Hanse and Parsinen ready Castle Stuart for play

Sean Dudley
By Sean Dudley

It has taken eight years, but Mark Parsinen is on the cusp of making a much-anticipated return with his second Scottish links offering. Castle Stuart Golf Links is the developer/co-designer's follow-up project to Kingsbarns and, located six miles east of Inverness and banking onto the Moray Firth, the site has fantastic views to the Kessock Bridge, the Black Isle and Castle Stuart itself.

Construction of the pay-and-play course started in June 2006 and a preview opening has been scheduled for the summer with an official launch date set for 2009. A 57-room boutique hotel and spa facilities will open soon after with a second links course in the offing. There will also be 148 resort-ownership lodges and apartments.

American architect Gil Hanse has been sharing design responsibilities with Parsinen. Like the developer, it is Hanse's second Scottish project, having built Crail Golfing Society's Craighead course a decade ago. "People will notice a difference in the greens and the recovery issues they'll face if they don't hit close to the pin," said Parsinen. "The greens will be smaller but once you're on them, you'll have a more manageable putting situation. The sharp green contours on Kingsbarns will constitute edge conditions on the greens here. You might be as far away from the pin at Castle Stuart but you'll be in the apron cut or the fairway where you can putt, chip or flip a wedge. We try not to use bunkers as a knee-jerk response for the basis of recovery around a green." The disparity between the courses doesn't stop there. As well as remarkable views, the site also provided more textural variety. "It will have the same latitude of play but a different landscape mosaic," Parsinen said. "Here we've worked hard to bring heather and marram grass into the mix and not rely on gorse. When we did Kingsbarns, it was monochromatic – tight-mown fairways, sheep's fescue and roughs, and the gorse took three or four years to grow in. Here we already had mature gorse, so from day one the landscape mosaic was more interesting." Much of the 7,000-yard course has been routed along the coast with seven greens banked directly onto the beach. All of the holes have been orientated to take advantage of noted landmarks, which cleverly re-emphasise the beauty of the area, and many have views across the entire site.

The layout is skilful and considered but also manages to instil a sense of heritage, as course manager Chris Haspell explained. "The landscape has been really important to Mark and Gil, but we've also transported in heather and marram. When we've finished, we'll have planted around 5,000 sq m of sustainable heather and used about 200,000 plants to create that dune-edge look." While sleeper edges around paths and tee complexes will also add to the illusion, it's the bunkers that will be of most interest. "Where there's tight-mown grass, we'll have a recognised revetted edge for maintenance and safety purposes," said Haspell. "But instead of revetting all the way round, the edges closest to nature will look as they did when the sheep sheltered there from the wind – that's the look we're after. We've also put in relic bunkers that look like there was a bunker there once but sand has blown in and the grass has taken over. The idea is to give it that old feel."