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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.
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 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.
Say, “The Old Course” and most people will know what you are referring to. As the home of golf, it’s traditions and quirks are unparalleled. It is the top ranked public course in the world and is closed most Sundays for golf but is open as a public park.
The Old Course has been remarkably flexible over time. For example, in 1764 it was decided to combine the first four short holes into two. This resulted in ten holes of which 8 were played twice, thus 18 holes. Today the course is played in an out and back counterclockwise pattern. That wasn’t always the case. For maintenance purposes they would also play it clockwise, teeing off at one and going to The Road Hole green. I was told in April for a two week period the course does play clockwise. This surprises many people but, The Old Course does have holes bisecting each other and 7 shared greens (14 holes). The Old Course has huge greens and expansive fairways. The Old Course is somewhat of an enigma, people love it or hate it, think it is too har or too easy. I prefer to look at it as, The Old Course.
My last visit I was with two buddies who had not been to Scotland. My question to them was, “How important is it to you to play The Old Course?” They each hemmed and hawed and I asked, “If we fly home and you didn’t play it would the trip have been worth it?” More hemming and hawing and I said ok great we won’t play it as I don’t think it is that great. That quickly changed their position and we decided to sign up for the lottery the next morning. When we saw the results at 4PM we were disappointed that our quest was unsuccessful. I had mentioned that when I had played previously I had seen multiple two and three balls. Not optimal, but we could get in the queue early in the AM get a tee time although we may not be able to play together. Vince called The Old Course to see what time we should get there to ensure a spot. He was told 430AM and that there were only 9 spots available. As we were driving to St. Andrews that evening we discussed our strategy. I suggested that the worse thing that could happen was to get there at 430 and find ourselves numbers 10-12 in line. Thus, perhaps we should leave the hotel at 330AM. Everyone begrudgingly agreed. I looked like a genius when we got there at 345AM and we were 7-9 in the queue.
When the starter shack finally opened we were given another option. Evidently, some tee times were reserved for group sales that pushed finishing in daylight. We were offered a chance at these or single tee times. I asked what the probability of success would be and was told that we had a good chance. I pushed my luck and said 50/50? And she said, much better, probably 80/20. I said we would risk it. She said ok and to be back at the starter shack at 9AM. We had breakfast I returned and we were rewarded with the 210 tee time. I then hustled down to Jubilee and secured a 920 tee time. I love it when a plan comes together!
We were announced on the tee. Moyo went first and hit a big hook that almost decapitated the foursome coming up 18. Vince then hooked his as well. I am thinking great, we have swung twice so far and have to yell fore each time. So I coolly blocked my tee shot right to avoid the embarrassment of having to yell fore again. The par 4 first is not very long and while you do have to navigate the Swilcan Burn it is relatively benign. The par 4 3rd hole is interesting, not that long, but you want to avoid the bunkers on the right side of the fairway. However, the further left you are the tougher your approach as you will need to fly the Carthgate bunker. The long par 4 4th provides a quandry from the got go. A drive to the left is safer, but then one must carry at least six bunkers and gorse to the green. Conversely, a drive down the right side has a narrower landing area. Pick your poison. The par 5 5th is the number 2 handicap (not sure why) and is reachable. The ideal line is left of the Spectacle bunkers. A higher risk is down the right. I was there inadvertently, but was able to hit a blind hero shot to the green. Of course, I left my eagle putt one Mexican revolution short. This green is massive, over 100 yards long. Perhaps that is why it the number 2 handicap hole. The 6th is interesting, in that there are about a dozen bunkers outside of 100 yards and none inside. Probably, a result of the old clockwise layout. Aim left of the marker post to try to avoid the bunkers. The best approach on the par 4 7th is to aim at the pin on the 11th green (another shared green). Not a long hole, but coming in from the left gives you the best angle to a narrow green and should take the huge Shell bunker out of play. Be cognizant of folks teeing off on 11 as the holes intersect. Nine and ten are birdie opportunities. The ninth is driveable aim at the End Hole bunker. The 10th is also driveable. Moyo did just that, which was great. Having to sink a four footer for bogey, not so great. Unfortunately, his misfortune carried over to the par 3 11th. He found the Strath Bunker and 9 whacks later finally got it onto the green. When I first played The Old Course, we were delayed on 11 and we could not understand what was happening. It was the first time I had ever seen anyone take an unplayable in a bunker. That didn’t work either. Good things the rules are changing. The par 4 12th has multiple fairway bunkers that you cannot see from the tee. The wind will really dictate whether you aim left or right. This is a tough multi-tier green. The 13th looks more ominous than it is. There are 3 bunkers in the middle of the fairway, named Coffins. I think left of these is better. The hole then narrows and you must carry traps and gorse on your approach. Whatever you do, do not block your approach right. The 14th is the number one handicap hole and home of the infamous Hell bunker. Do not spit into the wind, do not pull on Superman’s cape and do not tempt fate by flirting with Hell bunker. Hit your 2nd shot left to the fifth fairway to give yourself a chance. Once you are safe and sound, feel free to saunter over to the Hell bunker to cherish the fact that you chose not to participate. The 16th is much more difficult than it appears. OB right and The Principal’s Nose bunkers protecting the left. Nobody in our group parred it, so I cannot offer any particularly valuable insight. Which brings us to the world famous Road Hole. Standard advice is to aim at the third O in hotel sign and trust your swing. If you are a hooker, you must start further right. Do not be intimidated, the hotel has been hit countless times and has plexiglass windows. If successful, you still have a lot of work to do as this is a long hole. The safe shot is to the right front, regardless of where the pin is. We were all short and I advised Vince to aim right even thought the pin was right behind the Road Hole Bunker. I then promptly yanked my pitch right into it. Eight shots later I escaped sank my 15 foot par and exclaimed, “That’s how you make a 12!”. I have no idea why 17 is the number 5 handicap? We arrive at 18, hit decent drives, stop for the photo op on the Swilcan Bridge, secure our pars to the polite applause of the bystanders, shake hands and exhale.
If you love golf, The Old Course experience is like no other. Bordering on blasphemy, the course itself is not that tough, it is not that scenic, but it is the birthplace of golf as we know it. A round may be the shortest four hours of your life and be both mystical and spiritual. If you love golf you gotta go!
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.