The Takeaway: The oldest and most famous golf course in the world, the Old Course at St Andrews is on every golfer's bucket list. While the uniquely confined out and back layout with 14 holes featuring shared greens would never be built today, the course oozes with history at every moment as is easy in calm conditions but a bear when the wind is up. Grade A
Designer: Old Tom Morris 1865
Cost: £98 - £195 Click for current rates
Phone Number: +44 1334 466718
Course Website: Official Website - Visit St Andrews Links (Old)'s official website by clicking on the link provided.
Directions: Get here! - W Sands Rd, St Andrews, Fife KY16 9XL – UNITED KINGDOM
What to Expect: What is left to be said about the course that has hosted more Open Championships than any other and stands as the most famous links in the world? The original home of golf is located near the tip of the Fife peninsula that juts out into the North Sea with the 1st and 18th holes surrounded by the town streets where spectators to your game are guaranteed. No need to panic though, the shared fairway between the opening and closing hole is a mammoth 129 yards wide, so you are almost guaranteed to find the short grass. The course features gargantuan greens with some measuring nearly an acre in size and stretching over 100 yards wide. The 1st, 9th, 17th, and 18th are the only individual greens on the links; the other 14 holes share seven undulated putting surfaces (2nd & 16th, 3rd & 15th, 4th & 14th, 5th & 13th, 6th & 12th, 7th & 11th, 8th and 10th) with white flags marking the outward nine targets and red flags marking the inward nine. The property has much more movement and interest than appears on TV as I was expecting the course to be virtually flat. It is almost impossible to fully appreciate the storied links on your first time around due to the unique nature of the layout, the history oozing out of every hole and bunker, and greens that almost can't be comprehended in a single loop. Speaking of the greens, they really are the feature that makes St Andrews the great links that it is. An almost countless number of pin positions exist and the casual visitor will never fully appreciate how unique or challenging the Old course can play since the pin positions that the pros play typically aren't cut on non-tournament days. Ultimately, a trip to St Andrews to pay homage where it all started is a must for any golfer. There is no town, no amount of history, and no experience that can match what St Andrews and the Old course are able to. As is common with most courses in the UK, players will be required to walk but can rent a trolley to help tote their clubs around or take a caddie.
By the Numbers
Individual Hole Analysis
Signature Hole: 18th Hole – 358 Yard Par 4 – The closing hole features perhaps the most famous backdrop in golf with the historic buildings of downtown St Andrews towering over the links and townspeople walking on the street framing the hole. The fairway is shared with the 1st hole and has over 100 yards of width to play with, so finding the short grass shouldn't be a problem. The challenge here comes on the approach shot with the pressure of the ever present crowd watching on while attacking the large green that yields far more three-putts than one-putts. The famous Valley of Sin, an eight foot deep swell in front of the green, comes into play heavier when players bail out to the forgiving left side with their tee shot. The swell has claimed so many victims over the years that it has claimed its own biblical themed name. When the pin is in the back of the green the swell can simply be carried and taken out of play, but to a front pin location in a situation where par or bridie is required, life gets tricky really fast trying to hit a shot close. It is a wonderful finishing hole where birdies can be common, but when the pressure is on, carding a par can feel like a monumental feat. Of course, no trip up the 18th is complete without posing on the Swilcan Bridge that takes players over the Swilcan Burn that crosses the 18th and 1st fairways.
Best Par 3: 11th (High-Hole-In/Eden) Hole – 181 Yards – One of the best and most famous par threes in the world, the Eden hole at St Andrews has frequently been coined as the shortest par five in the world. Fives are frequent scores players walk away with here when contending with the Hill bunker on the left, the pot bunker coined as Strath tucked in front, the Eden River behind the green, and the Cockleshell or Shelly bunker short and right. In addition to the surrounding trouble, the severe back to front slope in the green can lead to putts that roll right off the putting surface in the ultimate stroke of embarrassment. The key when playing this Eden hole, or any replication of it, is to stay below the hole; even if that means staying short of the green and pitching back into the slope. Getting above the hole should lead to some scary feelings as you stand over your ball. It is simply one of the best par threes in the world and wonderfully strategic to play.
Best Par 4: 12th (Heathery) Hole – 352 Yards – The Old Course at St Andrews is more about shot making than it is distance, and the 12th is a good example of that. Peppered with a half dozen bunkers down the center line, and not visible from some tees, players are asked to place their ball in safety rather than brutishly swing away where tee shots could tumble into one of the sand pits. Tee balls up the left side will find the ideal line enroute to the shallow two-tiered hourglass shaped green that boasts several intriguing pin placements. This is a hole that can turn from a birdie to a bogey real quick.
Best Par 5: 14th (Long) Hole – 618 Yards – The longest hole in Open Championship history, the 14th has the most appropriate name of any hole at St Andrews; Long. An out of bounds wall lines the right side of the hole and should encourage players to stay left, however The Beardies bunkers await on the left side and call for players to hit a cut shot off them to find the Elysian Fields; the garden spot for the second shot. One of the largest and most intimidating bunkers on the course, Hell Bunker, awaits on the approach shot on the right side of the fairway where the short grass tightens to its narrowest spot. The 25 yard long sand pit rests 100 yards from the green thus requiring players to decide whether to carry it on their second shot or stay short of it before attacking the green. Getting caught at the back of the bunker will eliminate any chance of advancing the ball to the putting surface on your next swing. Often playing into the wind, the 14th is a strong three-shot hole that will require some solid shot making to conquer.
Birdie Time: 9th (End) Hole – 349 Yard Par 4 – When the wind is down, there are several holes at St Andrews that become birdie opportunities. But even with a stiff breeze the short 9th should instill confidence in players as they can swing away at the wide fairway ahead. Whether you have the juice to reach the green or not, you'll certainly have a scoring club in your hand for the second shot with a chance of sticking the approach shot tight. With a flat and attackable green waiting for you, this is the easiest hole to score on so you need to take advantage of it.
Bogey Beware: 17th (Road) Hole – 500 Yard Par 4 – Certainly one of the most storied par fours in championship golf history, the Road hole and its strategy has been copied on courses across the world. While the other versions may not feature a multi-story hotel with unbreakable windows protecting the dogleg, the strategy is the same where players are rewarded by taking a bold line off the tee rather than bailing out to the left. Get too aggressive and your ball will end up out of play, go too conservative to the left and you'll find yourself in thick fescue with a line to the green protected by the menacing Road bunker that has brought more than one professional golfer to his knees. The angle of the green rewards the player that takes his tee shot over the hotel while the less bold player faces one of the most difficult approach shots in golf with the Road bunker fronting the shallow angle of the green and a road running behind it. Bogey here is a major accomplishment from the tips; and even from the forward tees.