Golf Life: Kingarrock provides unique hickory experience near St. Andrews

Brentley Romine/Golfweek

Golf Life: Kingarrock provides unique hickory experience near St. Andrews

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Golf Life: Kingarrock provides unique hickory experience near St. Andrews

CUPAR, Scotland – Hanging on a wall inside Forrester’s Cottage, the small stone pro shop for Kingarrock Hickory Golf Course, is a list of bylaws.

Among the local rules, neatly handwritten and framed behind glass:

  • Honorary members are only allowed to play with new balls, and must lose at least one each round.
  • When a ball is lost the honorary members must communicate in writing with the secretary, indicating as nearly as possible where the ball was last seen, and whether sliced or pulled.

All around the cottage are artifacts and photos of Frederick Sharp and the nine-hole golf course that he built with his son, Hugh, in the shadows of the Hill of Tarvit Mansion House. Ross Wilson, the golf experience manager at Kingarrock, sets down a bag of five 1900-style hickory golf clubs – a spoon, driving iron, mid-mashie, mashie-niblick and blade-style putter.

At Kingarrock, now owned by the National Trust of Scotland, rounds are exclusively played with these hickory clubs – or you could bring your own set – and rubber-wound golf balls, which also are included in the £45 nine-hole green fee.

The bylaws of Kingarrock Hickory Golf Course go back to 1925. (Brentley Romine/Golfweek)

The key to hitting good shots with these antiques? “Swing slower,” Wilson said.

At just over 2,000 yards and played to a par of 35, Kingarrock is golf in its purest form. The greens and collars are hand-cut, and the fairways and tee boxes are mowed using 1920s-style trailed gangs. No fertilizers or artificial irrigation are used. A flock of sheep, which lives left of the first hole, manages the rough.

“The sheep themselves are very friendly,” Wilson said. “The electric fence that keeps them in? Not so friendly.”

Sharp, a jute magnate and R&A member, moved with his family to the Fife countryside, 12 miles west of St. Andrews, from Dundee in 1906. Four years later, Sharp and his son completed the golf course. While intended for the family, the course also was open to family friends and acquaintances, who could play the course when the family wasn’t using it.

However, Sharp died in 1932 and his son just five years later. The course eventually became a farming site to help aid troops during World War II.
“It lay that way for about 70 years,” Wilson said.

That is, until a 1924 map of the course and Sharp’s golf bag were discovered in the 1990s by the National Trust. The course was brought back to life, though with a different layout (the original layout had several holes that dangerously crossed each other), and in 2008 was officially reopened under the Kingarrock name. In October 2014, the Trust took ownership and now runs tee times from March 1 to Oct. 31. (Tee times begin each day at 9 a.m. and are available in half-hour gaps.)

The experience at Kingarrock is a slice of Edwardian life. The property is scattered with grass tussocks, gorse and several species of trees – including Sessile Oak, Copper Beech and Sweet Chestnut – and offers beautiful views of the Fife countryside, with the towns of Craigrothie and Drumcarrow visible in the distance. Authentic ginger beer and shortbread are offered after your round.

As for the golf course, there are several memorable holes. The par-3 seventh features a cundy, or drainage stream, that guards the front of the green and tall grass that defends the back. The par-4 finishing hole challenges players with an elevated tee shot to a reachable green off the tee. (Will it be the spoon or the mid-mashie?)

Wilson offers one important piece of advice.

“Don’t have any expectation of shooting your best round ever because it’s probably not going to happen,” Wilson said. “Just have fun out there and enjoy the experience.”

And if you lose a golf ball or two, make sure to leave a note. Gwk

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