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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?
We arrived on a Friday and after 2 rounds at Gleneagles, 1 at Carnoustie and 1 at New Course, I was ready to play The Old Course, the most emblematic golf course in the world on August 30th. We arrived early to Town and after some walking inside many proshops, we went to putting green in what became the longest hour in my life. The day was perfect, some wind and sun, so the scenario was perfect. We got the special gift of being announced with our names by the starter with a microphone and got the applause of some guys watching the teeing off. When I put the tee on 1st tee I was even scared to miss the ball, but after a low cut with the driver, I started the nicest walk of golf in my life.
Birdie on 1st from 20m, all pars and then birdie 8 and drove the green on 9 for a 33. Then drove the green on 12th and (-4) to tee 13th, where I lost my ball on the gorse and triple bogey. Birdie 14th and bogey 17th and 18th for a 72, what I consider a lifetime achievement although a little bit disappointed as I was very close to break par.
The course is not only nice and well kept, but also challenging, and with very nice views of the city and hotel, ocean and the other courses. Greens are inmense, you can putt from 50 yds in some holes. Although 1st hole is maybe the most adrenalinic point, for my turning point (from 7 to 12) is the nicest part. We were a group of 32 and as I was the last foursome, we were all together there and I remember that as one of the highlights of the trip. In my opinion 12th and 17th are 2 of the best par 4s I have ever played and par 3 11th is often called the shortest par 5 in Scotland.
At last, I was caddied by Heather Stirling, former Scottish Amateur Champion and that was the best investment done on the trip. She was not only helpful but so accurate with advice that I have to say that the score is also her goal. If you are a golfer, this course has to be played once. After you play it, your view of the sport changes radically, you love it more than ever.