The Old Course
The Oldest, and Probably Still the Best
The Round Up
Location: St Andrews, Scotland
Green Fees: £270 in High Season
Kiwi Caddy’s First Tee Advice: Close your eyes and hit a long iron short of the burn with plenty of eyes on you!
The Good: Perfect Conditioning, Outstanding subtle land movements, Great variety in hole routing throughout the layout, Elite bunkering, 18 unique green complexes
The Bad: NOTHING
The 1st is a short par 4 with a burn running through the middle of the fairway. Approach to a large green sloping back to front
The shortest par 3 11th hole, running alongside the Eden Estuary, plays to a massive double green shared with the 7th, protected by an enormous bunker short left.
The 17th (Road Hole) may be the best hole in golf. Blind tee shot over the hotel with OB right. Approach into a narrow green protected by a deep pot bunker short and the road long.
There are absolutely no words that can describe the feeling of standing on the first tee of the Old Course for the first time. The R&A at your back, miles of hallowed turf in front, and eighteen iconic holes to come. The first tee is a cauldron, 20 sets of eyes feels like 200 and standing over my ball I would have paid my green fee again for a 5 iron up the middle, but a snap hook to the Swilken Bridge was good enough.
People were knocking their golf balls around The Old Course before they even knew the Earth was round, and the fact that it finds itself atop the bucket lists of golfers all over the world 250 years down the line tells you everything you need to know. Golfers owe everything St Andrews, and to make the pilgrimage to the home of the game which we hold so dear is a privilege for anyone who has the chance.
The Old Course was built without the constraints of rules or architecture stiffs to point out why a hole wouldn’t work. It was the first, and set markers for many of the ‘rules’ that we see around the world today. Fairways crossed over, balls landed over my shoulder and the expansive trademark double greens and 111 pot bunkers swallowed me up. I was committed to being fully immersed in the experience, and had never been so chuffed to find myself in an 8-foot-tall bunker.
One of the iconic quirks that confused me at first glance was that there were countless bunkers in the middle of fairways which you couldn’t see from the tee. After I fell into my third one, it all felt like a bit of a sick joke, and a design feature that would be scolded were it a newly constructed course. However, it all eventually made sense when I realized that the course was designed to also be played in reverse!
The Old Course doesn’t overload your senses with dramatic vistas or man-made features, rather massaging them with the tumbling land that has been there forever. The subtle simplicities of rolling turf and sand based minimalism. On some tees I found myself staring down a seemingly straightforward hole. How wrong I was. The Old Course is a mastery in the art of creating challenge through discrete angles and natural formations. So often I found myself at the mercy of the land, as my ball tumbled over the knolls, across the valleys, and through the ripples. Golf the way it was always intended to be.
Design and layout wise, The Old Course is about as much fun as you can have playing golf. By today’s standards the course is short with wide open fairways, firm undulating turf, and some of the biggest greens in the world. There are thousands of ways to play every hole. Options are endless from every position on the course, promoting creativity, particularly with approach shots. It’s entirely possible to putt from 100 yards out, but equally so to fly a wedge at the flag.
Every time I finished a hole, all I wanted to do was go back to the tee and play it all over again! Holes are designed in ways which make it possible for higher handicaps to play the course happily, but also challenge better players which is surely the epitome of a public championship golf course.
There are so many iconic moments over the course of the round. The first tee shot, the enormous double greens, experiencing the five round-wrecking bunkers which have earned their own titles (Strath, Hell, Shell, Spectacles & Road) and the tee shot on 17 over the Old Course Hotel. These are all magical moments, but the walk down 18 towards the town of St Andrews is one that can never be forgotten.
Taking a moment to appreciate the heritage and walk in the footsteps of legends and pioneers is something special that cannot be replicated anywhere in the world and may be the most special walk in golf.
If there was one golf course I could play every day for the rest of my life I have a hard time believing it wouldn’t be this one. It would play different every day, and the number of interesting and fun shots throughout could never ever be matched. As the most important golf course in the world, no golfer’s journey can be complete without a walk across the hallowed grounds.
Booking a Tee Time
It has been well documented that there are three ways to get on The Old Course; An advanced tee time booked more than a year prior, a long night waiting at the starter’s hut in the singles line where you will be joined with a 2 or 3 ball if you're lucky, and by entering the ballot online which is drawn at 5pm two nights before.