Monday, December 12, 2011

Best & Worst of the Courses played in 2011

In the past two days I have played what I fear might be my final two rounds in 2011. Both were incredible rounds on the New Course, and I wouldn't want to end the 2011 golfing year in any other way. A lunch in the R&A Clubhouse after one of the rounds wasn't too shabby! In this post I have rated various aspects of the courses I have played during 2011. It was a good year, and I managed to played eleven of the top 100 in the world. I have attempted to rate both typical categories in addition to some atypical areas of rating. If there is another category of particular interest not mentioned, please comment with the question!

Best Shower: Prestwick
     -The showering experience in the Member's locker room at Prestwick is second to none. This may be difficult to gain access to the Member's locker room, but if you can, the best shower of your life awaits.

Best Meal: Muirfield
     -Calling the lunch meal at Muirfield a "feast" would be an understatement. The amount of food and quality is unmatched at any other course I have been to (including Prestwick's fabled lunch). Visiting Muirfield without having the lunch would be on the same level as going to Paris and not visiting the Eiffel Tower...

Most Enjoyable Course: North Berwick 
     -The layout of North Berwick is extremely enjoyable. It is not an overly challenging course. The 15th "Redan" hole is the most replicated hole in all of golf. The quirkiness of ancient stone walls snaking throughout the course leaves the golfer wanting more at the end of the round.

Overall Experience: Pine Valley
      -Merely being on the Pine Valley grounds creates a surreal feeling. Playing well during the round further instils an incredible feeling. You realize another visit to the course will most likely never come, and you try to soak in every single second in hopes that it will last forever.

Best Clubhouse: Kiawah Island (Cassique)
     -The Cassique Clubhouse on Kiawah Island has facilities that cannot be found on other courses. The food is amazing, the locker room massive and accommodating, and the setting beautiful. It is a private course, hidden behind a guarded gate, but if ever given the chance to visit, do not pass it up.

Most Challenging (Conditions Considered): Muirfield
     -Muirfield is a challenging course. Factor in 40 MPH prevailing winds and gusts over 60 MPH, it was nearly impossible. I hit driver - driver - bump & run into a 360 yard par 4. I have never been happier shooting 93 as a 3 handicap....

Best Caddy: Carnoustie 
     -When I played Carnoustie, the caddiemaster of 37 years caddied for me. His knowledge of Carnoustie surpassed any golfing knowledge that I have ever encountered. The rest of the caddying staff is rumored to be impressive and extremely knowledgeable.

Rudest Pro Shop Staff: Machrihanish 
     -The staff member running the pro-shop at Machrihanish made Matt and me leave our golf bags and overnight bags in a torrential downpour outside while rudely checking us into the course. The pro-shop was empty and in everything she did, she acted as if we had just asked her a huge favor. She was also wearing a Loch Lomond sweater... No pride in your own course? It left a bad flavor in our mouths.

Worst Greenskeepers: Gleneagles
     -I don't doubt that Gleneagles can be in excellent shape, but on each of my visits, the courses were very rough. If there is a rough winter before the 2014 Ryder Cup, it will be very interesting to see how the course holds up.

Best Greenskeepers: St Andrews Links 
     -The St Andrews Links Greens Staff do an incredible job of keeping all seven courses in championship condition year-round. They should be an inspiration to other courses in Scotland. I have yet to see another Scottish course which is in equally good condition mid-winter.

Most Underrated Course: St Andrews New Course
     -The New Course at St Andrews would be ranked highly and considered one of Old Tom Morris's jewels if it didn't live under the shadow of its older brother, the Old Course.

Most Picturesque: Kingsbarns
     -Kingsbarns is very picturesque. Kyle Phillips did an incredible job of turning farmland and cow pastures into one of the best new Scottish courses. Until I play the likes of Pebble Beach and Cypress Point, Kingsbarns will remain the most picturesque course I have played.

Overrated Setting: Kiawah Island Ocean Course
     -When I arrived at the Ocean Course, I expected to see some of the most impressive seaside holes in the world of golf. I was disappointed at the scenery. This doesn't speak to the strength of the design, merely the impressiveness of the setting.

Favorite New Course: Castle Stuart
     -Castle Stuart should be played on any UK golf trip. It is an incredibly strong and impressive design which sits firmly in my top five favorite courses.

Best Bacon Roll: Turnberry
      -This is perhaps the most important rating category (other than the showers) mentioned in this post. A good pre-round bacon roll is paramount to a good round. If you don't serve a good bacon roll, what's the point of even having a kitchen? I had to have two pre-round bacon rolls at Turnberry... very telling of my experience.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Picture Says 1000 Words (2011 Summary)

As the golf season has slowed down to a crawl here in St Andrews, I decided a year-end golf summary was in order. I have assembled a small album of assorted pictures from some of the rounds that I have played in the last year. Enjoy! (Clicking on the photos will enlarge them)

Champion Hills

Old Course

Castle Course (Other St Andrews Courses)

10th green at Turnberry

17th hole, "Alps" at Prestwick Golf Club

Matt in an unbelievably small and deep bunker at Dundonald Links

Gleneagles (Centenary)

North Berwick

Cruden Bay

Worked as a green side marshal on the 18th at the 2011 Open Championship!

Cold, wet, but what an awesome experience!

Visit to the "Oa" on Islay after Machrihanish

Machrihanish Dunes' small golf shop, rural?

Machrihanish GC (#93 in the World)
 Can't wait for the upcoming golf in 2012! With an England and Ireland trips in the works, it should prove to be a great year. More posts to come in December!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Machrihanish Dunes

“An un-aged whisky...”

Machrihanish Dunes is a David McLay Kidd design. The course is extremely remote and is located directly next to Machrihanish Golf Club (click for review).

Machrihanish Dunes is nearly brand new, being only two years old. Herein lies the biggest problem with Machrihanish Dunes: It is too young. The course has an unfinished feel and many attribute this problem to a pre-mature opening on the part of the developers and owners. The course was opened in 2009 with the implied purpose of catching the tourist rush accompanying the Open Championship at Turnberry in Ayrshire. This is said to have been a year or so before the course should have been opened. The course is like an un-aged whisky that has spent too little time aging in the barrel. Mach Dunes is rough, but you know there is something special there.
How rural? Ask the sheep on the 10th tee....
The design of the course is enjoyable and impressive. There is ample land for the golf course, and this presents both benefits and negatives for the golfer. The journey between green and tee is very long on most holes. According to the starter, this is because there are rare and endangered plant life and animals that inhabit the system of dunes. Laws and regulations protecting the dunes habitats inhibited the designer and a strange course routing. This strange course routing is both interesting and, honestly, confusing. At one point, I turned to my partner on the golf trip, Matt, and said, “This is beautiful, but I have no idea where we are or where we go next...”

The benefit of the open expanse of land is the ability to make a very long golf course. The tips are over 7,100 yards. A course of this length is rare in Scotland. The 17th hole is a par 5 of over 620 yards. Dundonald Links is the only other course in Scotland that I have played which has similar length. David Kidd offered many different teeing options in his design, so despite the course being so long, it is manageable for golfers of all skill levels.
Tee boxes set deep into the dunes allowed for very long holes
Bad golf course conditions are to be expected in Scotland during November (just look at Gleneagles), but Mach Dunes had a truly “unfinished” feel. The course felt as if it hadn’t completely settled into its skin. Three greens were being re-done due to salt-water damage, which was caused by close proximity to the beach. One must assume that if due diligence had been performed and not rushed at Mach Dunes, developers would have better anticipated the problems that have arisen.
2nd green set deep in some dunes
Jim Kidd is the father of the course’s designer David McLay Kidd. He is also his right hand man in the golf design business. Jim was at Mach Dunes helping with the re-design of the aforementioned greens. He had participated in every Kidd design from the St Andrews Castle Course to Bandon Dunes in Oregon, USA. We were able to share a pint with Jim Kidd and then receive a ride back into Campbeltown with him at the end of the day. It was extremely interesting to speak with this design master about the golf the course and the thought that went into some of the routing decisions.

If you are on a golfing trip to the Mull of Kyntire, play Machrihanish Dunes. However, make sure that you play the course in addition to Machrihanish Golf Club. Unfortunately, it is this juxtaposition of golf courses that makes Mach Dunes feel inferior to its older neighbor. When you play Mach Dunes, don’t expect an ancient links with a tons of history. Do expect an enjoyable design set within beautiful dunes that features as much length as any golfer could want. If I am able to play the course again when I am 60 or so, I will expect an incredible and settled links course hidden in western Scotland.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Machrihanish Golf Club

“If there is a golfing heaven somewhere, Machrihanish will have to be passed to gain entry.”

Machrihanish Golf Club is an Old Tom Morris design located on the Mull of Kintyre. It is one of the most rural golf clubs that I have played, and is also one of the hardest to reach. I travelled to the course with my good friend and golfing partner, Matt Birchall. Due to a wrist injury, he was unable to play the course, but caddied for me on the trip.
The "A" marks Machrihanish GC. Thanks to Google Maps
The night before the round was spent in a B&B in Campbeltown, a short 25-minute bus ride away from Machrihanish GC. The lady running our B&B told us that the former caddiemaster of Machrihanish had a favorite pub hangout in Campbeltown. She went on to say that if we were lucky, we would be able to have a drink or two with him. We ended up spending two nights sharing pints, information, and golf stories with the old links master. Matt and I had seen the course the previous day when we made the journey out to play Machrihanish Dunes. The setting is gorgeous and we were very excited to play the #93 ranked course in the World.
My touristy Gore-Tex bucket hat was a life saver! 
Unfortunately, upon arriving at Machrihanish GC, the weather was horrendous, and we were immediately greeted with an encounter that tainted the experience. We walked up to the pro shop to check in with our golf clubs and overnight bags. The lady working behind the counter immediately told us that we would have to leave our bags outside in the torrential rain and wind (keep in mind we were the only tee time of the day and there wasn’t another soul in the pro shop). She then pointed us to the clubhouse across the street to dry off before checking in. We dropped our wet bags in the visitor’s locker room and headed back to the pro shop to pay our fees and tee off. She again made me leave my bag in the downpour while we spent time looking at shirts and paying greens fees. When we left, I literally had to wring out my bag and its waterlogged contents. We did our best to not let this initial poor interaction with a bad employee taint our day.

            The previous nights spent with the caddiemaster in the bar had given us some “local knowledge” on the course. One of the first things he mentioned was that the first hole was “the best opening hole in the world.” He was understandably biased, and while it may not be the best opening hole in the world, it certainly is a great way to start the round. The hole hugs the beach (which is in play) and golfer's have the option of cutting off as much of the Atlantic Ocean as they dare.
View from 1st tee
Outside of the front nine of Royal Aberdeen, Machrihanish is one of the most pure links layout that I have ever played. I found the front nine to be particularly impressive. The first things that struck me on the opening holes were the green complexes. The greenside bunkering was amazing. The course felt as if it was naturally meant to be there. There was nothing artificial about the layout. This is confirmed with a quote from Old Tom Morris, the course designer, on Machrihanish. He said, “The Almighty had golf in his eye when he designed this place.” I can imagine Old Tom walking around the links having to do nothing more that point out where to put pins and cut the grass. Machrihanish’s layout is the furthest thing from the earthmovers and artificial dunes seen in many of today’s designs.
The holes worked naturally within the dunes
It was difficult to choose a favorite hole on the course. Nearly every approach shot on the front nine was very interesting and all of the holes are set within gorgeous dunes. If the torrential rain had not left us so cold and wet, I would have wanted to play the course again and again that day. I felt terrible for Matt, who, with his wrist injury, was unable to play any golf, but was salivating at the beautiful layout. As the round was coming to an end, we were cold, tired, and dripping wet. High winds and endless torrential rain had detracted from the level of play, but the quality of the course was still very prevalent. Out-of-bounds runs down the entire left side of the 17th hole. It reminded both of us of a par 4 version of Hogan’s Alley at Carnoustie. A near birdie cemented the hole in my memory and left a good taste in my mouth as we sloshed our way in.
Matt getting soaked without rain gear on the final stretch
A common negative brought up about Machrihanish is its seemingly weak finishing hole. The 18th is a wide open, short par 4 with very few hazards and very little risk. The caddiemaster addressed this issue the previous night over a few pints of ale in the pub. Originally, the 18th green was located where the clubhouse now lies. This is nearly 70 yards past where the current green is located. To keep the green in reach, the original tee of the 18th was moved forward nearly 40 yards. This original hole was a challenging par 4 and was very different from the current 18th. The hole was changed when the road running through village dissected the hole. It was not safe to have players hitting over the road, so the green was moved short of the road.
Our experience at Machrihanish was tainted due to horrendous rain and wind along with poor interactions with a sour woman in the pro shop. Despite these two factors, I thoroughly enjoyed the course and I look forward playing the course again when the weather is better. The design was one of the most natural layouts I have played and was very enjoyable. From fairway to green, it is one of my favorite courses I have played in Scotland.

The weather was so poor at Machrihanish that I didn't feel comfortable bringing my DSLR camera. All of these pictures were taken with a soaking wet iPhone during the endless downpour. The opportunities to take photos during the round were scarce, and I hope to revisit the course and take many more on a sunny summer day.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Kingsbarns Golf Links

Kingsbarns Golf Links is located a short fifteen minute drive from St Andrews. It is a young course, being slightly more than ten years old, but it has been met with great praise. Kingsbarns is a Kyle Phillips design and is absolutely stunning. It is currently ranked #54 in the world and it unquestionably deserves that ranking.
This latest round at Kingsbarns marks my 3rd round on the beautiful course. I am always eager to make the short trip. Unfortunately, Kingsbarns is fairly expensive to play. It runs visitors around £215 to play. Luckily, Scottish residents (students included) get the discounted rate of just under £100. Even better, the University of St Andrews Men’s Golf Club has a day every year where we go play the course for £15 a round. It is hard to beat!
Downhill par 3 2nd hole
 On previous trips to Kingsbarns, I greatly enjoyed the round, but felt like I didn’t “stop and smell the roses.” For instance, I didn’t go to the locker room, I didn’t have a pre-round bacon roll, and I didn’t simply stop and enjoy everything. I was either too concerned with my score or sunlight running out to actually realize just how beautiful Kingsbarns really is. On this trip, I made a conscious effort to take in the golf, surroundings, and facilities, as I hadn’t done on past visits to Kingsbarns.
Looking across the 8th green to the par 3 15th green
The 6th hole is a drive-able par 4, and with the green set below the tee, a stunning view over much of the front and back nines can be seen. Despite being short, an errant tee shot can make a par difficult to achieve. The fairway slopes right to left with bunkers short and left in the fairway and a large deep grass bunker short left of the green affecting longer hitters. The back of the green has a lowered plateau that gives the greens keepers the option of a very tough pin. The lowered plateau is almost hidden and wouldn’t be noticed until the pin is placed in the very rear of the green.
Looking at the central basin of the course, with the 6th hole on the right
The 9th hole, par 5, works back towards the clubhouse and presents a birdie opportunity for those who keep their drives on the left side of the fairway. An interesting sign is embedded in the fairway marking where Lee Westwood holed out for a double eagle during the Dunhill Links Championship in 2003 (pictured below). The 9th hole coming back to the clubhouse is only one of many American-feeling features at Kingsbarns. The traditional out and back links layout is abandoned.
The back nine at Kingsbarns has, in my opinion, some of the stronger and weaker holes on the course. This will meet opposition, but I think the 10th and 14th holes are the weakest on the course. The tenth is not memorable and if it weren’t for a narrow fairway and an undulating green, it would be slightly bland. The 14th is a short par 4, but not quite short enough to be drive-able. The green has a large ridge running across the green and every time I’ve played the course, the pin is set just beyond the ridge. Due to the hole’s length, a decently long hitter is left with an awkward 40-60 yard pitch to a tricky ridge-protected pin. It feels as though Phillips didn’t quite have enough room to fit in another spectacular hole, so he squeezed this one in.
Despite any weaker holes on the back, the 12th, 15th, 16th, and 17th holes are second to none. As seen in the pictures below, the holes are visually spectacular, but are also very strong tests of golfing skill. The 12th is a dogleg left par 5 that runs right along the seashore. The risk-reward factor is ever present on approach shots and anything tugged slightly left at any point is either in the water or on the beach. Although I haven’t played Spyglass or Pebble, I’m told that the scenery on 12 and 15 rivals those great courses.
Myself on the 12th tee
View from the 12th tee
The 70 yard long 12th green
Below is the view from the par 3 15th tee box. The peninsula green becomes even more intimidating when the tide is in and waves are crashing against the rocks which guard the putting surface.
View from the 15th tee
The 16th is a great par 5 with a well-bunkered fairway. A tee shot favoring the left side of the fairway is safest, but can leave a long approach if going for the green. The green is well bunkered, but fair. A sneaky little burn, that was uncovered from an earlier links when Kingsbarns was being built, runs behind and to the left of the green. The 16th is one of my favorite par 5’s that I have encountered while in Scotland.
                         Looking up the par 5 16th hole

I have heard people criticize the 18th at Kingsbarns as a weak finishing hole that is uncharacteristic to the rest of the course. I disagree. In its own right, the 18th is a solid and difficult par four. The deep burn that runs in front of the green is part of the same burn that was uncovered during construction and it adds a very challenging aspect to the hole. Kyle Phillips redesigned portions of Kingsbarns to include aspects (such as the burn and bridge on the 18th) of the original course, which was discovered during construction – something that I find very interesting and appreciate from a designer.
View from 18th fairway
I love Kingsbarns and try to take advantage of every opportunity to play the course. The impressive locker room and clubhouse remind me of the impressive resort clubhouses back in the States. No golf trip to Fife would be complete without a round at Kingsbarns.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The President’s Cup: Woods picked for golfing skill or media pull?

I haven't written an opinion article for the blog yet. I wrote this for a St Andrews student newspaper and am interested to hear your opinion on my take!

           The lead-up to this year’s President’s Cup has been filled with drama, discussion, and a little more drama. Should Tiger Woods have been chosen for the team? Has he proven himself to be playing better at this point than the multiple other candidates? I believe a large factor behind Couples' captains' pick lies below the surface and behind the headlines.
            The President’s Cup is a bi-annual golf tournament in which the USA takes on an international team representing every country in the world outside of Europe. The tournament is a match play format modeled on the Ryder Cup (USA vs. Europe). The President’s Cup this year will be held in Australia.
            Each team has a non-playing captain. This year, the US is captained by Fred Couples and the Australian, Greg Norman, leads the International team. The drama this year began when Tiger Woods was picked fairly early in the process to play for the American team.
           The teams are made up of 12 golfers – the top 10 in the point standings, and two captains' choices. When it came time for Freddie Couples to make his captains' choices for this year, the media had a hay-day predicting his choice. Would it be two time winner this season and current PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley? He had an excellent break out season and would have been a great choice. Would it be the young exuberant Rickie Fowler who brings a youthful flair to all events? Or would it be old Tiger Woods, who hasn’t won in two years and is sitting at #52 in the world?
           Couples, who is one of my favorite golfers, picked Woods early in the selection process. Some say this decision was premature and not enough thought went into the process. The most outspoken of the critics is the International captain, Greg Norman. He has been quoted saying, ”Tiger, when he dominated, had a single-shot approach, it was only about the golf. Now there are so many distractions, and people are looking for things that are wrong with Tiger.” Norman went on to say that Tiger would never win another major – a bold statement by someone notorious for choking in the final stretch of majors.
                  To make his social standing in the golf world even worse, Tiger has stolen away Dustin Johnson’s caddie. This in itself is not unheard of, but Tiger didn’t contact Johnson first to ask permission or even broach the subject. At least he had the courtesy to do it after the FedEx Cup finished. Tiger fired his caddie, Steve Williams, earlier this year and has been on the hunt ever since. The next few events will show whether Woods will have positive chemistry with his new acquisition.
It is possible to delve deeper into the issues behind Couples’ choice. Wood and Couples are personal friends and Fred has acted as a mentor to Tiger during the scandalous past two years. Another large factor adding to the decision is the unmentioned pressure put onto Couples by the PGA Tour along with sponsors of the President’s cup. It is a moneymaking, TV event. No matter the outcome, having Tiger in the field will boost ratings drastically.  
           How much pressure was Couples under to make the “right” choice? Simply put, people don’t turn on their TV to watch Keegan Bradley. Even if Woods plays badly, it’s a bigger news story than if he’s not there at all. The media go crazy when Tiger is in an event. It means more money for all and the powers that be couldn’t care less about the outcome of the President’s Cup, as long as the paychecks keep rolling in.
           The event begins the 17th of November. Time will tell whether Tiger Woods was the correct choice for Freddie Couples to make. Will Tiger be a letdown as he has in nearly every event since mid-2009? Or will we see the Tiger of old come out and dominate his match play opponents? Does it really matter? Either way, his being in the field will bump the ratings, fill the headlines, and no matter the outcome, leave the sponsors happy.
Please comment and post your opinions on this issue. I would love to hear some reader feedback!

Musselburgh Links - The Old Course

The earliest documentation of golf being playing on Musselburgh Links is from 1672, which has earned Musselburgh Links the Guinness World Record for being the oldest golf course in the world.  However, it has been reputed that Mary, Queen of Scots played on Musselburgh even earlier in 1567.           
             Interestingly, the 9-hole course is contained within a horseracing track. Golfers cross over the racetrack twice during the round. The course is very short, as it has not been drastically changed from its original design. Because of this, modern players and equipment can overpower the classic links fairly easily. Don’t go to Musselburgh expecting a grueling test of championship golf. Instead, go expecting lots of history and an enjoyable round.               
              When I played my round on Musselburgh, I hired a set of original hickory shafted golf clubs. There were a total of five clubs, with faces thin as paper an eager golfer ready to swing them! Playing with the period golf clubs on a course unchanged over history gave me a very healthy respect for players like Old and Young Tom Morris, Willie Park, and Alan Robertson. The experience could only have been closer to their time if I had an original gutta percha ball. The clubs were difficult to play with, but after a few holes, I got the hang of it and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.         
               Musselburgh Links was originally seven holes, with another added in 1838 and the full nine-holes coming into play in 1870. The first three holes stretched eastwards from the grandstand at the racecourse, the site of the former clubhouse of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers.              
               Musselburgh Links hosted the Open Championship a total of six times between 1874 and 1889. Once the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers moved to its current location at Muirfield, Musselburgh dropped out of the Open rota. When playing the course you could imagine the hostile Edinburgh golfing fans harassing and pushing in on the Morrises as they defended titles and fought to win the Open.                                                                                                        
              I would recommend any golfer interested in golfing history to rent a set of original hickory shafted golf clubs at some point in their life. Make sure it is done on an appropriately sized golf course. For the overall experience of history, the period golf clubs, and enjoyable links, Musselburgh was excellent.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Upcoming Golf Plans (October 2011)

“Mach” Themed Golfing:

            The golf season is slowly winding down here in Scotland. The days are shortening and the temperatures are dropping. As a sendoff to the 2011 season, I will be travelling in early November out towards the western islands of Scotland. I will be playing cold weather golf with my friend Matt (my golfing buddy on the Gauntlet). We’ll be playing Machrihanish (#93 in the World), Machrihanish Dunes, Machrie Links, and for an odd one out, Dunaverty Golf Club. In addition to playing these golf courses, we are going to meet friends to do a small distillery tour. Laphroaig, Ardbeg, and Bowmore are all on the visiting list among a few other smaller names. I will be writing up all the courses for the blog once they are played in early November!

Upcoming posts:

            I have been holding off on write-ups for a number of courses. Kingsbarns and Musselburgh Old Links are both examples. I will be posting write-ups for the courses once I revisit them and take more pictures. This shouldn’t take long. I have played Kingsbarns a number of times, but haven’t taken the big camera on any of the rounds. I will be playing it again November 2nd and a post will follow the round.
Picture of 12th at Kingsbarns on a previous round
18th Green at Kingsbarns on previous round

Dinner with D. Johnson:
     On an note unrelated to golf courses, St Andrews recently played host to the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. On the Wednesday before the tournament kicked off, I was fortunate enough to have dinner with Dustin Johnson. To top things off, Rory McIlroy and his father paid us a visit during the meal. It was golfer’s dream being able to discuss golf with one of the PGA tour’s biggest stars. I had been lucky enough to meet Dustin Johnson once previously while I was marshaling at the Open Championship at Royal St Georges (pictured below). Having dinner and drinks with Johnson cemented his place as one of my favorite golfers. Hopefully he’ll be able to break through and get a victory at one of the majors in the coming season!
Meeting D. Johnson in Sandwich, Kent

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

St Andrews Old Course

            I am one of the lucky few that calls the St Andrews Old Course their home course. I attend the University of St Andrews and therefore live an accessible four-minute walk from the Old. In my first year in St Andrews I was able to play the Old approximately 60 times and I plan to play it much more over the next three years. The Old Course has a special place in my heart and if there is a slight tinge of bias in my write-up, I’m sure you’ll understand.

            Something that makes the St Andrews Old Course so special is its accessibility to all golfers. It is the highest ranked public course in the world (#4). Another completely unique feature is the Old Course's designer. “Nature” is listed as the designer in the year 1400. The curves, humps, and bumps found on the Old are natural and were not shaped by man. Sheep nestling into the hillsides created the bunkers. The grass merely had to be cut and holes placed in order to create a golf course. At the risk of sounding like a golfing hippie, can there be a more organic golfing design?
            The first hole on the Old has one of the widest fairways in all of golf. Despite the very large fairway, the hole presents a challenge with the approach shot. The Swilcan Burn runs directly in front of the green and swallows any poorly struck approach shots. Any tee shots that leak slightly right can run on the hard, fast fairways into the burn as well.
7th and 11th double green
            The Old Course is unmatched in terms of history. Golf owes much of its current grandeur and success to the Old Course. When the game was struggling through its infancy, St Andrews kept the game alive. It is one of the oldest golfing grounds in the world. 
            The figurehead of St Andrews golf is Old Tom Morris. He is one of my golfing heroes. Morris served as keeper of the green at the Old Course for a total of 38 years. He won the Open Championship four times. Morris also designed some of the world’s best golf courses including Prestwick, Muirfield, Lahinch, Royal Dornoch, Royal County Down, and a large role in designing Carnoustie among many other classic links. Old Tom Morris must be mentioned in any conversation on the history of St Andrews. He was born and lived the majority of his life in St Andrews. His birthplace, home, and gravesite can all be found in St Andrews within 10 minutes of each other.
Inside Hell Bunker
            The 5th hole on the Old Course is a fairly long par 5. Depending on the wind, the hole can be reachable in two, or challenging to reach even in three. A large depression, or swale runs across the fairway in front of the green. The depression catches balls and presents a very tough up and down. On this hole, similarly to all links golf holes, the wind can turn a birdie opportunity into a difficult par. Two deep spectacle style bunkers, guarding layups to this green, stand around 115 yards from the massive putting surface. The double green is nearly 95 yards deep, which is one of the largest greens in all of golf.
            In the past, the Old Course has relinquished lower winning scores during the Open Championship than other venues on the rota. Some people interpret this to mean that the Old is weaker than say, Birkdale or Royal St Georges. I would argue that if the weather shows its bite, the Old is just as strong a venue as the other courses. In addition to being challenging, it has maintained its historicity and design very well as the game has developed and changed. The same cannot be said for all links courses in the British Isles.
              The final stretch of holes on the Old Course is memorable and leaves a very lasting impression on any golfer. The 17th  (Road Hole) is very challenging. I have never birdied the hole and can count on one hand how many birdies I have personally witnessed. The drive over the Old Course Hotel is intimidating to say the least. The road on the right and the cavernous Road Hole Bunker on the left make the approach to the green difficult. A par feels like a birdie on the Road Hole.

              Teeing off the on the 18th on the Old Course provides a somewhat indescribable experience. The view up the 18th of the Swilcan Bridge, Hamilton Hall, and the R&A Clubhouse is one of the most pictured in all of golf. Every golfing great in the history of the game, bar Ben Hogan, has made that walk. The walk up the 18th never gets old. Walking through the valley of sin and up onto the green is akin to being in the presence of a celebrity or personal hero. You realize that you are standing at one of golf’s most legendary venues.
Looking down the 18th from the green
            The entire town of St Andrews has a very unique and warming ambiance. For a golfer, there are very few better places. The pubs and restaurants in the town are great (Find out more here). Right in town, there are six additional St Andrews courses all offering solid golf and lots of challenges (Find out more here). At this point in my life, I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else in the world.