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St Andrews Links - follow signs to West Sands
Book well in advance - by ballot
Championships hosted: Arnold Palmer Cup, Boys Amateur, British Masters, British PGA Matchplay, Curtis Cup, Eisenhower Trophy, European Amateur Team, Scottish Amateur, Scottish Open, Senior Amateur, Senior Open, St Andrews Trophy, The Amateur, The Open, The Womens Amateur, Walker Cup, Women's Home Internationals, Women's Open
The Old course at "The Home of Golf" in St Andrews has staged 29 Open Championships, that's more than any other course on the rotation.
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. 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?
I played The Old Course last year and was relatively underwhelmed. However, I’ve taken advantage of the easy access again and enjoyed it far more this time. Playing in a different wind helped, and I know people say it needs more and more plays to truly appreciate it, but I’d put it in my top 5 courses now.
For us mid-handicappers it has a fun mix of scoreable and true ‘championship’ holes. I had found some of the front nine forgettable and whilst I still think it’s a little inferior, 2 to 6 are very solid. The 12th is my favourite hole, I love the fact that it looks simple from the tee but you get to the fairway and it’s a minefield.
Everyone knows about the rest, there are a couple of Open venues I prefer but it’s hard to beat the St Andrews experience and nerves. It also has the best quality greens I’ve played on, I just wish people were more careful with pitchmarks - it’s treasonous.
Returned here a few weeks ago for another round, the auld town never fails to get the juices running and always a special place to visit. There is nothing to add to any other reviews or the countless momentary on the place, I can only sum up as "understated elegance"
4.5 balls for a golf course currently rated among the 10 in the world? I feel like you might indeed have something to add to the other reviews...even if it's just "whoops, chose the wrong rating!"
St Andrews Old is so much of a simple analysis to golf. In one breath you are offered a municipal course with tee times available. In another breath you have an advance tee time service which also offers an opportunity for play. Additionally, if you choose to partake of the guaranteed manner of play, you shall pay dearly. Doesn't that pretty much sum up the view of golf in general as to how you may partake of playing this game. The Old is the home of golf. It's an absolute joy to play. 6 times I have made my way to play it. Only once was that journey predetermined vis an advance tee time. Setting off to travel 4000 miles without a tee time requires a certain personality. Yes, an itinerary was filled out otherwise. But the primary reason for the trip is/was the Old. The 1st is as open as any 1st and yet you feel uneasy. The 17th as you take aim at the corner of the hotel. The 18th as you bring it home. The criss cross which creates some fun. Bunkers with names, keep it left, greens the size of football fields, which pin should I aim at. Perfection in many ways.
I’m not sure us mere amateurs should review this course. But just to provide perspective I’ll try it.
The best course in the world? Certainly the most famous. And so the opening tee shot was one of the most nerve wracking of my golfing career. The widest fairway in golf. But I was delighted to find it. Some didn’t the day I played!!
After the first you are away from the spectating tourists and the town and into a challenging but scoreable links course. Lots of blind drives!! Generally
aim left! A good study of your course guide or a caddy is vital. Then it’s tight lies and the crazy lumps and bumps of St Andrews. Obviously the course is in great condition and it’s amazing to think about all the greats having negotiated these holes.
The highlights after the tee shot on the 1st are the 17th and 18th. 17th tee. Pick your letter on the Hotel sign and hit it true! Then avoid the Road hole bunker and it’s a basic 450 yard par 4!! It was fun.
18 is great. The worlds widest fairway remember!
All in all a great experience. I loved it. Mainly due to holes 1,17 and 18. But all of the course is enjoyable. A one off probably but something most golfers should try once!!
The best experience in golf? If you are being critical, I find the first 6/7 holes a bit samey. But from then on it is excellent. 11 must be one of the best par 3s in golf and 12 one of the best short par 4s. 11-17 is just a fantastic stretch of golf. 18 taken in isolation is clearly not a great golf hole, but given everything about it, there is no better walk in golf
You really should not need a review here, this is the Old Course, where it all began! The town is great, the course itself is fantastic, different every time you play it. Any number of ways to play each hole, none inherently right or wrong, just golf. No real sea views but the views going into town will definitely get your heart pumping, as will the constant "gallery" that will be watching you on 1 and 18. First time out, be sure to take a caddie, you will be glad you did.
Ignore people who say "St Andrews isn't that good of a course". It's become cool in golf for people to say it isn't good, or it's only the history that makes it. The Old Course is quite simply one of the best experiences in the world.
If you can, try and queue up overnight by the starters hut for a tee time. I did this the first time I played back in 2015. I arrived at about 3am and was 12th in line, which was thankfully early enough to get myself a tee time. In the queue you'll meet people from every corner of the globe, who all share the same passion as you.
The property is very flat from end to end, but the contours on fairways and greens are extreme, and brilliantly fun. The whole course is fantastic. The 1st hole is iconic, and a nice easy start to your round. I can understand the criticism that 2, 3 and 4 are very similar holes, but after playing them several times you differentiate and realise they're all great holes in their own right. 7 is a wonderful par 4 which crosses the 11th, a quirk that I absolutely love. 11, 12, 13 and 14 are all great holes, but nothing prepare you for the finish. 16 is an outstanding par 4, and about as architecturally sound hole as you'll ever see, whilst 17 is arguably the best par 4 in the world. It's tough, it's quirky, it's different, and just a blast. 18 is one of the best walks in golf and the perfect way to finish.
Every hole that isn't a standout, is still an example of genius architecture, and deserves all the respect it gets.
St Andrews is my favourite place, and The Old Course is my favourite course in the world (by far).
Each opportunity to play The Old Course is cherished and comiited to the memory banks. I have played in all manner of conditions, played with friends, with strangers, in perfect golfing weather and on days where no one should be allowed out. Each of these days will stay with me forever!
So how does one evaluate the golf course?
The village of St Andrews dominates the opening and closing holes and they are both strategically strong, and visually stimulating with Swilcan burn & bridge, the clubhouse and village all intregal components in the experience. A caddy is crucial to play the Old Course- the lines of play are not obvious to the untrained eye. It is so important to stay out of the bunkers and give yourself a decent line to the flag.
The first time I played The Old Course I walked the course the night before and took note of where the fairway bunkers were. I parred the front nine, but it all came unstuck on hole 12 when a tee shot down the middle of the fairway disappeared into a deep pot bunker unseen from the tee!
It really is a magical mystery tour.. So many shots are partially blind, and the fairways pitch and heave sending the rolling ball off in unexpected directions.
The Old Course is so different to our weekly game of golf at home, and many will struggle with it. It can and will penalise apparently good shots with cruel bounces and it is definitely not a pretty course and does not photograph particularly well. However if you can embrace that unique old world links brand of golf, perhaps hit some bump'n'run shots rather than pitch in the air- you will inevitiably come away with a smile on your face.
The caddies are top notch- they know the lines, but also the type of shot required- and they read the green so well!
Playing The Old Course is a life experience every real golfer should aspire to- combining a wonderful old world links with the chance to partner up with an accomplished caddy- all at The Home of Golf!
Where else can you get nervous about an opening tee shot with a fairway so wide you cannot possibly miss it?
Other key shots you will remember are the approach shot over the burn on hole 1, the blind tee shot on the 2nd, the tricky tee shot on the par 3 eleventh hole, avoiding Hell bunker with the second shot on the 14th hole, all of your shots on the epic seventeenth hole- the tee shot over the hotel corner, the approach to the Road hole green and the various recovery shots when you inevitably miss! And the wonderful short approach to the final green with a an expectant crowd watching the action..
The Old Course has much to commend it. It is not the most picturesque course, but despite it’s age it is still a testing championship course. Most of today’s successful designers have been influenced by the design strategies the Old Course displays.
Depending on conditions TOC allows golfers to play target golf carrying the ball to the green as they do at home, but also rewards those that can show skills with the running ball. Playing The Old Course should be a priority of all true golfers.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
What to say about this place that hasn’t already been said! On reflection, I’ve used the word ‘special’ a lot in previous reviews, but there is no doubting in my mind that 99% of other courses pale into insignificance compared to this place. Filled with lots of intricacies, strategy, and personally most importantly for this reviewer lots of fun. Featuring some iconic holes, such as the 1st and 18th, played over the Swilcan Burn, and away from/back to the heart of St Andrews town. Another iconic hole is the Road Hole 17th, played over The Old Course Hotel (that used to be railway sheds), then asking players to deal with the deep road hole bunker and actual road. Have a look at the video of a playing partner smashing one into the hotel then playing his second 50 yards back from the tee behind the 16th green! However, there are SO many more brilliant holes. Personally, I love the 11th, 12th and 16th, to name but a few. The par 3 11th has been described as ‘the shortest par 5 in golf’, a statement I would tend to agree with, having experienced a complete meltdown on before when trying to avoid the short-left Bobby Jones bunker. I over clubbed, flew the green and ended up playing what can only be described as a game of ping pong for my next 3-4 shots. The 12th has hidden centreline bunkers which demand players not only to think but also to be accurate, accompanied with possibly the most interesting green complex that the course has to offer. The 16th has out of bounds right, but the further left you play off the tee, the harder the second shot comes. Quite simply, with its wide fairways, and 8 massive double greens, there is nowhere else like it! I appreciate this is a long review but I feel like I could go on for hours! Completely forgetting the amazing and well documented history of golf in The Auld Grey Toon to one side, there is no other golf course I would be giving my first perfect score too. If you haven’t been there yet, do what you can to get there ASAP (hopefully once all this current craziness dies down!).
Now, I love to ski. But rarely do I enter a town on a golf trip, steeped by the golf on offer. A ski town is usually defined by the towering mountains above, and the sliding to be had. When you arrive of an evening, you drink it all in. Sensing the adrenaline starting to course, at the prospect of boarding that stationary and alluring lift system the next morning, and reaching impossibly up into the distant and majestic massifs. To plant some turns.
Soon, you will set off for that expectant and anticipant sleep. If you can. But the adrenaline is flowing now, and the pulsing town nestling in the valley, has its soul intrinsically throbbing with the sport, and pulls you into the intoxicating revelry, spurred on by your wide eyed friends.
So it is, that St Andrews is similarly alive with Golf. Its beating granite heart, is fed by the links just steps away from the main street; and ably supported by some terrific supporting courses you can’t see. You might happen upon the links by accident. By an unassuming alley, ambling between humble Victorian terraces. As you tumble down to the sea. The shimmering metaled road, giving over to that iconic timeless lawn, bordered by white picket fences. They can't contain the aura that draws us all from the world over. This is our town.
Playing the Old Course is a visceral and unforgettable journey that you won’t recall for the holes of golf. Because it’s a swirling enigma. A chameleon that you won’t recognise from one outing to the next. It’s a shape shifter that is beguilingly familiar, yet starkly idiosyncratic and strange. It’s a joy that will disorientate and leave you swirling. It can combine the plain with the absurd. It can flatter you and it can annihilate. Every course you have ever played has this DNA running through it.
We played in the dying days of this awful medieval winter of child saints, plagues and tempests. The scaffolds were up on the Royal and Ancient, and out on the links itself, in various ways. The few fairways we hit, we played from matts. I counted 6 shots played from my rug, out of 70 blows. The long shots were infinitely less impacted than the diggy short shots. But for half the price you are still here. On the old Course. In St Andrews. Bliss.