St. Andrews Dukes Course: Noble heathland golf at its best

June 28, 2012
David Brice, Golf International, Inc.

David Brice, CEO of Golf International, reviews destinations on PGATOUR.COM that can be experienced by purchasing a package with Golf international, a leading provider of high-end international golf travel. For more information about this trip or any other of Golf International's destination trips, click here.

Thoughts of St. Andrews, immediately brings links courses to mind and for good reason - The Auld Grey Toon and its surroundings are over-flowing with some of the world's very best seaside layouts But for any who may be under the impression that this is the extent of St. Andrews golf, there are a few surprises in store, not the least of which will be The Dukes Course, arguably one of Scotland's premiere heathland courses.

1. An impressive remodelling has transformed The Dukes into a top Heathland layout..jpg
An impressive remodelling has transformed The Dukes into a top Heathland layout.
2. The Dukes Course commands spectacular views across St. Andrews to the sea..jpg
The Dukes Course commands spectacular views across St. Andrews to the sea.
3. Serious bunkering demands thoughtful strategy..jpg
Serious bunkering demands thoughtful strategy.
4. A relief for many, The Dukes offers a fleet of buggies..jpg
A relief for many, The Dukes offers a fleet of buggies.
5. If variety is the spice of life, The Dukes is a red-hot dish..jpg
If variety is the spice of life, The Dukes is a red-hot dish.
6. There may be no better location in golf than that enjoyed by The Old Course Hotel..jpg
There may be no better location in golf than that enjoyed by The Old Course Hotel.
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It may be the temptation of Scotland's links courses that brought you here, but miss the opportunity to face the challenge of The Dukes and you will be missing a championship gem that belongs on the must play list of every serious golfer.

Developed, owned and operated by St. Andrews Old Course Hotel, the town's only luxury, 5 star hotel, sitting alongside the 17th fairway of the grand old lady herself, the impression was that the world's most famous golf course was owned by the hotel of the same name. Many visitors thought that a stay at The Old Course Hotel automatically provided a preferred status to play the Old Course itself, which has never been the case. The Old Course is a municipal golf course, in essence owned by the town and no hotel has any preferred status when it comes to obtaining tee-times.

Out of a sense of service for its guests, the Old Course Hotel's then owners decided they needed to have a course of their own, where hotel clients would have a preference and could be assured of a round of golf, even when all other courses in the area were filled.

With no available linksland remaining within St. Andrews, 300 acres of attractive countryside and farmland was purchased on the outskirts of town, just 10 minutes from the hotel and development of what would be known as The Dukes Course began. Five time British Open Champion and accomplished architect, Peter Thomson was charged with the design and in 1995 The Dukes Course opened, a 7,000 yard monster that would test the mettle of any player.

The design was sound and took full advantage of the totally natural surroundings and views across town to the sea. It certainly provided a solid test of golf and was generally acknowledged as a very good heathland layout, although it never quite succeeded in achieving the level of popularity with visitors that had been hoped for.

Fast forward a few years to 2005 and there was a new owner of both The Old Course Hotel and the Dukes Course - an American, Herb Koehler by name. This was a man who had already made his fortune in manufacturing and was wealthy enough to pursue his golfing passions as most can only dream. Whistling Straights was already established as an example of what his well-financed passion could bring to golf and Mr. Kohler grasped the opportunity to take that same formula to the game's very birthplace.

The first focus of attack was the hotel. Always classified as a deluxe, 5 star property, Kohler was determined to turn The Old Course Hotel into something even better. The mission was accomplished within little more than a year and today St. Andrews Old Course Hotel has been transformed into Scotland's leading luxury hotel and deserving of a 6th star, if only the classification system had a 6th star to give.

With the hotel mission accomplished, all of attention was turned to The Dukes Course where Kohler placed all of his energy and released his true passion for golf, revealing an eternal quest for perfection. The end result is here for every visitor to experience -- a very good heathland layout has been transformed into one that is excellent and should soon find itself officially ranked among Scotland's best.

The transformation is quite amazing and has brought an entirely new and very natural flow to 18 holes that are as packed with variety and different challenges as any in Scotland. Now extended to a gargantuan 7,512 yards from the tips, the 5 different tees on each hole have turned this monster into one that can be approached by all skill levels, with a test from the front tees that is totally different from the extremely tough, championship tees at the back.

A lot of work was done on the bunkering, which now includes a generous helping of traditional and very serious pot-bunkers. The previously somewhat decorative, shallow fairway bunkers have also been given new teeth and a relevance requiring they are paid heed by one and all. Five holes were completely redesigned and a lot of attention was paid to improving the greens, which can now be ranked among the truest and best in Britain, as is the overall course maintenance.

It's immediately obvious to every visitor that Kohler is a man with an awful lot of respect for the game of golf. It's no coincidence that the town of St. Andrews, never the easiest to please in matters pertaining to golf, has reciprocated and taken the new Dukes Course into their hearts as a more than worthy addition to their already impressive collection of outstanding courses.

The Dukes Course has been re-born and although not a links, it demands and deserves the attention of every gofer who sets foot in St. Andrews -- the reward for those who do will be a truly memorable and perhaps even unique experience. You might also want to consider adding even more style to your St. Andrews visit, with a stay at The Old Course Hotel. There is no more luxurious nor relaxing a place to stay and savor the many attractions of the birthplace of this game called golf. For more suggestions on what to see and do on your St. Andrews trip, click here.

©2012 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Golf International -- Providers of quality golf travel arrangements since 1988.