FIFE, Scotland -- Just 10 miles outside of St. Andrews on the Hill of Tarvit in Cupar, Fife, you'll find a golf course that really does offer you the chance to travel back in time. No, Kingarrock Golf Course isn't nearly as old as the Old Course, but it does have some history. More important, the setup is from a bygone era.
In fact, Kingarrock has only recently been resurrected, having been used for different purposes during World War II after the original owners died in the 1930s. In 2008, a local group helped bring the course back to life as a nine-hole parkland layout that was meant to be played with the same equipment -- including the golf balls -- used nearly 100 years ago.
Kingarrock Golf Course may only be a little more than 2,000 yards, but it's the toughest 2,000 yards you'll ever play, especially with hickory sticks.
Many argue this is the way golf should be played. And it's not just about the hickories they give you for your round on this course that sits in the fields surrounding a historic mansion. Nobody is in a hurry to make it to the first tee or leave after the final shot.
Before the round -- at Forester's Cottage, which serves as the pro shop -- David Anderson, an authentic Scottish caretaker who runs the course for the National Trust of Scotland, conducts an orientation. He explains the traditions of the game nearly 100 years ago when Frederick Sharp first put a golf course on this property. One of those traditions is to take a swig of Scotch whiskey or brandy. And at the end of the round, it's biscuits and refreshing ginger beer, just as it was back then.
"The idea is to come out here for the day," Anderson said. "Nobody's in a hurry."
Kingarrock sits on a magnificent old estate. Sharp, an avid golfer who was a member of the Royal & Ancient, built the course for his family.
But Sharp died in 1932 and his son, Hugh, was killed at the Castlecary rail disaster in 1937, and the course went unused. It was then turned to farmland to help the war effort, and it seemed its life as a golf course was over.
That all changed a few years ago. Now the course is open to anyone who wants to experience golf as it was in the old days. Visitors don't need to bring their own clubs, they are provided with a Spoon, Driving Iron, Mid Mashie, Mashie Niblick and Putter, together with helpful advice on play.
And although the clubs aren't really as old as they look (they're manufactured in the United States, actually), they definitely play like the old-time sticks. Slick grips, unforgiving clubfaces and balls that probably only go about 60 or 70 percent as far as the modern Titleist take you back.
And these clubs only reward good swings. Anything forced, and you'll pay. There's no perimeter weighting to offset off-center hits. And there's no offset to help square the clubface. You only get five clubs, so you have to feel the shot. And the putter looks more like a 1-iron. It has more loft than modern putters because these greens are slow, just like they were in yesteryear.
Kingarrock really is a trip back in time. The first thing you have to remember is that you can't get wrapped up in your performance; it really isn't about that. With that said, however, some golfers have managed to post some pretty good scores -- under par, in fact -- so good golfers are good golfers, no matter what the era.
At Kingarrock, a 320-yard par 4 isn't drivable, and there's little need to get your yardages, since you really do have to play by feel.
The course is available to visitors between Easter and the end of October, seven days a week, weather permitting.
Last year, Geoff Ogilvy, during his trip over for the British Open at St. Andrews, played the course. After his round, he said, "It can really help your swing speed and your imagination. You're learning all over again. There is something fun about playing golf like this."
I couldn't agree more.
August 29, 2011