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St Andrews Links - follow signs to West Sands
Book well in advance - by ballot
Rarely is the Old course ranked outside the top ten because it’s a very special links, designed by Mother Nature. Surely there is little left to write about St Andrews; the spiritual home of golf, the world’s most famous links course, the mother of golf and so on. It is probable that golf was played here way back in the 12th century; what is certain is that the Old course is one of the oldest golf courses in the world.
In 1553, the Archbishop of St Andrews administered confirmation, at last allowing the community to play golf over the links. The Society of St Andrews Golfers was formed in 1754 and ten years later the course was reduced from its original 22 holes to 18. In 1834, William IV bestowed royal patronage on the club and The Society then changed their name to the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, the world’s oldest surviving “Royal” golf club. Sadly, the first royal club, Royal Perth, is no longer in existence, though in 1937, Royal Perth was born again, this time in Australia. Significantly, Ladies’ golf began at St Andrews; the world’s first ladies golf club was founded here in 1867. Royal North Devon’s ladies club was formed one year later.
"There are those who do not like the golf at St Andrews," wrote Bernard Darwin in his 1910 book, The Golf Courses of the British Isles, "and they will no doubt deny any charm to the links themselves, but there must surely be none who will deny a charm to the place as a whole. It may be immoral, but it is delightful to see a whole town given up to golf; to see the butcher and the baker and the candlestick maker shouldering his clubs as soon as his day's work is done and making a dash for the links."
The St Andrews Old course itself usually isn’t an instant hit, it’s a golf course you have to get to know and love. First timers might be somewhat disappointed. It's also unlikely that the Old course will feel familiar when you play it for the first time (except perhaps the 1st, 17th and 18th). Television pictures tend to make the ground look very flat, but the humps, hollows and ripples in the fairways are much deeper when you get out onto the course, as indeed are the pot bunkers. Dr Alister MacKenzie wrote in his book, The Spirit of St Andrews: “A good golf course is like good music or anything else: it is not necessarily a course which appeals the first time one plays over it; but one which grows on a player the more frequently he visits it.”
In Tom Doak’s Little Red Book of Golf Course Architecture, the author goes a long way towards explaining why the Old course isn’t an instant hit:
“The Old Course would never receive the acclaim it has
today if we hadn’t been told for eons how great it is. It is the great golf
course that the most players tend to dismiss as overrated after their first
round – of course, that has something to do with its fame too. But it seems to
me that the two reasons for it are simple: 1) most tourists don’t get to see
the most interesting hole locations, which are reserved for important events,
and 2) golfers can’t make out the strategies of the holes because the features
are so difficult to see.”
However, it goes without saying that every golfer should play this course at least once, preferably multiple times. It sends shivers down the spine when the starter announces your name, setting those first tee nerves jangling. Oozing familiarity with names like the Swilcan Burn, the bridge over the burn—thought to have been built by the Romans—and the Valley of Sin. There are many memorable holes on the Old course, but one in particular, the 17th, the Road hole, is probably the most famous hole in the world.
And a word about the greens: they are the most extraordinary and interesting putting surfaces in the world. There is little definition between where the fairway, fringe and green stops or starts and the fairways are probably faster and certainly more undulating than the average golf club’s greens. And the size of them is absolutely staggering—they are gigantic—occupying more than an acre in some cases. When you are on the green, forget about having the pin tended—take a pair of binoculars instead.
Mother Nature was largely the architect of the Old course, but some credit must be given to Allan Robertson. In 1848, he widened fairways, created the now-famous gigantic double greens and built the infamous Road Hole green. Robertson's protégé, Old Tom Morris, also made further revisions to the Old course down the years.
"If I could be certain that everyone were intimately acquainted with the Old Course at St Andrews," wrote Tom Simpson, "my task, in saying what constitutes a good golf course would be a very simple one. I should just say St Andrews and leave it at that."
So, get yourself in the ballot and keep your fingers crossed. You will definitely remember the Old course experience for the rest of your life. And did you know that St Andrews Links has become the first Open Championship venue to achieve the prestigious GEO Certified ecolabel?
There’s not anything to say about the Old Course that hasn’t been said. On previous trips to the town I had spent hours watching the comings and going on the 1st tee and 18th green, I had walked the entire course 6 days after Zach Johnson had won the Open in 2015, yet when I learned of our successful ballot I wasn’t as excited as I should have been.
‘Never meet your heroes’ goes the old saying and perhaps I was fearful of being underwhelmed. The forecast was also 42mph winds and that also led to my apprehension.
After the excitement of the 1st tee, where I was delighted to smack a 3 wood down the middle - we got the 2nd green and I was 100% certain this place was a golfing masterclass. The collection of contours, humps, hollows and bunkers is simply unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
The greens ran true with just enough grass on them to ensure playability in the high winds. The rough was whispy, enough to cause problems but not hungry enough to collect balls from handicap golfers and weary tourists. The fairways were firm and the bunkering majestic.
A few noteables that make this special. 10 minute intervals between groups. It wasn’t until the 10th hole we even saw the group in front of us and never saw the group behind all day. For the front 9 we felt that we had the course to ourself. A remarkable feat on a course that is basically fully booked from April to October.
A caddy. Unless you are an expert at reading a yardage book, you need to have a caddy with your group. There are so many hidden perils - bunkering on 5, 12 & 15 especially tough to identify unless you are a regular player there.
A very nice little zipped bag with a spare card, yardage book, pencil, pitch repair and ball marker.
And simply just the playability. Ok, so there could be a lot more rough and they seem to always be cutting gorse back but to have such big targets off the tee is a godsend for the higher handicapper, while still giving the elite players a risk / reward line to get into position for birdie.
If you were going to be critical of anything, you could find spots away from the fairways that weren’t in great condition. Some of the holes around the turn are a bit manic as you cross over the, 11th and 7th in particular.
But my only real criticism is that I can’t play here every week. Undoubtedly a must play for all true golfers.
We'd played the Old Course a few years earlier, but had to play off fairway mats, so we were keen to experience the course again and play it properly.
A 7:40am tee time meant an early start on the range in order to prepare ourselves for the opening tee shot. Thankfully the weather was kind and the sun was shining, albeit with a slight breeze.
We got to the 1st tee early and enjoyed a bacon sandwich whilst watching the earlier groups tee off, and seeing all kinds of opening tee shots!
Once on the tee the starter was happy to take photo's and have a chat, and trying to keep everyone calm. We'd opted not to take caddies but were very much in the minority as most people on the course had.
As with the last time we played, tremendous nerves again accompanied our tee shots, but thankfully we were all successfully away down the fairway.
The course itself is in great condition, as you'd expect. One thing I'd forgotten is the close proximity to the New Course over holes 2 to 9. In fact, any shot way right is in danger of landing on the New Course itself. However, the line on the Old Course is to aim left on pretty much every hole but study the course guide carefully as there are hidden pot bunkers everywhere, and you're more likely to come out backwards or sideways than advance it forwards if you find one.
The greens were true, and if the wind isn't blowing too hard you can score well. I find the 8th, 9th & 10th to be the only weak holes and having now played it twice I still have no idea how to play the Par 5 14th!!
16, 17 & 18 are great closing holes and I was glad to miss the road hole bunker this time around.
Driving on 18, and taking photo's on the swilcan bridge, you can appreciate all of the history of the place and the greats that have gone before you. A particular highlight is putting out on 18 in front of a small crowd, applauding when you drain the putt.
It's not the best course you'll ever play, but it might be the most memorable.
Amongst certain circles it’s bordering on treason to say the Old Course is overrated. That being said, it seems to be a popular, if less outspoken opinion to say that whilst the experience is great, the course in comparison is a little disappointing. And if I’m to be frank, when it makes its appearance on our TV screens, it’s not a course I find particularly alluring, so I fully expected my own assessment of the course to conform with this ‘overrated’ opinion.
So with my expectations in check, I headed to Fife for a week-long golf tour, and I’ll happily admit that I was looking forward more to my day trip to East Lothian to play North Berwick than I was to my round on the Old Course. Notwithstanding these preconceptions however, my sense of anticipation quickly changed as soon as I reached The Home of Golf. For this university town must itself have a first-class degree in marketing and self promotion, because if you hadn’t been particularly excited about playing the Old Course before you arrive, you damn well soon will be. Once you’ve seen golfers teeing off the 1st and playing out 18, all whilst being situated slap-bang in the middle of the town, and then had this sense of anticipation compounded by facing ballot-place rejection for two consecutive days, getting that Old Course tee time suddenly gets an elevated sense of priority.
Anyway, I’m happy to report that the ballot came through third time lucky, saving us from the burden of lining up at an ungodly hour to join the singles' queue. So at dawn, allocated with the first open-ballot tee time of the day, an empty St Andrews Old Course with its centuries of history would greet us to what proved to be the most exceptional morning of golf.
I’m not going to even attempt to start trying to describe each hole. Countless articles, dissertations and books have been written about St Andrews’ hallowed turf in a far more eloquent and intellectual manner than I’d be able to, and in truth, I can’t recall every hole, but I can remember distinct features. Hollows, undulations and natural shapes, swales, gullies and run off areas all combine to mould a course like no other. It’s no wonder the Old Course represents ground-zero for golf architecture enthusiasts. You’re faced with mounds obscuring views, extreme contours and enormous yet severely undulating double greens. Each and every shot proves to be thought provoking and captivating. It’s the most intelligent course I’ve played, for it’s full of magic tricks and allows you to use your imagination like maybe no other course in golf. “How on earth did my ball end up there?” becomes a frequent thought due to the hidden hazards dotted here and there such as the crazy reverse bunkers on 12 which only come into view once you’ve idled your way past them.
The bunkers themselves are tremendous, many of which are monstrous in size and depth. Similar to many other natural catastrophes like typhoons and hurricanes, they’ve been given names to add to the sense of terror that comes with approaching them; Cartgate, Seven Sisters, Spectacles, Shell, Strath, Hell and Roadhole, to name but a few. But whilst the features themselves are distinctive and memorable, I can’t say the same for all of the holes individually, which is why some people probably don’t hold the course in the same high regard.
Nevertheless, the closing stretch from 11, where you play a mid iron to a raised green ahead of the Eden Estuary, and then make your way inward and back into town is just phenomenal. And each hole here along this closing sequence, together with each shot I played, for better or worse, has been etched into my brain. Then comes the crescendo at 17, a real tough old dog of a hole, a reputation well deserved as I fell foul of a triple bogey, before playing the glorious albeit simpler 18th for the first time. There are much better holes across the Old Course than the 18th, but this final hole is pure theatre and sense of occasion. It’s a hairs standing on end experience and one that’s unrivalled in that to my knowledge, no other course has a closing hole that gets amongst the public like this one. The drive with danger down the right, the photo for old time’s sake on the Swilken Bridge, playing your approach in front of the R&A building and Hamilton Grand hotel and then putting out on the 18th with the knowledge of what history has been made here before you. Then you have to hold your nerve in front of all of the people that gather to watch around the green; why oh why did I leave myself a three-footer on the last? There must be 20-odd people watching from the street.
So sink the putt, gesture to the watchers-on like it was never in doubt, and enjoy a well earned pint in the Jigger Inn. The course and the experience are inseparable, and this is an experience that any golf lover must pay homage to during their lifetime.
The Old Course overrated you say? Not for me.
So many people have reviewed this historic links. I would just like to add my disagreement with the many who moan it isn't worth the money or isn't that great or fpdifficultbor isn't even the best course in St. Andrews.
Played it twice and I love it. Not just the incredible history but the whole occasion of a round, with a caddie - again have heard so many say that that is a waste of money - playing a great and varied links course with some iconic holes.
If you are not fortunate enough to have played it YOU MUST
So fortunate to have played the course a number of times... and very time got crucified! But to play at the mecca of golf is amazing no matter how you score. From the opening to tee shot to the approach at 18, just memorable every time. A world top 10... no doubt.
I am not going to even attempt to add to what all the other reviewers have said, if their reviews are amazing I agree ! If it even hints at negative then they need their head examined. This place is magical and although the course is not long or particularly difficult (on a calm day) you can feel the history oozing out of every blade of grass and every shot good or bad was a privilege. If I never hit another golf ball after walking off the 18th I would still die happy knowing I played the mecca of golf. One standout memory for me is staying in a room overlooking the 17th hole and being totally unaware the course doesn't open on sundays.... to then wake up to kids building sandcastles in the road hole bunker as its public land... as I said magical, surprising and a total must for the true golf enthusiast.
Say, “The Old Course” and most people will know what you are referring to. As the home of golf, it’s traditions and quirks are unparalleled. It is the top ranked public course in the world and is closed most Sundays for golf but is open as a public park.
The Old Course has been remarkably flexible over time. For example, in 1764 it was decided to combine the first four short holes into two. This resulted in ten holes of which 8 were played twice, thus 18 holes. Today the course is played in an out and back counterclockwise pattern. That wasn’t always the case. For maintenance purposes they would also play it clockwise, teeing off at one and going to The Road Hole green. I was told in April for a two week period the course does play clockwise. This surprises many people but, The Old Course does have holes bisecting each other and 7 shared greens (14 holes). The Old Course has huge greens and expansive fairways. The Old Course is somewhat of an enigma, people love it or hate it, think it is too har or too easy. I prefer to look at it as, The Old Course.
My last visit I was with two buddies who had not been to Scotland. My question to them was, “How important is it to you to play The Old Course?” They each hemmed and hawed and I asked, “If we fly home and you didn’t play it would the trip have been worth it?” More hemming and hawing and I said ok great we won’t play it as I don’t think it is that great. That quickly changed their position and we decided to sign up for the lottery the next morning. When we saw the results at 4PM we were disappointed that our quest was unsuccessful. I had mentioned that when I had played previously I had seen multiple two and three balls. Not optimal, but we could get in the queue early in the AM get a tee time although we may not be able to play together. Vince called The Old Course to see what time we should get there to ensure a spot. He was told 430AM and that there were only 9 spots available. As we were driving to St. Andrews that evening we discussed our strategy. I suggested that the worse thing that could happen was to get there at 430 and find ourselves numbers 10-12 in line. Thus, perhaps we should leave the hotel at 330AM. Everyone begrudgingly agreed. I looked like a genius when we got there at 345AM and we were 7-9 in the queue.
When the starter shack finally opened we were given another option. Evidently, some tee times were reserved for group sales that pushed finishing in daylight. We were offered a chance at these or single tee times. I asked what the probability of success would be and was told that we had a good chance. I pushed my luck and said 50/50? And she said, much better, probably 80/20. I said we would risk it. She said ok and to be back at the starter shack at 9AM. We had breakfast I returned and we were rewarded with the 210 tee time. I then hustled down to Jubilee and secured a 920 tee time. I love it when a plan comes together!
We were announced on the tee. Moyo went first and hit a big hook that almost decapitated the foursome coming up 18. Vince then hooked his as well. I am thinking great, we have swung twice so far and have to yell fore each time. So I coolly blocked my tee shot right to avoid the embarrassment of having to yell fore again. The par 4 first is not very long and while you do have to navigate the Swilcan Burn it is relatively benign. The par 4 3rd hole is interesting, not that long, but you want to avoid the bunkers on the right side of the fairway. However, the further left you are the tougher your approach as you will need to fly the Carthgate bunker. The long par 4 4th provides a quandry from the got go. A drive to the left is safer, but then one must carry at least six bunkers and gorse to the green. Conversely, a drive down the right side has a narrower landing area. Pick your poison. The par 5 5th is the number 2 handicap (not sure why) and is reachable. The ideal line is left of the Spectacle bunkers. A higher risk is down the right. I was there inadvertently, but was able to hit a blind hero shot to the green. Of course, I left my eagle putt one Mexican revolution short. This green is massive, over 100 yards long. Perhaps that is why it the number 2 handicap hole. The 6th is interesting, in that there are about a dozen bunkers outside of 100 yards and none inside. Probably, a result of the old clockwise layout. Aim left of the marker post to try to avoid the bunkers. The best approach on the par 4 7th is to aim at the pin on the 11th green (another shared green). Not a long hole, but coming in from the left gives you the best angle to a narrow green and should take the huge Shell bunker out of play. Be cognizant of folks teeing off on 11 as the holes intersect. Nine and ten are birdie opportunities. The ninth is driveable aim at the End Hole bunker. The 10th is also driveable. Moyo did just that, which was great. Having to sink a four footer for bogey, not so great. Unfortunately, his misfortune carried over to the par 3 11th. He found the Strath Bunker and 9 whacks later finally got it onto the green. When I first played The Old Course, we were delayed on 11 and we could not understand what was happening. It was the first time I had ever seen anyone take an unplayable in a bunker. That didn’t work either. Good things the rules are changing. The par 4 12th has multiple fairway bunkers that you cannot see from the tee. The wind will really dictate whether you aim left or right. This is a tough multi-tier green. The 13th looks more ominous than it is. There are 3 bunkers in the middle of the fairway, named Coffins. I think left of these is better. The hole then narrows and you must carry traps and gorse on your approach. Whatever you do, do not block your approach right. The 14th is the number one handicap hole and home of the infamous Hell bunker. Do not spit into the wind, do not pull on Superman’s cape and do not tempt fate by flirting with Hell bunker. Hit your 2nd shot left to the fifth fairway to give yourself a chance. Once you are safe and sound, feel free to saunter over to the Hell bunker to cherish the fact that you chose not to participate. The 16th is much more difficult than it appears. OB right and The Principal’s Nose bunkers protecting the left. Nobody in our group parred it, so I cannot offer any particularly valuable insight. Which brings us to the world famous Road Hole. Standard advice is to aim at the third O in hotel sign and trust your swing. If you are a hooker, you must start further right. Do not be intimidated, the hotel has been hit countless times and has plexiglass windows. If successful, you still have a lot of work to do as this is a long hole. The safe shot is to the right front, regardless of where the pin is. We were all short and I advised Vince to aim right even thought the pin was right behind the Road Hole Bunker. I then promptly yanked my pitch right into it. Eight shots later I escaped sank my 15 foot par and exclaimed, “That’s how you make a 12!”. I have no idea why 17 is the number 5 handicap? We arrive at 18, hit decent drives, stop for the photo op on the Swilcan Bridge, secure our pars to the polite applause of the bystanders, shake hands and exhale.
If you love golf, The Old Course experience is like no other. Bordering on blasphemy, the course itself is not that tough, it is not that scenic, but it is the birthplace of golf as we know it. A round may be the shortest four hours of your life and be both mystical and spiritual. If you love golf you gotta go!
A once in a lifetime game for a New Zealand golfer, simply the best. The history of playing the holes you see on TV, that first Tee off on 1, the craziness of the holes at the turn, some of the incredible bunkers and finally 17 "the road hole" and 18. Easily the most memorable game of golf I have ever played. No question this course deserves to be in any worldwide top ten of courses.
The Old Course is simply unlike any other. I'm gonna try to capture the feeling rather than a hole-by-hole review. I had a 7:20 tee time on Monday 4/16, and I had planned on playing a round at the New or Jubilee in the afternoon, so when I checked where I could get on that morning, they offered me a second round on the Old! I had back-to-back rounds at the Home of Golf! The night before I could barely sleep, the first tee jitters are palpable throughout the practice green. Of course, you’re aiming at the widest fairway in golf, so it could be worse. Throughout the round I felt so humbled to be walking such an incredible course. My personal favorites were holes 3, 7, 9, 11, 17 and 18. In both of my rounds I was the only one to take on hitting over the sheds on the Road Hole (which surprised me) and I hit the fairway both times (which surprised me even more). And on 18, walking over the Swilcan Bridge with my Dad is something I will always cherish. The Old Course is one that I could play over and over and still be constantly amazed. I went to bed dreaming about playing it again, and even after 36 holes and over eight hours on the Course I loved it even more. One little piece of advice, if you are able to go and walk the Course on a Sunday when there are no tee times and the Course is open to the public, do so. Take the time to simply admire the beauty without having to worry about your next shot. Sorry for writing a short essay but believe me, I could write pages and pages on this Course. Go play it, you won’t be disappointed. - JWE
Old Course is closed on Sundeys lad. New and Jubilee are open 7 days a week though.
Yes what I meant was walk it while it’s closed and treated like a park, it lends a different perspective. Definitely made my rounds better
There’s little I can add to the reams that have been written about this wonderful course, but just a word on getting to play it.
In St Andrews for a weekend in February as a single golfer, I had no realistic thought that I would get a game on the Old and had resigned myself to playing one of the other courses instead (actually, resigned is completely the wrong word, as a round on any one of the New, Jubilee or Eden is quite a consolation). Anyway, I wandered past to the Old Pavillion at 9 in a Saturday morning and thought it wouldn’t hurt to ask. Within an hour I was on the first tee with a couple of members of St Andrews Golf Club and a guest of theirs. Less than 4 hours later I was putting out on the 18th.
So, an incredible experience? Absolutely. Difficult to get a game and a slow round when you do? Well, in the summer maybe, but do as I did and take a chance. You won’t regret it!