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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?
It was my third time with the Auld Lady and definitely it was very different from the other two. On 2011 & 2012 I led a 32 golfers group with a guaranteed tee time know since long before the trip. But this time I was again leading a group but was not scheduled to play and as the trip was going on my chances were really very small. But the night before everything was set for the 12 customers so there was a window for a round. The thing is that I had no tee time and my only chance was to do the queue at 5am and that I only could play after 2pm. Once my turn came I got into the waiting list in the 16th position which was pretty good but my chances came down as I could not tee off before 2pm. Once my customers started their rounds a spot appeared but very strangely 3 R&A Members didn't show and as there was only 1 player ready we played in a twosome!!! This is sort of strange as there were not less than 35 people at the Old Pavillion at 6am and nobody was ready to tee off! So at 2pm sharp we started our round.
I feel that most of the readers of the reviews will have played the course or will be familiar with it, so there is no sense on detailing every hole (I feel I did it in my previous two reviews). It will also not be important how I played, although it will be nice to share I birdied 18th from 8 feet to make it an unbelievable end of the round, and scoring was decent despite tough conditions from 12th to 18th and a very disappointing double on 17th.
I feel this time the review should tee some new things found playing the course for the third time, not only spots or features of the course but also details that happen before or during the round and that have maybe changed since my round in 2012.
The first thing I noticed different is there is a nice lady on the first tee who welcomes you with a nice speech about what the Old Course means and how you should run your round. A bottle of water branded which I kept as a memory (empty of course!) and off to the course. I have to say I was again afraid to missing the ball!!!! This won't change every time you play the round, it is real pressure.
I played it with the same wind of 2012 which is downwind from 2 to 7 and again as everybody say danger is on the right, anything left will be safe. What I noticed is that with this wind holding the approach shots is difficult so you will always need to land the ball short and let her roll but it is tough to accomplish as we are used to hit high shots directly to the hole.
The other new thing from 2012 is that great food truck on 9th green which is very different from the small table they had some years ago. And a hot soup plus hot dog were very necessary to battle the cold and light rain.
In 2011 I was playing one of my best rounds ever and tripled 13th, bogeyed it on 2012 and finally could get my par this time holing a 30 footed putter. But it is not about me, it is about in my opinion the most underrated hole on the course which is not only great but also very tough into the wind. It is the toughest on the course together with 17th.
And about the Road Hole, into the wind it is a monster as in 2012 we could not get home in two shots. This time I had some moments to hit a shot from the road bunker and from the road, which I could not do in my previous visits. And 18th will always be a special moment: the driver, the bridge, the walk and shaking hands with your playing partners after more than a round of golf, a true golfer's experience.
The last new thing I saw as it was my first time on town on a Sunday is the course being a public park, everybody walking it and taking pictures with their families or dogs but also taking deep care of the course. It was nice.
My last thought is to tell you this is a must, not only because it is a great course but as a piece of history every golfer deserves to play it at least once. I am lucky enough to have played it 3 times already and will go back many more. And it always will be as special as the first time.
It's like playing in the middle of town. The walk paths are filled with locals, tourists, and the occasional vehicle. If it's your first time, you will definitely need a caddy. Most of the greens are shared and some holes criss-cross each other. The scorecard yardage doesn't seem like much, but the strong wind and clever design make up for it. Fairways are hard and tight, and the bunkers deep and treacherous. Good course management is a must for maximum enjoyment. It was our first time playing the Old Course and we thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience.
Tip: You can hit it left all the way home. Most of the trouble is on the right.
The 5th hole, the first par five, encapsulates many of the features of the Old Course. Gorse is ever present down the right and the fairway is littered with bunkers, any one of which can be the ruin of a round. No less than seven bunkers on the right side of this fairway between 240 and 300 yards from the tee. When you reach the green you encounter one of the largest in the world, about one acre in size, joined with the 13th.
The Road Hole, 17th, is one of the great par fours and has influenced the result of many an event at the Old Course. When you first play this hole, there are two things that stand out. First, the dog leg right is much greater than you realize. The second surprise is just how high the green is above the road. It is much harder to chip from the road or the grass near the wall than appears the case when viewing this green on television.
Links land is often public and frequently has to provide access to the beach for the locals and visitors alike. The Old Course has a pathway, now sealed with bitumen, known as Granny Clark’s Wynd, which runs across the 1st and 18th fairways. It never ceases to amaze me how many people (presumably non golfers) casually stroll across here without the slightest thought of looking to see if anyone is on the 1st or 18th tee.
This review is an edited extract from Another Journey through the Links, which has been reproduced with David Worley’s kind permission. The author has exclusively rated for us every Scottish course that he played and featured in his book. Another Journey through the Links is available for Australian buyers via www.golfbooks.com.au and through Amazon for buyers from other countries.