A historic setting, an exceptional environment and impressive new partners helped convince Arnold Palmer that Castle Stuart in the Scottish Highlands was the perfect location for his first course in the Home of Golf.
The Arnold Palmer Group, which is investing in the current partnership at Castle Stuart Golf Links, is collaborating on building a second course on the shores of the Moray Firth near Inverness.
The new venture will complement the existing course at Castle Stuart, designed by Mark Parsinen and Gil Hanse, and which has achieved worldwide acclaim since opening in 2009.
Thad Layton and Brandon Johnson, two world-leading golf course architects from Arnold Palmer Design Company (APDC) say it is a ‘dream come true’ to be helping create a new iconic course at Castle Stuart. APDC is the golf course design firm founded by the golf legend, Arnold Palmer, in 1972.
Mr Palmer has had a decades-long love of Scottish links but has never designed a course in the country. He visited the site on Thursday, 16 July, while also attending The Open at St Andrews and aims to have the ‘Palmer Tribute’ opened by 2019.
It is planned that detailed plans will be submitted next month and work will start on the next course next spring.
Mr Palmer said: “When it comes to locations we’d like to work, Scotland has always been at the top of our list. We appreciate Scotland as home not only to the game of golf but arguably the best collection of courses anywhere in the world.
“Needless to say the bar is set pretty high. Accordingly, we’ve been careful not to jump at the first opportunity to come along, deciding instead to wait on the right project.”
He said after initial discussions and site visits, the APDC design team were impressed with the potential of the property and its Highlands location.
“Also, we were impressed with the professionalism, expertise, and enthusiasm of the Castle Stuart team. These factors made it an easy decision for us to get on-board.”
So what does the APDC team look for when choosing a new site?: “The simple answer is sand. While there are a few exceptions to this rule, most of the best courses in the world have sandy, well-drained soil. It’s no coincidence that this type of geology can be found along the coast, creating a stunning backdrop for golf.
“These great golf courses all have a distinct environment that makes each one a special place. For example, Cypress Point is known for the way it wraps around the Pacific Ocean and its bold bunkering. Augusta has its towering pines and Rae’s Creek, and St. Andrews is synonymous with rumpled contours and the backdrop of the old grey town.
“When searching for the next great place to build a course, the architect must look outside the boundaries of the course to key in on what will make it special.
“In the case of Castle Stuart, the property has a number of characteristics that are not only beautiful, but distinctly Scottish. To name a few, the property is home to a 400-year-old castle, exceptional topography, a grove of ancient hardwood trees, and a number of burns that crisscross the site.
“These elements combined with the backdrop of the Moray Firth, will give our course a great chance to form its own identity, creating a very memorable experience for all who play it.”
In addition, Mr Palmer said, the Castle Stuart site has the perfect amount of elevation change: “Not too much as to create problems building golf holes that lie naturally on the land, but not too little as to create issues with drainage.
“We’ve tried to route the golf course in a way that takes advantage of the natural contour on the site to eliminate the need to move unnecessary earth to make a great course. We’re also quite fond of the views of the sea. It will feature prominently in the makeup of many of our holes.
“After reviewing the routing with the team, we discussed the importance of short walks from green to tee. It is important to strike the right balance between building a great collection of individual holes while making it flow naturally between holes with manageable walks. We will continue to refine the route to insure the second course at Castle Stuart maximizes the possibilities of the property.”
After his initial visit this week, Mr Palmer plans to ‘come and go as needed’ as the course develops, with his architects Brandon Johnson and Thad Layton working throughout the construction with Mark Parsinen, Castle Stuart general manager Stuart McColm and the local team.
On the possibility of the new course attracting major championship or a Top 100 ranking in future, he said: “Our goal for the course is to take the time necessary to coax out the best golf course the property will yield. If we do that, everything else will take care of itself.”
The Palmer design philosophy is a simple one, he said, with the aim of making every course fun and beautiful within the existing landscape that surrounds it.
“That may sound overly simplistic, but when you take your design cues from the surrounding environment, it gives you the best chance to build courses that are memorable and altogether different from one another.”
He added: “The seaside links courses feature a brand of golf that rewards thoughtful play and provides a variety of paths to get the ball in the hole. If anything, we’ve tried to incorporate these elements into our designs over the years to create strategic and fun golf courses to play.”
The Castle Stuart project will help Mr Palmer achieve one design ambition, but he still has others remaining around the world.
“While we are just finishing up our first course in Brazil, we have a number of places that we’d still like to work. England and Scotland have always been up there.
“Now I suppose we can get ready to cross one of those off! Regionally we’d like to work on select sites in New Zealand, Africa, and Eastern Europe.
“It’s our hope to continue to develop courses in areas which don’t currently have golf as we strongly believe in the power of the game to enrich lives and communities.”
Castle Stuart Golf Links has achieved global acclaim in its first six years and was placed at No. 56 on Golf Magazine’s Top 100 courses in the World in 2013. Earlier this year it was ranked 13 in Golf World’s Top 100 courses in Scotland.
It staged the Scottish Open for three successive years from 2011-2013, with the 2013 championship, won by Phil Mickelson, reaching a worldwide television audience of more than 500 million, including weekend live coverage on NBC USA.
The championship, sponsored by Aberdeen Asset Management and the Scottish Government, will return to Castle Stuart in July, 2016.