Golf courses of the world: #4 The Old Course, St Andrews

Published 12/03/2010 08:07:00

"How do you grow grass like that?" enquired an American golfing visitor to St Andrews, the charming, ancient university town known worldwide as the "Home of Golf."

"Sow the seed and let it grow for 500 years," replied his local caddie.


Golf's spiritual home


It is not known exactly when golf started to be played here - the first written mention of it is 1552 - but since 1754, when the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews (the R&A) was founded, its influence on the development of golf worldwide has been immense. However the R&A does not own the golf courses, which are run by the Links Management Trust on behalf of the town.

Residents are entitled to annual permits giving them various playing rights over the public courses for a modest sum. Visitors from further afield may book online, by post or by telephone far in advance. You could also take advantage of one of the golf tour operators' packages, or take pot luck in the daily ballot.


The ultimate opening drive


Standingon the 1st tee, the golfer is presented with the widest fairway imaginable. Downhill, shared with the 18th and not a single bunker to trap the wayward shot. Strong players could drive the green were it not for the Swilcan Burn which crosses in front. Yet that opening drive is nerve-racking for many, for is is played in front of the big windows of the R&A clubhouse and even at the crack of dawn there is usually an eager crowed watching.

A four is always welcome under such circumstances.


Shared fairways and double greens


From the 2nd tee everything changes. The course stretches away in front, its fairways tumbling over crumpled ground, giving all manner of different lies and stances. Bunkers litter the place, very often in the most unexpected places, and the first-time visitor is wise to employ a caddie, for it is far from obvious what the best line might be on any given hole.

Much depends on where the hole has been cut on the giant double greens which characterise the Old Course. Such are the subtleties of the approaches to the greens that a given pin position might be impossible from all but a specific spot on the fairway.

In the last round of the 2005 Open Championship Tiger Woods had the luxury of watching his pursuers trying to attack pins in order to pick up shots. More often than not they simply could not get their approaches close to the hole, quite often ending up three-putting, while Woods could play safely to the middle of the green. 

Woods also won at the Old Course in 2000 by avoiding a bunker in all 72 holes - truly an exceptional display of pragmatic golf.


Sting in the tail


Every hole has a name, every bunker too, and there is a tale to be told of one famous golfer or another coming to grief at some time. The catalogue of disasters on the 17th hole is legendary, the entire play of the hole dominated by one very nasty bunker eating into the heart of the green and the road which passes on the other side of this inaccessible, table-top green. And if the 18th, like the 1st, is bunkerless, nobody is safe from calamity until the Valley of Sin has been negotiated at the front of the green.


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