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.
Date: August 27, 2021