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?
Played on a sunny morning with a light breeze in February 2005. Unlike the Old course, you are allowed to play in the winter on the New without using a mat on the fairways. It is, in my humble opinion, nothing like its illustrious next door neighbour – no rippling fairways, deep hollows in front of greens, huge undulating double greens, hidden fairway bunkers and tee shots where landing areas are unseen. No, the New is far fairer with wide fairways and flatter greens (though greenside bunkers are just as fierce).There is plenty of gorse around but you have to be pretty errant to get penalised here.
Three points of note. First, if nearby Leuchars airfield is having a busy day, earplugs would be advised to minimise the noise of low flying jet aircraft. Second, there is no real view of the town (due to sand dunes and maintenance sheds) to provide a backdrop over the last few holes home which is a real pity as that adds to the atmosphere when playing the Old course. Three, I noted the suppliers of equipment on tees and greens were Canadian – are there no UK companies who could provide for the home of golf?
Finally, the clubhouse facilities are first class and becoming of a world sporting venue – the Links Trust have spent very well here so you can see where the above average green fees are going (though, these fees are very cheap for our North American visitors, believe me). If you cannot get on the Old course or cringe at the cost of paying over a hundred quid then the New may be for you at half the price.