Course of the Week: St. Andrews Old Course

November 23, 2010
David Brice, Golf International, Inc.

For every golfer, the name St. Andrews has a certain magic that brings tingles to the spine. This is the birthplace of the game where golf has been played for more than 600 years - the entirety of its history.

St. Andrews Old Course and its famous Swilken Bridge -a photo op. for every visitor.jpg
St. Andrews Old Course and its famous Swilken Bridge -- a photo op. for every visitor.
The Old Course's fairways may appear flat at first glance, but don't believe it.jpg
The Old Course's fairways may appear flat at first glance, but don't believe it.
Clubhouse overlooks the first tee of The Old Course.jpg
The imposing Royal & Ancient Clubhouse overlooks the first tee of The Old Course.
St. Andrews is filled with golf and more than 3000 years of history.jpg
St. Andrews is filled with golf and more than 3000 years of history.
St. Andrews New Course may be even tougher than its older brother.jpg
St. Andrews New Course may be even tougher than its older brother.
From the oldest to the newest, St. Andrews has a golf course to suit everyone.jpg
From the oldest to the newest, St. Andrews has a golf course to suit everyone.
For other ideas on golf trips to Scotland, Ireland, British Open, Spain & Portugal, click here or call Golf International at 1.212.447.5003.

Today, the old grey town of St. Andrews owns and operates seven separate courses within and around the town limits - The New Course, dating from 1895; The Jubilee Course opened in 1897; The Eden, built in 1914 and The Strathtyrum dating from 1993. For those who are new to the game, there's the 9-hole Balgrove Course and for the accomplished player, the stunning new Castle Course, which only recently celebrated its second birthday, but is already lauded as a very worthy addition to the St. Andrews stable. Then there is the grand daddy of them all and the layout golfers from around the globe come to experience, the one and only, St. Andrews Old Course.

The Old Course is truly, hallowed ground and to walk its fairways is to walk in the footsteps of every great name the game has ever known.

This is the course that has hosted more British Open Championships than any other and has crowned champions such as Tom Morris, James Braid, Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo, Tiger Woods and a host of other, equally famous names.

There is no question that this is golf's Mecca and a course that every golfer, from weekend hacker to accomplished low handicapper, to touring pro, must play at least once in their life. It is an emotional experience replicated no place else.

At first sight, The Old Course may appear to be less than impressive. The surroundings are attractive enough and overwhelmingly historic, but the course itself gives the appearance of being quite flat and unceremoniously, squeezed into a narrow strip of land. The individual holes seem not clearly defined and the simple, out and back layout, less than inspirational.

Don't be deceived, The Old Course has been around for a long, long time and has more than enough surprises up its sleeve, some subtle, others less so.

There are hidden pot-bunkers in abundance, many of a frightening depth. The fairways you will discover are far from flat and contain numerous subtle undulations and natural contours, all of which act in unison as a defending army protecting the greens.

The greens in and of themselves are unique and nothing less than disconcerting to the uninitiated. Double greens are a peculiarity of The Old Course. There are 7 in all, each serving two fairways. The sheer size of these greens can be demoralizing as several are more than an acre in size, demanding a very special putting talent. They remain as proof positive that this is a layout which is as challenging as any and far more than most.

As is the very character of every links, the final defender of the course is the wind. On a totally calm day, not a frequent occurrence here, the course rewards the carefully thinking golfer and anyone of a number of different strategies can be successful. Take a day when even a moderate wind is blowing and it's a totally different layout, ready, willing and able to take on and conquer the very best.

There are a number of truly fearsome holes on The Old Course, but perhaps the notorious 17th, The Road hole, is the scariest of all and has proved to be the deciding factor in many a British Open.

The tee shot requires a carry over the railway sheds, risking an out of bounds on the right. The approach shot is no less terrifying. The green is none too generous, plateaued and sternly protected by one of most ominous bunkers on the entire course, a sheer faced monster, as deep as you are tall, lying in wait to grab any errant shot. Overshoot the 17th and you are on the road and up against a stonewall at the rear. The choices are nerve shattering.

No matter how well or poorly you play through the 17th, the grand dame of golf gives every player the opportunity to close out the 18th on a high note and go home with the fondest memories of this emotional experience.

With the medieval town as a backdrop and The Royal & Ancient Golf Club off to the left, you know you are playing a part of golf's history. The generous 18th green is set in theatrical fashion, flanked on two sides by a low fence that looks down on the green and inevitably attracts a gathering of onlookers.

It's a short and relatively easy par 4, despite being protected by the ominous sounding and frightening looking, Valley of Sin. Have no fear; the onlookers are always generous with their applause, even for the less polished players. Allow your mind to wander for a moment and you can imagine you are partnered with Palmer or Nicklaus, and this is The Open. It's just a part of the magic and experience of St. Andrews Old Course.

If you are in St. Andrews, The Old Course is only one part of the golf picture. There is a wealth of quality courses within less than a twenty minute drive of the town center, including some exceptional layouts that are more than deserving of your attention. Rather than only spending a few days here, make it a full week and you might have just enough time to play the best of them.

Each year the demand to play The Old Course, far outstrips the availability of guaranteed visitor times by a wide margin and many visitors are disappointed. If your heart is set on playing the Grand Old Lady next year, it's still not too late but you need to act quickly before the last few visitor times are snapped up -- check with Golf International's St. Andrews Desk by calling toll-free 1 (800) 833-1389 or click here.

©2010 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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