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.”
Every true golfer should play this course at least once. 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.
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?
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!
I have 14 rounds on The Old Course (so far) and I admit I am slightly scared to even offer any critique to this audience. It is a sacred temple to the game we all love.
But I will say a couple of things I have learned:
1. #1 is the scariest tee shot in golf; even trying to hit the largest fairway in golf.
2. Hitting the green on #18 and having a birdie putt in front of the crowd is the best feeling.
3. To me, #11 and #17 are worth the whole round.
4. And some day I will have the courage not to go long and left with my approach on #13 (and then leaving myself a 100+ foot putt).
5. My SkyCaddie subscription pays for itself for one round on The Old.
Are there people EVERYWHERE? (you need to warm up your vocal cords prior to the round) Is it a slow round? Is it quirky? Do you land in hidden bunkers? YES to all. But who cares? You are on The Old Course!
The Old Course is many things to many people. For me it represents ground zero for golf, the embryo for the game that I love so much today.
In some way or another it has provided the inspiration for every other golf course in existence. There is no hole in golf that doesn’t have the Old Course in its DNA to some degree or another.
It’s impossible to separate the course from the experience of playing and being at St. Andrews. Both are truly amazing and inspiring. There is nowhere better.
I don’t really feel qualified to comment on the Old Course. I won’t do that until I’ve played it multiple times in multiple conditions. All I will say is that the uniqueness of the holes, the individuality of them all, the quality of turf, the natural undulations and the seemingly random – but perfectly located - bunkering gives the course a strategy that sets it apart from all others.
Everything I love about golf is represented in the Old Course. No more words are needed.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
There is always a good story with the Auld Lady as this was my fourth time Sharing 18 holes with her. I had arrived the day before to Scotland and my other 10 friends were arriving Saturday May 27th. We got together at EDI Airport and 10 of them decided to go to Edimburgh, but my good friend Gonzalo Benito decided to go with me to the 1st tee to see if we had some luck as we needed to apply for the Ballot for Monday where we only had 4 spots. We drove 1h arriving 2pm and while he downloaded all the luggage I literally run to the Old Pavillion with the great news we had 2 spots together at 3:30pm so we completed check in at great Russell Hotel, ate an immense burger and off to the tee where we played with 2 locals who very kindly accepted us as partners.
It is not easy to arrive with zero time and no warming up and it cost me a wild triple on 1 (water with tee shot at Swilcan Bridge and water again from there), but after that played some good golf but lost my match to Gonzalo 1up on 18th after we both three putted. The story is that Friday 26th was to be the hottest day in Scotland for this summer and the consequence was a huge thunderstorm this Saturday, who only caught us on 15th with the loudest impact I ever heard on 18th, it was dangerous! After some minutes of play suspended we continued and were able to finish the round, which was a great start for our trip.
Is there something new I can add from the course? Not about design, course shape and hole description. But it is as special as the first time to stand on 1st tee, hit 17th tee shot (this time under heavy rain) and play 18th with some “spectators” blaming me for missing a 3 footer to tie the match!
The story continues with my other 6 friends arriving 6pm and allowed to tee off, but the storm only let them play 5-7 holes which they were very kindly refunded by St Andrews Links. And on Monday 29th I went to Pavillion 1am to secure the first 2 spots so they all could play The Auld Lady and they did (see pic of how cold it was!). One thing keeps the same: the safe shots are on the left side of every hole! That special this course is, every time it gives you a new story and people do the craziest things to stand on that first hole! I will be back, hopefully again with my friends!
What an incredible place. The Old Course is a truly memorably golf course. From the moment you step on the 1st tee and realise the legends that have walked these fairways. The layout of the course really is brilliant. It may not be your typical links with dunes and lots of gorse, but the positioning of bunkers/humps and hollows and the greens really make it stand out and all in all a fun course to play. The 2nd green I've never seen anything like it, 3 tier with some of the largest mounds you've ever seen in a greens. The 5th hole a great risk reward par 5th with arguably the worlds biggest green. The 7th and 11th joint green and layout are fantastic and a bit crazy, these 2 holes are what define the Old Course at St Andrews.. Different, but a bit mind blowing. The home stretch is fantastic. Par 5 14th a tough hole, protected by a deep quarry 100 yards short of the green that contains the famous Hell Bunker. Then you get to the 17th hole, without doubt one of the best Par 4's in the world. The road hole bunker is deep but no deeper than some of the other pot bunkers, the thing that makes it tough is the size of the green and the undulations to the front and right that kick your ball off and towards the road. The green must be 20 feet wide. And to finish it off the 18th is breathtaking, the Valley of Sin is pretty impressive too. Overall the condition of the course was sensational for February.. £125 winter package including 3 rounds with 1 on the Old Course was exceptional value. It really is a special place and would recommend to any golfer!
The cliche is that you have to play the Old Course several times in order to give it a fair rating, and even then it's not “all that”.
I (somewhat) respectfully disagree, having been lucky enough to play it a number of times now at different times of year in different conditions.
Our first time was off mats on a cold March day where my primary thoughts were not to humiliate myself off the first tee (success) and not to threaten our room off the 17th tee (failure).
Since then I've been privileged to have played several times with the benefit of members' advice, but the way to score is still the same – don’t go right, be lucky with bunkers, and putt out of your skin.
With only the must cursory knowledge of the game one feels the passage of legends.
Reading but Mark Frost’s books (Tommy’s Honour, Grand Slam) will give you a nice introduction along with Alistair McKenzie’s “The Spirit of St Andrews”.
It's an unparalleled experience in the greatest place to play golf in the World, even if it’s not the greatest course.
I personally don’t rank the Old Course at St. Andrews as high as many people do. The seventeenth, the Road Hole, is one of the best in the world without a doubt. It is a classic risk/reward hole on both the first and second shots. Take an aggressive line over the hotel and have it pay off, and you will be rewarded. Mis-hit it and you will pay the penalty sharply. The Valley of Sin on the eighteenth provides a unique challenge, still not equaled on any other course. Pictures tend to flatten out hollows and hills on golf courses; it is more severe in person than it looks in pictures or on TV.
Despite all the golf history I have read and all the great and learned people who love the course, I still can't warm to it. It still appears mostly flat and uninteresting to me except the last four or five holes. For certain, the course is over-rated as the #5 ranked in the world. It is fine to play once to have the experience but I find on subsequent visits I find the course less interesting. I would rather play nearby Kingsbarns, Crail or Carnoustie if in the area, rather than the Old Course again. The tees are too close to the greens and you have to watch flying golf balls everywhere you turn especially when near the holes around the Eden Estuary (9th-12th) where the holes crisscross. The rounds at the Old Course are usually very slow as well, given all the play it gets.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
Is this click bait - Crail over Old Course - that's ridiculous!
I have had the pleasure of playing the Old Course 6 times in the last 4 years. I've played it on beautiful and calm sunny days, under torrential rain, windy and cold days, and even with a little bit of snow dropping from above. I truly believe this to be the best golfing experience around. And what they say is true: the more you play, the more you love.
It is not the most spectacular of layouts as far as natural features are concerned. It is much flatter than some other great links suchs as Cruden Bay or Royal Dornoch. But the subtlety of every bump, hollow and break on the green is second to none. It is a thinking man's course. On beautiful days, in you drive it long and avoid the miss to the right, you can really score. But on windy days, it can show a lot of teeth. And for the amount of play this course gets, conditionning is tremendous.
When you add in the surrounding of St-Andrews, with the R&A building and the whole town itself, it really makes it all a unique experience. Many people say that if it were built anywhere else but St-Andrews and if it weren't as old, it would not be talked about in such revence. That might be the case... But who cares! Yes the setting makes it unique, and that's part of the whole experience. The best golf course is not always the one with the most impressive features, elevations changes, over-penal hazards and crazy fast greens.
The one thing that stands out of playing the Old Course, and that is also a feature of many older (and some newer) links course, is FUN! It is not the most difficult course, yet it is not easy. It gives you chances at birdies, even eagles, with some shorter holes. Bu then, the home stretch from 14 to 17 wreck havoc into your scorecard if you're not carefull. And nothing beats coming home over the bridge on the 18th. What is also so great about the Old Course is it seems to adhere to what many great architects have always thought: not every par 4 is meant to be played in 4 shots and not every par 5 is meant to be played in 5 shots, what is important is that courses balance tougher holes with birdie opportunities.
The course is great, the surrounding is unique and the experience is well... Brilliant!