St Andrews Old Course Review

Graylyn LoomisCourse Reviews, St. Andrews11 Comments

I am one of the lucky few that has been able to call the St Andrews Old Course their home course. I attended the University of St Andrews and therefore lived an accessible four-minute walk from the Old. In my four years in St Andrews I was able to play approximately 175 rounds on the Old Course, and I plan to play many more throughout my life. The Old Course has a special place in my heart and if there is a slight tinge of bias in my write-up, I’m sure you’ll understand. This review strays away from a hole by hole account, and strives to capture the experience of walking the St Andrews Links.IMG_7954Something that makes the St Andrews Old Course so special is its accessibility to all golfers. It is the highest ranked public course in the world (#4), but any man, women, or child who meets the requisite handicap can play a round. On Sundays, no golf is played on the links, and the course effectively becomes a public park. Another completely unique feature is the Old Course’s designer. “Nature” is listed as the designer in the year 1400. The curves, humps, and bumps found on the Old are nearly all natural. Sheep nestling into the hillsides created the bunkers. The likes of Allan Robertson and Old Tom Morris gently massaged the land into shape as the game’s popularity grew. More recently, Martin Hawtree took his turn tweaking the Old Course for the modern game. Photos of his work can be seen here and here.IMG_7946

“Anyone who raves about the Old Course after just one or two rounds there is either a liar or a fool,” said David Fay, Executive Director of the USGA. The course reveals itself over time. A new bunker, bump, or strategy is revealed with every new round on the Old Course. Strategy is key for scoring well on the links. The old adage “just aim left off the tee” is commonly heard on the links, but aiming left creates awkward and difficult angles into greens. Left also brings new bunkers into play. Aiming right and hugging hazards provides the best angles. You won’t see the golfer who wins the Open Championship pull hooking all of his drives into “safe areas.”
IMG_8410The Old Course is unmatched in terms of history. Golf owes much of its current grandeur and success to the Old Course. When the game was struggling through its infancy, St Andrews kept the game alive. It is one of the oldest golfing grounds in the world. 

IMG_0067The figurehead of St Andrews golf is Old Tom Morris. He is one of my golfing heroes. Morris served as keeper of the green at the Old Course for a total of 38 years. He won the Open Championship four times. Morris also designed some of the world’s best golf courses including Prestwick, Muirfield, Lahinch, Royal Dornoch, Royal County Down, and a large role in designing Carnoustie among many other classic links. Old Tom Morris must be mentioned in any conversation on the history of St Andrews. He was born and lived the majority of his life in St Andrews. His birthplace, home, and gravesite can all be found in St Andrews within 10 minutes of each other.

IMG_6408The 5th hole on the Old Course is one of my favorites, and it embodies some of the unique features of the Old Course. Depending on the wind, the hole can be easily reachable in two, or challenging to reach even in three shots. Tee shots down the right side provide the best angle to the green, and left, while it is okay, provides a much more difficult blind shot. A large depression, or swale, runs across the fairway in front of the green. The depression catches balls and presents a very tough up and down. On this hole, similarly to all links golf holes, the wind can turn a birdie opportunity into a difficult par. Two deep spectacle style bunkers, guarding layups to this green, standing around 115 yards from the massive putting surface. The double green is nearly 95 yards deep, which is one of the largest greens in all of golf. Below are two photos of the fairway and green, both of which look back towards the tee.IMG_6682

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In the past, the Old Course has relinquished lower winning scores during the Open Championship than other venues on the rota. Some people interpret this to mean that the Old is weaker than say, Birkdale or Royal St Georges. If the weather, which is the guard of any links course, shows its bite, the Old is just as difficult a venue as the other. However, more than anything else, this “complaint” against the Old Course touches on a flaw in modern golf. Harder does not equal better. Professional golf has perverted our views of great golf courses as tours do their best to “protect par” every week. Harder courses are not necessarily better.IMG_6384

The final stretch of holes on the Old Course is memorable and leaves a very lasting impression on any golfer. The 17th  (Road Hole) is one of the most difficult on the course, demanding perfection on the approach shot. I have never birdied the hole and can count on one hand how many birdies I have personally witnessed. The drive over the Old Course Hotel is intimidating to say the least. The road on the right and the cavernous Road Hole Bunker on the left make the approach to the green difficult. It is another hole where erring left is safe, but creates nearly impossible angles into the green.IMG_6775Teeing off the on the 18th on the Old Course provides a somewhat indescribable experience. The view up the 18th of the Swilcan Bridge, Hamilton Hall, and the R&A Clubhouse is one of the most pictured in all of golf. Every golfing great in the history of the game, bar Ben Hogan, has made that walk. The walk up the 18th never gets old. Walking through the valley of sin and up onto the green is akin to being in the presence of every golfing great in the history of the game. You realize that you are standing at one of golf’s most legendary venues.

Snow-sunset

The entire town of St Andrews has a very unique and warming ambiance. For a golfer, there are very few better places. The pubs and restaurants in the town are great. Right in town, there are six additional St Andrews courses all offering solid golf and lots of challenges. The Himalays putting green, seen below without flags in place, is the home of the Ladies Putting Club of St Andrews, and on their public days, families flood the rippling stretch of land to enjoy the Scottish sun. IMG_7924 My four years in St Andrews, having the Old Course as my home course, were some of the most enjoyable in my life.

11 Comments on “St Andrews Old Course Review”

    1. Thank you for the comment! I’m glad you enjoy the site. I was one of the lucky group who could walk the Old Course every evening grabbing photos… Not a bad four years!

  1. Thanks for grt read. We are going in October for my 65th. Old course fully booked. I hear chances are still good via lottery. We have three firm prepaid starts at castle, new and Jub otherwise.

    1. Hi Bill, you’re going to have a blast over there for your birthday! Don’t worry too much that the pre-bookings on the Old are already filled. The vast majority of tee times are given out through the lottery, so definitely put your name in the ballot any day that you are free. If you don’t get the ballot, show up nice and early at the starter’s hut on your day of play to try and get out as a single! Castle, New, and Jub will be a perfect balance of classic and modern links with great views… have a blast!

  2. Great article. Both Tom Morris are true giants of the game whose legacy is eternally cemented. A friend of mine said it would be great to see them play today. I objected that it would not be good for their legacy as they clearly would have a steep learning curve what with all the new equipment, course designs, … I’m about a 15 handicap and I would say that if you brought them out today and gave them today’s equipment that I would be able to beat them thoroughly for a long time as today’s game really is night and day from the game they played. Plus, there were only like 8 people in the first Open (UK) Championship.

    Anyhow it’s great that there are people out here preserving the legacy of Tom Morris as their contributions were truly remarkable.

    1. Hi John,

      Thank you for taking the time to comment! It would be equally interesting to send back a modern 15 handicap to play with Tom Morris with his equipment on those courses… If you are ever in Scotland playing, check out Musselburgh Old Links or Kingarrock – both courses are relatively unchanged from the ancient days and both places allow you to rent hickory clubs. It’s a blast and gives a huge appreciation for Tom Morris and his generation of players.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article!

  3. I am thoroughly enjoying your reviews which I’ve recently stumbled across doing research for our next golf tour to the UK (I’m a South African). On our last tour, my brother and I played and loved The Old and New courses at St Andrews, as well as Kingsbarns. This time around we’ll be over for the Rugby World Cup in October and have already booked for Royal Troon, Celtic Manor’s TwentyTen Course and we need to decide on an English course near the Wokingham area, where we’ll be staying. Our options are Sunningdale Old Course, Swinley Forest and Walton Heath. We are trying to tick off ‘bucket list’ options, so perhaps you can recommend which one we should choose. I don’t see a review for Sunningdale, but given that it’s ranked 24th in the world versus 87th and 71st for Winley and Walton Heath respectively, and the fact that the Senior British Open was just held at Sunningdale, we expect the condition there to be excellent. Would love to hear your opinion and keep up the good work. R. Ross-Adams

    1. Hi Richard – thank you very much for taking the time to comment! I’m glad that the course reviews have been helpful and interesting. I will do my best to keep them coming! It sounds like you guys have already chosen some great courses for this next trip. You’re smart to get down to England – you’re really spoiled for choice down there. Out of Swinley Forest, Sunningdale, and Walton Heath, I would have to recommend Sunningdale. Although I haven’t played it, I have a very good golf buddy who just went down and played all three of those courses back to back days as part of a larger trip. He insisted that Sunningdale was the best experience out of all of the entire trip. He managed 36 holes and said every aspect of the place was amazing. You can’t really go wrong with any of the courses you named, but that would be my recommendation! Hope all is well down in South Africa – if I ever make a trip down there I’ll reach out for advice!

      1. Hi Gravlyn. Thanks for your prompt response. We have booked Sunningdale as per your recommendation and look forward to ticking another one off the bucket list. Lets just hope the weather is kind to us. South Africa has some amazing golf courses and fantastic weather, so I’d be happy to give you some recommendations if you ever make your way down here. Of the top 100 courses here, I’ve played 71 so far. Be sure to come in the Spring or Summer to make the best of it, and with the current exchange rate of ZAR 20/GBP 1, you should be able to have a fantastic holiday on a small budget. Cheers mate

  4. The Old Course is everything it’s cracked up to be. Just to stand there on Hole 1 to tee off takes your breath away. The cool thing is once you get to Hole #2, you’re now playing golf away from the crowds & clubhouse, so you can exhale. Having a caddy is a big plus for his/her knowledge. But be ready to whack yourself out of a few of the 112 sand bunkers.

    As you approach Hole #15 or #16 you look up and there out in the distance are the remaining 2-3 holes, including the famous #17 Road Hole and #18 with The Swilcan Bridge. You are back to “take your breath away” territory. You are walking (and swinging) where every single great golfer over the past century has played. Incredible.

    The Old Course will be one of my favorite golf memories ever. I didn’t play very well. My score was lousy. But that’s, maybe, not the point. It’s the experience.

    PS? The course is very well organized and runs like a machine. Emmy, @ Hole #1, gave us a little rundown of pace etc. Then you step up…and away you go.

  5. Hi Graylynn, My brother and I have a brief trip to Edinburgh this month. Have 2 shots at getting on at the Old course via lottery. If we don’t get on what are your recommendations for courses near Edinburgh that can give us an authentic tasted of Scottish golf? Currently have bookings at North Berwick Glen and Musselburgh.

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