With three of the St Andrews courses averaging over 43,000 rounds each per year and more and more golfers wanting to make the pilgrimage to the Fife coast, it's easy to see the need for more facilities in the area.
The Links Trust, which owns and operates the golf courses, has been on the lookout for a suitable site to add a seventh course since the late 1990s, according to Links Superintendent Gordon Moir.
"The Links Trust Act says that courses must be close to the town, so finding a site has not been easy," says Moir. "But a few years ago, we heard that a local farmer was interested in selling a patch of land a couple of miles east of the town centre, and we were able to secure it. There's a huge amount of space – a commercial developer would probably put 36 holes on that much land." Golfing tourists undoubtedly add to the course load at St Andrews, but Moir says the real area of growth is from locals. With a season ticket giving access to all six courses priced at only £115 for those resident in the area, Moir says that every time a house in St Andrews is sold, it's virtually certain there will be at least one golfer moving in.
Hence the need for a new course. Having acquired the site, the Trust began looking for a suitable architect, and, after a competition involving a number of well-known designers, Scotsman David McLay Kidd, best known for his creation of Bandon Dunes, the astonishing homage to his home country's classic links on the coast of Oregon, was hired in November 2003.
Just winning the contract to design the course took a considerable commitment of time and effort from the architect, who was working on a course in Hawaii at the time.
"But this will be the first full 18 hole course I've built in Scotland, so I was really keen to get the appointment," says Kidd, who now has a second Scottish project underway at Machrihanish in Kintyre, close to Old Tom Morris's legendary links.
The as-yet-unnamed Course No. 7, scheduled to open sometime in 2007, is intended to lay down roughly the level of challenge of the New and Jubilee courses.
"We want it to be challenging, but to have relatively wide fairways," says Moir. As a new course in the St Andrews area, comparisons to Kyle Phillips's masterpiece at Kingsbarns are inevitable, but both Kidd and Moir are keen to emphasise the differences.
"Kingsbarns had a vast quantity of sand on site, even though it was farmland originally" says Kidd. "Here the soil is quite heavy, and we're unlikely to hit much sand, so hand on heart I couldn't honestly say we're creating a links course. If you say links or links-style, and don't live up to it, then you're setting yourself up for a fall. Also, it's so early in the project that I'm not sure I'm able to succinctly describe the style. And I don't want to be restricted by a label!" Rather than sand – though there is a little on site – Kidd says the subsoils are a mixture of clay, gravel and what he calls 'rotten rock'.
"The rotten rock is actually a very good material because it's so free draining.We're using it to underlie greens and fairways," he explains.
"Building a golf course that drains well straight away is very hard," Kidd continues.
"Typically there is a one to three year period after construction in which the soils start to settle down, and it's only then you know how well the site will drain. I now realise that if I'm working in a wet climate we should budget a healthy sum to add drainage to the golf course for up to three years after opening. In some ways, putting in a vast amount of drainage during construction can be counter-productive." Kidd and his team have shaped six of the 18 holes already, although no bunkers have yet been laid out. "I want to create landforms first, and then design the golf course around them," says Kidd. "We're trying to create a great site and then put a great golf course onto it – I'd like to be faced with the kind of site that Old Tom Morris might have had 150 years ago.We're trying to build something that makes people say 'What were these guys on?' I don't want the site to be soft and rolling – I want it rough and craggy." Featuring a dramatic dogleg par five closing hole along the shore to a double green (shared with the ninth) set on a headland, Kidd's routing for the new course promises six or more holes right next to the sea. "The crew and I feel the same way," says Kidd.
"We play and love the quirkiest holes on the quirkiest courses, and we marvel at the shapes and contortions of nature. It's not often you get chance to build at St Andrews, and I want to make sure we create something memorable."
This article first appeared in issue 1 of Golf Course Architecture, published in July 2005.