In the late 1800s, the Old Course was getting too popular, largely due to the extra visitors flocking to St Andrews on the trains. The R&A decided to pay for the New course to be built in return for allocated tee times on the Old. These rights are still enclosed in an Act of Parliament passed in 1894, the precursor to the current Act of 1974, which specifies how the public St Andrews links courses are managed.
The New course was designed by Old Tom Morris and Benjamin Hall Blyth, an Edinburgh engineer, and opened for play in 1895. This makes it one of the oldest “new” courses in the world!
Situated adjacent to the Old course, the New is often referred to as the local’s favourite because it is tighter and more defined than the Old. It possesses some similarities to the Old, shared fairways, a double green at the 3rd and 15th and the traditional out and back layout. In many ways it plays and feels more "normal" than the Old – it’s certainly less quirky and perhaps prettier too, with swathes of dense gorse providing brilliance of seasonal colour.
The fairways are undulating, but they don’t have the same slopes and curves as the Old. Consequently, there are fewer hanging lies. There are some great holes on the New, especially in the dunes around the turn for home. The 10th hole is a tough 464-yard par 4 and it's a cracking hole which Bernard Darwin also liked, but thought that it was not in the Old course mould. In his 1910 book, The Golf Courses of the British Isles, he wrote: “This is nevertheless a really fine one, running down a narrow gorge between two ranges of hills, with a fine, slashing second shot with the brassey, albeit more or less a blind one”.
We think that if the New Course could be transported to virtually any other coastal stretch of the British Isles, away from the shadow of its auld mater, it would surely have a higher reputation and be recognised as the excellent links course it is. Who knows? If the course had not been in the shadows for so long and perhaps updated to a similar extent as many other links courses, it might well have played host to an Open Championship.
In 1910, Darwin wrote: “Still there occasionally comes a time when we grow sick to death of the crowding and waiting on the Old course, and then we are glad enough to steal away on to the New course and have a round, which will probably be at any rate a comparatively quick one.” Could this really be the answer as to why the locals prefer the New course?
Returning the other day, some eight years after I first played here, I was left with much the same impression as before; the New is a good, solid links that’s well worth playing (especially in the winter at half the normal green fee rate) but don’t expect to be bowled over by it. Unlike when I played it previously, you now have to use a mat to play from fairways during the winter months but, according to the starter, they don’t mind you kicking your ball to the side and playing from the semi rough.
Some severe gorse removal to the left of the fairway and at the back of the green on the par three 5th has resulted in the construction of some weird looking jagged mounding at the back of the putting surface, which I can only hope will soften in due course, once the gorse regenerates.
I agree with others who speak favourably of the 225-yard 9th hole; I’m not a fan of long par threes but this one is a real cracker, played slightly uphill and semi blind to a bowl-shaped green that should gather tee shots to the pin, assuming they’ve been struck firmly enough on the tee.
On the inward half, the back to front cant of the shelf green at the 13th has, I suspect, ruined many a scorecard down the years whilst the internal contours of the elevated green at the 15th (a putting surface shared with the 3rd hole) are also more than capable of making a golfer look foolish as they attempt to hole out.
The Top 100 site currently ranks the New above the Duke’s within the Kingdom of Fife but I’d personally reverse that order.
The New’s good but it’s not great; enjoy nonetheless.