The Old Course at St Andrews is one of the oldest golf courses in the world, and is operated and maintained by the The St Andrews Links Trust. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews club house sits adjacent to the first tee, although it is just one of many clubs that have playing privileges on the course, along with the general public. The Old Course at St Andrews is considered by many to be the “home of golf” because the sport was first played on the Links at St Andrews in the early 15th century. Golf was becoming increasingly popular in Scotland until, in 1457, James II of Scotland banned the game because he felt that young men were playing too much golf instead of practising their archery. The ban was upheld by subsequent Kings of Scotland until 1502, when King James IV became a golfer himself and lifted the ban.
The view from the first tee is perhaps familiar to more golfers than any other. The fairway, including the adjoining 18th, is nearly 100 yards across and there are no bunkers or rough. There was a bunker once, called “Halket’s”, on the far left, but that disappeared long ago, almost certainly because there were grazing rights on that part of the course, and in bad weather sheep would have huddled in and wrecked it! The only danger on the way to the 1st green is the famous “Swilken Burn”, snaking in from the far right before swinging right, parallel with the fairway. Just short of the green it turns sharp left and, invisible from the tee, its 8ft breadth menaces every shot to the pin. Any slice can either go out of bounds or leave an appalling shot over water and out-of-bounds rough. Down the left is sensible; but although the hole is under 350 yards, that line is too long for many even when the wind is only slightly against.
2nd – The ‘Dyke’ Hole
The Swilken Burn and the out-of-bounds rough are directly behind the Championship tee, ruling out any extension of its length. The hole remains what was voted by the leading professionals a century ago as being “among the best two-shotters in Britain”. The drive is blind over a daunting stretch of whin, and for the first 300 yards further whin on the right punishes a slice. For the professional golfer, a great threat is Cheape’s bunker 280 yards up the left hand side, not far from the bend in the wall at the 17th where the out-of-bounds proper begins. The green has two levels separated by a wicked ridge, with bunkers close along the high left side, and several pot bunkers guarding the lower level on the right. The main Championship pin position is on the top level, and the ideal drive – a blind one – must be close to Cheape’s bunker. The green with its two tiers separated by a hollow and a bank, can make 3 putts difficult to avoid.
3rd – The ‘Cartgate’ Hole
All is rough and bushes for the first 80 yards at the end of which is a deep, steep-faced bunker. Like many on the modem outward half it has never been named. Most of the famous ones – Cheape’s, Road, Principal’s Nose, Hill, Hell, Coffins and so on – date back to before about 1835 when a single pin on a small green was the target, both out and back. The present outward half was a wilderness of rough, weeds and whin. There is trouble at both sides at this hole. Go too far left and the nearest bunker of the Principal’s Nose group is waiting. If you escape that, the Cartgate bunker eats into the third green on its left, providing a very testing shot. Go down the right and a line of three little pot bunkers are in play, as, on this line are two others up by the green. It is best to aim from the tee a little to the right of the nameless bunker.
4th – The ‘Gingerbeer’ Hole
There is one definite hazard from the tee, an undulating ridge dividing a plateau on the left from a narrow fairway on the right, where two bunkers await the sliced drive. The ridge is a killer, providing bad lies and cramped stances. The drive down the left goes unpunished, but the second is comparatively blind with the Student’s bunkers coming into play near the green and another one, greenside. The straight driver should go down the right fairway, earn a good site of the pin, easily avoid two bunkers well right of the green and the little disruptive hump guarding the green itself. It is two-tiered, the lower half sloping more and more gently from left to right, but beyond the little ridge the slope becomes much more pronounced halfway along and three putts are frequent.
5th – The ‘Hole & Cross’ Hole
Down the right, the last of them 250 yards from the tee, lies a group of seven bunkers, on the straight route to the hole and catching many drives. The line is to the left; a hill running out from the Elysian Fields is the aiming point. A really good drive comes close to a march or boundary stone. Ahead lies a long bank with a bunker at each end. Most players cannot reach the top of that bank in two to get a good view of the green, which slopes away at first, guarded by a deep, wide gully in front. From further back it is often safer to take one club more and be sure of clearing the gully. The green which the fifth shares with the thirteenth, beyond it, is the largest on the course.
6th – The ‘Heathery’ Hole
The drive from the sixth tee is daunting, across deep gullies covered in whin, flanked by the coffins on the left, and several bunkers down a line of rough on the right. On most of that side, whin awaits the wild slicer. The best line from the tee looks to be down the right, avoiding a hump just before a hollow in the green, sloping away; but straight over the guide post is safer. When the pin is at the front, those who can manufacture a running shot, landing just before the hump, very often get the best result.
7th – The ‘High’ Hole (going out)
This hole is dog-legged, with a daunting drive for the slicer since there is whin on the right for two-thirds of its length, until the eleventh fairway is reached. The best line is to the right of the big hill in front. A longer but safer shot to the green awaits those who go left on it. There are no bunkers in the way until near the green, but the wide and deep shell or chockle bunker has to be carried, and if in doubt – play short. Only a few yards left of shell is the strath bunker, and the combined threat of these and of the bunker beyond shell on the right, makes any blind shot from the lower reaches of the big hill a worrying prospect. The seventh is the first of the ‘loop’ holes, which extends to the twelfth.
8th – The ‘Short’ Hole
The ground from tee to the green is decidedly broken, with little hollows, small whin bushes in front and large ones along the left; really bad tee-shots are generally punished severely. The eighth hole produces quite a few bogeys, but is simple compared with most others here. Just in front of the green, often in direct line with the hole, is the almost inevitable little hill with a small and fairly deep bunker in the face. The contours around it promote the arrival of balls in the sand. Another bunker well to the right presents very little threat. The line is directly at the flag if you are sure of reaching the green, but otherwise it is safer to play on the highest church steeple.
9th – The ‘End’ Hole
Within 40 yards of the tee the ground becomes bumpy and covered in rough, heather and whin, beyond which lie the twin Kruger bunkers, requiring a carry of less than 100 yards. Well left, and perhaps 60 yards further on, Mrs Kruger is set in a stretch of heather which runs almost to the green. Banks of whin await any badly pulled shots. The Kruger bunkers date from the Boer War. The heather down the left at both the ninth and the tenth can produce very tough recovery shots. In sight down the ninth fairway are two small ‘hip-bath’ bunkers: Boase’s and then the End Hole bunker. Another little-used one is placed at the near left-hand comer of the green. The line is either right or left of the two fairway bunkers, and your choice will always leave a featureless second to the green – the one such shot on the course. Probably because there is nothing to concentrate on, there are many fives here. Very delicate pitch to the pin on a raised green which slopes away from them. Getting the distance right is difficult even for a professional, the further down the green the pin is..
10th – The ‘Bobby Jones’ Hole
There is a group of bunkers about 100 yards from the tee, at a point where whins on the left give way to a stretch of heathery rough, and where four whin bushes may catch drives of between 220 and 250 yards. There is a single bunker about 220 yards out which gathers a long drive if it is slightly right; the twin Krugers await wild slices in the direction of the ninth tee. Those with the power to drive the tenth green, gain advantage over shorter hitters.
11th – The ‘High’ Hole (coming home)
This is among the most testing of short holes – infinitely more difficult than the eighth – for many reasons. First the green is guarded by Hill bunker on the left, a deep narrow pit with an almost vertical face, 10 feet high; on the right is strath bunker gathering in shots to both the eleventh and the seventh. Further right the huge shell bunker awaits any weak slices. The green itself slopes from back to front and from left to right to stop because of the down-slope, especially when the wind is from the west. Depending on the wind, the tee-shot may be as much as a drive or as a little as a seven iron. Over the back of the green is the bank of the River Eden, with rough tufted grass. What a pitch back!
12th – The ‘Heathery’ Hole (coming home)
Although all concealed from the tee, there are six bunkers, which can be seen by looking back once the hole is completed, a layout perfectly normal when originally play was in the opposite direction. This accounts for the large, deep bunker The Admiral’s’ not more than 50 yards from the present 12th tee. Another big bunker. Stoke, Lies at about 170 yards, with a little pot to its right. On a long ridge about forty yards further on there are two more small bunkers; finally, in a small hill in front of the green, there is a long very narrow one. The great difficulty is that not only has this green a hollow with a steep bank right along the front, but the plateau beyond is only 10 yards deep before chip or putt up a bank becomes necessary. Long hitters can, in favourable conditions, drive the green run. To get a pitch to the hole that will stay on the green, the recommended line is well left on to the high heather-covered hill the alternative route is well down the right, but the approach is tighter unless the wind is against.
13th – The ‘Hole & Cross’ Hole (coming home)
This, like the second and fourth, is a very fine two-shot hole. A driver a little left of the nearby whins will keep the ball away from the coffins, three very strategically placed bunkers further left, with are preceded by Nick’s one – it swallows duck-hooks. Beyond the coffins is a long high ridge at the left end of which are two nasty little pots: the cat’s Trap, left of Walkinshaw’s Grave. The drawback about taking this right-hand line is that the ridge blocks out any good view of the green and its approaches. Longer hitters are rewarded by playing left of the coffins, but it can be inconvenient for those playing the sixth. Shorter drivers benefit from a second to the right where there is plenty of room, leaving an easy pitch to the green.
14th – The ‘Long’ Hole (coming home)
Bernard Darwin described this as the best long hole in the world. Out of bounds lies to the right of the wall, which first bends left and then takes a wicked turn back again. The four beardies bunkers await those too far down the left: one large deep, the others small – at least a shot dropped. After a short respite, Benty bunker comes next, followed by the kitchen and hell. Near the green, on the left, are two pots, and the ginger Beer bunker at the back of the fourth. The green is raised above the level of the fairway, with a hollow and steep bank, front left, and one of these destructive humps, front right. The drive should be on the spire to the right of the town, arriving past the beardies, between the wall. The second shot should normally be aimed left of Hell bunker with a long iron, or a wood. This leaves a fine shot to the green, avoiding both the left bunkers and the bump on the right. The alternative, straight up the Elysian Fields, leaves a very chancy third shot. If short, the ball breaks left or right on the hump; land it on, and the slope rushes it down the bank beyond.
15th – The ‘Cartgate’ Hole (coming home)
The very wide cottage bunker lies about 150 yards from the tee on the left, and catches many pulled drives. About 20 yards beyond that there is Sutherland’s little pot. Between the cottage bunker and the right rough, two small mounds known as “Miss Grainger’s Bosoms” probably gave the best line before the Haskell ball from 1902 onwards made this hole a two-shotter. To the right of these mounds blind many second shots. There is just clear of the Cottage bunker, and nowadays the three pots 90 yards from the green are no threat to the second shot. A bunker on the left edge, a little hump on the right, and the Cartgate bunker at the back are the problems. The second shot is often longer than it looks.
16th – The ‘Corner of the Dyke’ Hole
Beyond the fence, all along the right-hand side is out-of-bounds. The other great threat, about 180 yards from the tee, is the Principal’s Nose bunker with its two “eyes” just beyond. The name may have been applied because of an ugly porch on one of the Principal’s house, but it was another principal who played golf- so no firm proof is available. A pot. Deacon Sime, lies just beyond this group. In the rather narrow gap between bunkers and fence there used to be Tarn’s Coo – and even a Calf bunker! – shallow ones formed by the tethered beasts, but filled in in the 1880s. Nowadays the recommended line in is left of the Principal’s Nose, but against the wind this leaves many with Grant’s (pot) bunker to clear, in front of the green, with the Wig bunker eating in a few yards further, on the left. The line through the gap between Principal’s Nose and fence has been described as “the professional line that only amateur would take”! As with other Old Course greens, there is a long hollow and bank for anything short – three-putt country.
17th – The ‘Road’ Hole
This, surely the most famous and ‘infamous’ hole in golf, is a supremely difficult par four. The original sheds, in direct line to the green, gave way to a single outbuilding almost 30 years ago, an adjunct to the original Old Course Hotel. As with the sheds, all shots over the outbuilding are threatened by out-of-bounds, especially for those trying to reach the best line into the green. The sensible route for many is between the outbuilding and Cheape’s bunker on the left, with a fine shot towards the right comer of the green, which leaves anything from an eight iron to a delicate “bump and run” as the Americans call it. Any drive left of Cheape’s bunker makes the hole even more difficult; a long pulled shot leaves a great stretch of rough beyond which lie the Scholar’s bunker, the progressing bunker, the dreaded Road bunker and the Road itself- an ever-worsening trail. But the old course is unique in that every golfer has the same chance of noting the homeward pin positions mainly by looking left on the front nine, especially on all these double greens. Most local players do this automatically.
18th – The ‘Tom Morris’ Hole
The Swilken Burn, not more than 50 yards from the tee, is hardly a threat although from some tees – not the present Championship one – the bridge may get in the way of a low drive. The best line from the tee is on the Martyrs’ Monument, between the R & A Clubhouse and the red stone Hamilton Hall. The road crossing the fairway at just under 250 yards is considered a hazard, but everything to the right of the fence along the right hand side is “out of bounds”. The valley of Sin, a deep hollow along the front of the large oblong green, which slopes down from the back right-hand corner, converts par fours into bogey fives with great regularity. Most players should take at least oneclub more, for safety.