INVERNESS, Scotland -- The 7,009-yard Castle Stuart Golf Links is forever in debt to Phil Mickelson. It was Mickelson who won the 2013 finale of three straight Scottish Opens at Castle Stuart, essentially putting this modern links that opened in 2009 on the map.
American viewers who tuned in to watch Mickelson ended up gawking in awe at the beauty of the Scottish Highlands and the Moray Firth.
Castle Stuart, co-designed by Gil Hanse and developer Mark Parsinen, mesmerizes everybody who sees it, whether on television or in person. Local landmarks like the Castle Stuart, dating to 1685 and framing the fourth hole; the Kessock Bridge; and Chanonry Lighthouse are all visible during play.
The first three holes of each nine roam along the shore before the layout reaches higher ground for more panoramic scenery. Likewise, each loop climaxes on opposite sides of the unique Art Deco clubhouse.
The 364-yard ninth hole rises to a green that repels shots down into a valley in the fairway. The green of the risk-reward, 595-yard, par-5 18th hole clutches the cliffs.
It's a second-shot links. Hitting the wide fairways is easy. Navigating the mine field of bunkers near the greens is another story.
Future development -- a second course by the Arnold Palmer Design Company and lodging -- will recruit more golfers to make the pilgrimage north to such a special place.