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. 

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