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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?
One of the best courses, best experiences or both? As a person mad on golf I have waited far too long to visit St Andrews. The town of St Andrews is like mecca to golfers a right of passage and I could not wait to arrive and see what the town and course has to offer. I haven’t visited anywhere like it, where golf it as the heart of everything that is there. From the bars, museum, countless shops and even the hotels, the place is a golfers dream and goes above and beyond expectations. The course does have some detractors and I was interested to see what I would make of S Andrews the home of golf.
On the day the weather was as good as it gets. We played in scorching hot conditions with barely a breath of wind. I found that without its defences the course wasn’t overly difficult nor particularly long. I shot 5 over my playing handicap on my first time round, mainly due to a bit of a struggle on the greens. The greens were magnificent by the way and even with a caddy I just found them ever so difficult to play on. More experience of links golf and more times around the old course would certainly have given me a better chance to shoot my handicap.
I must say the first tee is superb, a real experience… and utter theatre. Depending on your tee time hoards of people can be sat watching you swing away and its possibly the most enjoyable/nerve wracking first tee in golf. The only comfort being that the fairway is about 100 yards wide. I was so pumped up I managed to hit my driver flush straight into the swilcan burn. I tried to take a bit off and swing easy. I suppose thats a lesson for us all.
I enjoyed the 7th hole a short par 4 where iron or 3 wood off the tee works best. Once safely in position a devilish approach awaited with a very difficult green sat upon a steep plateau. The 11th was also a nice par 3 with the Eden estuary in the background, and where the member we were paired with had a hole in one. Well done Scott if you’re reading.
I loved the lay of the land , the way the fairways were full of lumps and bumps. You never quite knew what would happen and I got a few lovely hops to avoid bunkers but also some horrendous ones that were gobbled up.
The bunkers were by far the best and toughest i’ve ever seen in golf. Not many courses have named bunkers but the Old course has many. The coffins or hell to name but a few and all have stories attached. It certainly created real drama in the round and playing in different winds must really bring different bunkers into play. You get the feeling that no round would ever be the same and I really enjoyed that aspect.
Mid round I was really starting to enjoy the tee shots. My main weakness in my game is with the driver, but around St Andrews such problems are negated by aiming into safe spots or left on most tees and playing other fairways. As is well known left is right and right is s***e and that played perfect for my game giving me a higher level of confidence than usual when branding the big stick. I managed to drive two of the par 4s and although we had perfect conditions i’m not an overly long hitter. I thoroughly enjoyed the course as it gave every golfer a fighting chance of playing well. It didn’t beat you up. If you could avoid the really bad rough and gorse by aiming well away from them then you’d avoid punishment
There is a point in the round where my memory is a little vague. Even with the yardage book out in front of me I cant quite remember some of the holes specifically. I think this is because the holes have a similar landscape. From the tee especially there are visual similarities on many of the holes. In general its very different to the other top rated courses Ive played. Its more understated and lacks that real wow factor that a lot of other courses have. Its missing in my opinion some stand out holes especially in the middle of the round where each hole feels a little similar to the next.
I found the round very enjoyable though for many other reasons. As you’re going round you chat with other golfers who might be on your fairway or maybe you’re on theirs. Members asking if its your first time playing. Course stewards giving sage advice and even the server at the halfway house asking how you’re round is going. Theres just something in the air at St Andrews. Something you cant put your finger on, or even try to explain. But everyone has a smile on their face.
The home stretch is where the course bares its teeth with 15 and 16 were very strong demanding holes. As you get closer to the town the excitement builds knowing of course what is to come. Hole 16 surprised me I thought it was an excellent hole with out of bounds to the right, thick rough left and bunkers covering the lay up short. It forced the driver and hitting towards the hotel there is no better backdrop. Once safely away its not too difficult but it serves as a good warm up for whats to come and asks the golfer to stand up and he counted on the tee.
The famed 17th… the road hole at St Andrews is what every golfer wants to play. Not a lot can be said that hasn’t been said before but for me its the best hole i’ve ever played. With a mild right to left wind. I hit a good drive to around 185 yards from the green on the left hand side of the fairway. I then tried to hit a lefty fade using the wind with 4 iron to the back left pin. Which was nestled right behind the road hole bunker. I smoked the iron announcing as it was fading back from the right edge of the green “thats gotta be close?” to which my caddie said “bunker” the ball landed 10 yards to the right scurried left, toilet bowled round the bunker and dropped in. At first a wave of disappointment came over me but whilst walking to my ball I realised that i’ve never been happier to be in the sand, or life in general. I nearly chipped in and then left my par putt agonisingly on the edge of the hole. I couldn’t have played it any better and made a bogey 5. It’s certainly one of the more challenging holes.
As a side note I would advise hiring a caddy. Im not a wealthy individual but they are such good value for money and really added to the experience. As a first timer as well I cant stress how valuable their knowledge was. Every hole you needed to know where to hit the ball off the tee, where not to land, which bunkers to miss and which parts of the green to hit and then how to read the greens. If you are playing the course for the first time i’m not sure how you could navigate the course without disaster. My caddy saved me easily 5/6 shots and if you asked him he’d probably rightly say a few more than that.
How to sum up the Old course? Id say that it just puts a smile on your face. I mean who wants to play a course that is overly difficult or long and end up with your game in tatters. Although the website asks us to mark the course and forget about all other aspects. I think that on this occasion St Andrews and the experience plays such a massive role in the round. It is just golfing heaven. I was having the time of my life and how can you not enjoy playing the home of golf when you are almost at euphoria over every shot. Ok the course in most parts isn’t overly special. If you like the finer details then each hole has different ways to play it and that is certainly a boon. I think even going round the Old course fifty times you’d never have the same shot twice and thus course knowledge and experience counts for everything.
The course granted does disappoint slightly at times and if i’m completely honest I found parts of the course baffling, but it is impossible not to fall in love with the place and the golfing atmosphere. Its golf as it was originally designed, its a little madcap at times but the parts that didn’t hit the mark fade away once you are walking down the 18th fairway, looking around and experiencing the walk of past champions. Every golfer must visit and once you have you will want to come again and again and again.
St Andrews – The first and the last I don’t think you can beat the first and the last at St Andrews. It is one of the only places in golf where as an amateur you are guaranteed to have a crowd watching you, no matter the time of day. It’s the place where Seve holed his putt; where Nick Faldo was dominant; where Rocca duffed it into the valley of sin only to hole his next; but also where old and Young Tom Morris and even Mary Queen of Scots played the game.
Similarly the first and the last (or most recent) time I played the course will always stay with me. I first went to St Andrews in 1997. My dad took me there after finishing my GCSEs. I struggled round until I came to the intimidating 17th. Dad gave me the line over the sheds. I was bang on line, but I thinned my 3 wood straight into them! It bounced back kindly allowing me a recovery iron to approximately level with the Jigger Inn. Still nervous I again slightly thinned a 9 iron which dad and my playing partners interpreted as a brave punch shot under the wind, which duly flirted with the road only to role round behind the Road Hole bunker perfectly just below the hole. What a par.
Buoyed from that I made the last in regulation but was left with around a 30 foot putt in front of a gallery. Drained it. A group of Americans loudly cheered the ball all the way in & I acknowledged them with a wave as if I was Sir Nick himself. What a finish!
The following morning as I came down to breakfast in the b&b in murray park I was greeted like a celebrity as the same group of Americans also happened to be staying there! “Youre the boy who birdied 18 yesterday! When I saw that I said, Martha, im gonna get that there boy to do my putting for me when I play the old course tomorrow” I enjoyed the compliment, particularly as he never would have said it had he seen the other 17 holes!
From that moment I was hooked on the place, which brings me to my last round. The last time I played the course was my graduation week. The 1997 holiday had convinced me there was only one uni to pick. Realising how privileged we had been for 4 years we decided to put our names in the ballot on our last day. Obviously we didn’t want to miss one of our final nights out and were hoping for an afternoon tee time. We drew something like 6am.
I made the first tee after about 2hours sleep. My friend Giulio opted to simply stay up. With low expectations (given the amount of alcohol in our systems) and after the American 4ball, who had clearly been promised our time by the starter, opted not to split in the hope other students would be no shows, we embarked as a 2 ball. We both hit fantastic drives in front of the waiting caddies and the golfers watching (even at that time there was an audience as people were hoping to get a game having missed out on the ballot).
I wasn’t keeping score, but things were going really well, we were savouring every moment knowing if we played here again we would have to pay the same for 1 round as we had done for the previous year. Then at the turn, the hangover arrived. I got up and down for par at 10, chipped in at 11, and holed a monster putt for par at 12. My emergency mars bars didn’t make much impact on the sudden down turn in my ball striking that had been balanced out on the previous 3 holes by sheer luck.
I turned to Giulio – what is my score? He started adding it up. ‘Sh*t man, you’re level par!’ Sh*t indeed. I duly completely topped my tee shot.
By the 18th we were really flagging. I got my drive away at the R&A clock, but Giulio completely carved his into the Russacks Hotel. Amazingly it bounced back in bounds. I made the green to polite applause. Was about 30 feet away again. Giulio meanwhile was fielding questions from a keen spectator, who presumably had not seen his drive and was complimenting him on what a brave line he had taken off the tee whilst asking his plan for the approach. Queue a complete duff.
I managed to get my birdie, the applause reminded me of my first round all those years before, Sir Nick was back, though I doubt he has ever holed a birdie to finish 12over gross. It says a lot about why we keep coming back to the game (or possibly my hangover) that I cant remember the details of what was clearly a collapse between 13 and 17, but that day was not about a score, it was about playing a living piece of history, and recognising how lucky we had been to have had the opportunity to play it regularly for the previous 4 years.
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.