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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?
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.
Stayed 2 days in St Andrews - what a great place. The Links is the center of golf. Played Jubilee Course and Old Course - awesome experience. The old course is the most magic moment for every golfer - really difficult. Thought how difficult can a flat course be, but this is really a challenge. Very few landmarks for orientation and lot of punishment if not playing precise. Most holes are pretty challenging except 1 and 18 - but how will you make your first shot when teeing up in front of the St Andrews Club house and a few dozens tourists watching you . this is is a phantastic masterpiece. Great layout and really challenging.
All people are very friendly, golf at its best.
Lunch in Swilcan lounge recommended!!
On Sunday you can walk the old course and enjoy the scenery - there is no old course golf on sunday
Last year when I played at North Berwick we were successful in the ballot you can enter 2 days before, but the tee time they offered was 4pm the following evening and that meant extending our trip another night and work was pressing. So we declined and wasn't't sure when our chance would come along again to be honest. We therefore entered the ballot when it opened up in the Autumn and were lucky to get a 'package' with Old Course and Castle Course.
We played the Old Course on Mon 3rd June this year and in all honesty I did not know what to expect. I'd been to the town many years before when I wasn't a golfer and of course had watched the Open there in 2015 on TV but until you arrive in town and make your way down to the first tee and starter it's impossible to really 'get it'. The sense that all the greats have trod this hallowed turf, the imposing clubhouse behind you and the sheer number of people milling around really does get the adrenalin going. Everything about St Andrews the town oozes golf out of every pore. There is simply nothing like and nowhere I had played before prepares you for it.
Taking the home of golf to one side, is it the best golf course you will ever play, probably not, but that's the point. You can't measure the golf course in isolation, it's everything about it - history, setting, the town, what has been etc etc
The 1st tee box in a way is rather underwhelming, 2 tee markers in the middle of a rather large grassy area, but in a way that's good as it settles your nerves (and I can't remember the last time I was nervous on a tee shot - there again I'd never teed off in the centre of a town before either!) the wind was blowing c40 mph but the sun was shining and nothing was going to spoil my round or drive. I aimed way left of centre but the wind still got hold of the ball and dragged it over 100 yards back to the right and it rolled out of bounds. Not to worry - hit another and away.
And what a place this is. Double greens abundant, criss crossing holes, such a narrow tract of land but oh what fun. Despite the wind, with the sun getting lower through the evening, this was such goof fun golf. I found 6 bunkers but got out of each 1st time every time so that was good, and just tried to keep most shots down so the wind had less impact. A solid score of 34 points and I was a happy man.
The 17th tee was great. The hotel nearby had people on the roof and whilst i didn't go over the corner, choosing to play safe out to the left, two of my friends did to great applause which really added to the occasion
And the on the 18th, whilst one of my friends sent there tee shot right, off the side of a hotel wall and bouncing back into play, whilst nearly hitting a tourist, I managed a straight shot down, a 2nd onto the greens and a 2 putt par was a wonderful end to the round.
Even at 8.30pm there were still people milling around and clapping when you holed your putt.
We ate in the clubhouse afterwards and then a few beers in town, chatting to a few American golfers who were there and this really adds to the occasion. people from all over the World in one place at the same time with one focus in mind - golf and the Home Of Golf.
Not the best course, but certainly the most memorable experience and one which I will do again, and would recommend everyone who loves our game to make that one effort to go and play.
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.