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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?
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.
To play the Mecca of golf is a pilgrimage all golfers should make at least once. My friend and I was fortunate enough to get in through the ballot on a windy Saturday morning in October. Unlike most other top courses I’ve played the excitement starts to bubble the moment you click “enter” into the ballot, it feels like an eternity of a wait until the draw is published later that day. Frantically scrolling through the list of names we’d bagged a mid morning slot along with a college student at St Andrews and his grandfather. The drive into the town is probably as exciting as it gets without striking a ball, sites we’d seen for years on television, in magazines and only to be played on Tiger Woods Golf....it was finally our time to experience “The Home of Golf”. We paid a green fee of £125 that included a small goody bag that hosted tees, pencils and a pitch mark repairer. It’s was everyone’s first time on the Old Course so we made the bold decision to play it off the back pegs in howling wind. When you look at the course infront of you, you question how tricky can a flat mostly generous track really be..... well we found out pretty quickly. The outward 9 played predominantly into a howling 35mph wind and you were lucky if well struck drives passed the 180 yard mark. The 1st, 17th and 18th are tee shots you’ll never forget ..... unfortunately the holes in between don’t quite live up to the quality that’s reached of the fore mentioned holes. The standard of the fairways and greens are still of the highest quality but the holes lack a cutting edge that you get with a Dornoch. My overriding feeling is this is a 4 star golf course but a 6 star experience and one I’d advise you all to try.
I was lucky enough to get a tee time on Christmas eve. Having just played the New Course expectations were high. Although both me and my golfing partner had strong first tee nerves we immediately relaxed by the large fairway on the 1st hole that awaited us.
I would like to add the whole set up is incredibly relaxed and the staff are incredibly friendly and generally you will tee off as the group in front finishes on the first green. Although we expected a course guide we were happy to receive a small gift back with tees and a pitch marker which added to the experience.
The second hole is really where the magic of the old course starts. Both being relatively big hitters we could see the challenge of driving it between the bunkers. Studying of the course guide seemed almost necessary for first timers. A pitch onto the green of the 2nd left us both in bewilderment of the undulations of the green. This course is really built to match the terrain of the course.
My golfing partner being a competitive and talented requested playing off the championship tees. What we did notice very quickly was that the Old course really is not the most challenging course we have played. Personally I believe the Jubilee course to be the most testing of the three. The Old course is rather forgiving, unless you find yourself in the face of a 6ft bunker 150 yards from the green.
The 7th hole in my opinion is one of the finest holes of the course. We studied the course guide and angled our shots. Astonished at the size of the green at 53 yards across. Immediately we realised that the players on the 11th were hitting over from us and players on the 12th were teeing off. Furthermore, the three ball in front were finishing on the green on the green as we walked around the corner. It was here that we realised the Old Course is inherently special. We both felt an immense sense of connectivity and enjoyment between all players on the course and ourselves. The next best experience for us was teeing off on the 11th and experiencing the same feeling yet again but from another perspective above other players on the 7th.
The hardest hole for both of us proved to be the 14th. Both of us even with the map really struggled to work out where to hit it. The red hat of a player in front gave us some idea of where to hit it. Hell bunker is a feature of this hole although easily avoidable it does make for an incredible photo opportunity. A stand out hole in our mind.
The 17th provided the all-risk and little reward we craved and dreamed of since watching the open. Driving a ball over the old course hotel and cutting the corner. Or in my case, getting a helping hand from of the roof of the hotel to return me to the fairway. Neither of us ended up in the pot hole road bunker but we would of happily to try and emulate what we had seen on the TV as children.
The 18th was everything we had hoped for and more. Both grinning as we crossed the bridge. The members behind us were very courteous and didn’t mind us taking photographs and even lending our clubs to a tourist for a quick photo.
I won’t focus on any negative points of the course for the review. I believe these have been talked about in detail in past reviews. I will admit a few holes such as 8 and 9 are on the weak side. Is the Old Course one of the top 10 courses in the world? I think so. Is it the best golf experience in the world? Yes, yes, it is. We are hoping to make this a Christmas tradition.
I would also like to add that the course is in perfect condition despite it being December and the greens are second to none.
I have played the Old Course at St Andrews Links many times. I'm not sure I will go back given on my last round I shot my lowest score even (76 with 3 finishing bogeys) and I don't want to tempt fate.
Whenever I enter a discussion of the best golf courses in the world, the Old course always comes up. In terms of the experience itself, only Augusta National can come close, but most people do not get to experience Augusta National. There are other courses such as Cypress Point, Royal County Down, Royal Portrush, Royal Melbourne, National Golf Links, Merion East, Tara Itt, Pacific Dunes, Cape Wickham, that also enter the discussion in terms of experience, but when it comes down to it, nothing can rival the history, the setting and uniqueness of the Old Course.
I played earlier this year at Notts and Ganton and we had a lively discussion with the host member regarding the Old Course. Architecturally we agreed it is not that brilliant and the layout is both a bit dull (out and back) and a bit quirky (the loop in the middle). Yes, you can hit it left most of the time off the tee and be safe. The landscape is not pretty at all; there really is not much beauty on the golf course. On some of the fairways I have used my putter from almost 100 yards away and gotten close to the hole as those are both flatter fairways and flatter greens.
But then you mention beginning the round in front of the famous R&A building, the tremendous double greens, how most of them are raised, how they undulate, how they are protected, etc. Then you discuss the infamous 11th hole, the uphill extremely difficult par 3. Next you discuss the Hell, Beardies, and Coffins bunkers. You discuss the Principal's Nose and the Shell bunker. Following that, the discussion goes to the out of bounds on the the fourteenth with the low stone wall on the right.
Then of course the discussion comes the drive over the corner of the Old Course hotel to that amazing bunker fronting the 17th green and the rock wall behind it.
Finally there is the drive to the largest fairway ever as long as you don't hit right into the street or a building, finishing in the town with as few as a dozen people watching and as many as a couple hundred waiting to see if you can navigate the Valley of Sin.
There truly is nothing like it.
Yes, there are a few weak holes such 4, 7, 8, 9, and 10 but one can also run up a big score on these holes on a windy day.
There are also exceptional holes such as 2, 11, 14, 15, and 17.
One final note: yes, the rounds can take forever. I have played rounds in less than four hours and as long as 5:15 (we were a three ball as well on a beautiful day in September - go figure). But relax, accept the pace and enjoy each hole. The Old course must be experienced at least once.
I do not believe it is the best golf course in the world like George Peper does. Of the 705 courses I have currently played, I have it 32 per my own ranking scale. I do see why some would rate it the best or certainly in the top ten. But I do believe it is the best golf experience in the world.
After several plays on the Old Course over the last 15 or so years I have to say honestly that I just didn't get it the first go around back in something like 2006. Compared to the other courses I played on the trip: Kingsbarns, Carnoustie, St. Andrews Bay (Devlin and Sturdavent), Gullane 1, Muirfield and North Berwick it's fair to say it really didn't come out on top. In retrospect, not a half bad trip for my first ever golf trip. However, for some reason I really longed to return and see what I missed. The first episode was one of waking up at 4 am on a freezing cold morning and waiting in line for what seemed like hours. Getting an approximate tee time and running back to the B&B to quickly shower and eat before heading back to wait for my slot. By the time my name was called on the first tee everything was a blur of stiffness and nerves playing with 3 R&A members that couldn't of been nicer and more welcoming. I guess from that day I can remember 3 holes and vaguely at that.
Fast forward to each subsequent visit and I still get the nerves and excitement of teeing off there but with each play my love and appreciation for the course grows. It seems like I've yet to play the same course, each time in totally different conditions. As much as I enjoy the outward 9, it's really the inward 9 and playing your way back into town that never ceases to amaze me and challenge my scorecard.
If we measure golf in terms of experience a game at the Old Course is a world top 5 in my book. It's a place where the buzz of being there keeps me awake at night and early morning strolls around the hallowed grounds reverse the sleepless effect. Few places exude the magic of golf and all it's past much like St. Andrews and if there was one experience of all the courses I've played I could wish for everyone then it would be a game here.