On a typical cold and blustery day for the coastal town of St Andrews, we enjoyed a pleasant stroll on what I consider is the most famous golf course in the World, the St Andrews Old Course. You may wonder how we can just walk onto a golf course for a stroll, well it’s actually rather easy. The Old Course is one of 7 public golf courses operated by St Andrews Links Trust. To protect this grand old course from excessive wear and tear, no golfing is permitted on Sundays, and provided no tournament is taking place the public is free to walk the entire course.
Although they now have 7 golf courses, when I lived in St Andrews we had only 4 courses available – Old Course, New Course, Eden and the Jubilee. As a resident, I bought an annual pass for 25 UKP (early 70’s), which permitted unlimited golf on any of the 4 courses. The Old Course and Eden are fairly wide, whereas the New Course and Jubilee are much narrower fairways, so my preference was the Old or Eden. I could belt that little white ball 200 yards, just couldn’t guarantee which direction it would go. So yes, I have played the Old Course many times, often after school when the starter finished at 17:00.
This is links golf at its best, with all courses being built on a spit of land adjacent to the beach. When the wind blows, which is most days, the conditions become challenging.
Today is our only Sunday this visit, so we braved the elements and headed into St Andrews for a nostalgic stroll on the hallowed turf of the Old Course.
Judi at entrance to 1st Tee
When I played I loved the wide expanse of the combined 1st and 18th fairways, as I could aim for the middle and my ball always landed somewhere on the fairway. The challenge on this hole is the Swilken Burn, but no way I could hit that from the tee, that was only was a concern for the 2nd shot.
Wide open 1st & 18th fairway with Old Course Hotel in background
Swilken Burn hazard on 1st hole
I tried to play the left side of the fairway and come short of the burn, leaving a short chip over the burn and onto the green.
View from 2nd Tee
The 2nd hole starts the run of holes that parallel the beach, so cross winds are common. Even to hit the fairway you need to hit the ball > 100 yds to clear the rough or scrub land. That is the Old Course Hotel, which is not affiliated with the course, in the background.
View from 3rd Tee
Somewhat similar to the 2nd, the drive from this tee must carry at least 100 yds over the rough, just to reach the fairway.
Start of 3rd fairway looking towards green
The 3rd green is the first of the dual greens, as it is also the 16th green, therefore the green is massive, probably well over an acre. Depending on pin placement, it is possible to face a put of 70 to 100 yards.
View from 16th Tee
With out of bounds on the right I had to aim really far left hoping my ever present slice would bring the ball onto the fairway. However, if the slice didn’t materialise, some wicked bunkers lie out to the left.
Fairway bunkers on left side of 16th fairway
View from the 17th Tee
I think the 17th, or Road Hole is one of the most challenging holes on the Old Course, with the flag tucked around the corner of the hotel.
This little jem is located on the left about the corner of the hotel and isn’t visible from the tee, so if hitting short to the left, you may end up in here.
On the 17th hole, when you reach the corner of the hotel this is the view down the fairway to the 17th green.
The famous Road Hole bunker at the 17th green, which is about 6 feet from the sand to clear the grass above the face. We either chipped out the back or just walked into the bunker and threw the ball out. There is just no way I could ever hit the ball out over the steep front face.
This is the view from the 18th Tee, which is that afforded to the many golfers that have won or lost tournaments on the Old Course.
Original bridge over the Swilken Burn on the 18th fairway
The 18th hole is 354 yards with most professional golfers, when I was growing up, driving well short of the green or the adjacent “Valley of Death”. However, I have vivid memories of sitting in the stand behind the green on the final day of the 1970 Open Championship watching Jack Nicklaus driving through the green, a distance of over 360 yards. For the technology available in those days it was an incredible shot.
St Andrews Old Course Traditions
The sight of golfers walking around a golf course carrying their clubs is becoming increasingly rare, in favour of the ever increasing use of electric golf carts. Well not on the Old Course, which restricts the use of bag trolleys to after 12:00 and only between April and October. Electric golf carts are only available to players with a disability and must be driven by a caddie.
This is a lucrative business for the locals and is something I tried a few times in my younger days. The kids are now called Trainee Caddies, but in my day we were simply bag carriers. The fees today are 50 UKP for a caddie and 30 UKP for a trainee, with an additional tip of at least 15 UKP suggested. Not bad money, if you can get 2 rounds per day.
Located adjacent to the 1st tee, this is where the caddie shack was located.
St Andrews has 3 golf clubs, which are independent and have no affiliation to the public courses managed by the Links Trust.
The R&A Clubhouse at the 1st Tee
The Royal and Ancient Club (R&A) dates from 1754.
St Andrews New Clubhouse
The New Club is located alongside the 18th fairway
2015 Open Championship
The “Open Championship” returns to St Andrews in 2015 and I hope to watch some coverage while aboard Sea Princess.