming in. You don't want to come in hot and fall off the back or hit short and not be able to roll onto the green. This is a thinking person's course, and If you manage the course properly you can save quite a few strokes.

Duke's course, third tee
View from the 3rd tee. It's 159 yards over a huge "Sahara Desert" sand area to a green surrounded by 3 very large bunkers.

There are punishing bunkers on many holes. These are not slap-on-the-hand bunkers, they mean business and can easily cost you 2 strokes or more. As you can see from the photo below, they look like the outside of an old man's ears! If you're heading for a bunker pray that it lands in the sand and doesn't stop shorty in the "ear hairs!" And if you do manage to get caught in one, the first rule is to get your ball out. "Duh," you say? Believe me, if you've never been in a Scottish pot bunker you don't know how punishing they can be. Rule #1 is "just get out." Even if you have to hit backwards, just get out. Don't try to get too fancy, it will cost you big time (one more time!) JUST GET OUT! And as you will note below, some holes have plenty of bunkers.

Duke's golf course big bad bunker
No, that's not poor maintenance. These unusual bunkers are meant to look the way they looked a century ago. Just pray your bad shots get to the sand and don't get hung up in the long grass.

There are many memorable holes. I really like the look of the 11th, a par 5 with a SI of 1. It's a real beauty--physically and tactically. (See photos of yardage book above.) The fairway is long and undulating and calls for a long, straight drive. Any hope for an eagle calls for another long shot over a creek that is only 45 yards from the front of an inverted saucer green. It is downhill but at 501 from the whites and a monstrous 613 from the blues, I doubt there are many eagles on this beauty. My advice, take your par here and be happy. The 13th is one of those driveable par 4s because, although it's 363 yards from the white tees and 405 from the blues, you are teeing off from far above the green (with wonderful views of the adjoining countryside to the north) and there's nothing to stop a well-struck straight drive from rolling onto the green. Of course what goes down must go up. The 15th is a severe uphill test of aerobic conditioning and endurance and with six bunkers guarding the green and an SI of 3, is quite a test.

By the way, unlike most golf courses in Scotland, electric buggies (golf carts) are allowed. Those who have trouble walking will definitely want to take advantage of this service on this hilly golf course.

Duke's Course, St. Andrews
Note the severe terraced 18th green. If you're not on the same plateau you'll have a "helluvaputt."

So what's the verdict? If this golf course were anywhere else but in Fife with all the truly great Scottish links golf courses in the area, I would make it a "must play." But golfers don't usually come to Scotland to play inland courses. They want to experience links golf. And that's too bad because there are some really fine inland courses like Boat of Garten, Scottscraig, and others. Included in this group of fine inland courses has to be The Dukes. If you're in the area for only a few days, you may want to play some of the others links courses I've written up before playing this one. However, if you want a good 2nd course for the day, this is ideal because you can rent a buggie and not have to hoof it around another 18. And if it's your second trip to the St Andrews area, be sure to give it a try. It's a championship golf course all the way. It's kept in fantastic shape and if you give it a play, I believe you'll have a challenging and fun day of golf .


The Golf Nook rating -- BIRDIE

There is a terrific bar/restaurant--a nice place for an after-round drink or meal. It's inexpensive and the food is well prepared, good tasting and served by a very friendly staff..

David Scott, Manager of the Duke's St Andrews

David Scott, Manager

The Duke's is in the finest hands with David. Formerly the Head Professional at Kingsbarns, he is a veritable font of knowledge for all the courses in the area.He's a great guy and easy to talk to
.
Duke's Head Professional, Neil Paton Neil Paton

has been the Head Golf Professional at the Dukes St. Andrews for many years. Don't be misled by his youthful appearance, he's a man of great experience. A true gentleman, he has a wealth of information about the other golf courses in the area and will be happy to share his knowledge with you.

Oops!!! Probably best to do your Scottish golfing in spring, summer and fall.
But aren't The Duke's clubhouse and golf course beautiful even in the snow?

Thanks to David Scott, Manager of The Duke's, for his fine photo.
The Duke's manager, David Scott, captured this wintery scene of the golf course and clubhouse.
www.playthedukes.html


*For What to Do All Day see St. Andrews area