St Andrews – The Old Course

Flower of Scotland ….

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There has been so much written about St Andrews, so suffice to say there is a not a lot more for me to add. Along with Augusta, St Andrews has to be most famous track in the world. The club has hosted numerous Open championships and featured in video games, everyone know the course so all I will do is give an account of the day. But first I want to say a round at St Andrews is akin to playing cricket at Lords or tennis at Wimbledon, the only difference is that it’s actually possible. That’s why golf is so great.

A visit to St Andrews was never really on the agenda for this trip. Due to a miscommunication, I had booked rounds in Inverness and Dad had booked rounds in Turnberry. We decided to play Gleneagles in between to break up the trip, it’s here when I thought perhaps we could fit in a trip to the famed St Andrews. There is a great write-up on Graylyn Loomis site here on the best way to get a tee-time on the Old Course without breaking the bank. We were able to enter the ballot being a two-ball fancying our changes due to the shoulder season for the Thursday. Lo and behold we got lucky with a tee-time scheduled for 07.50am. Can’t tell you how excited we were when seeing our names on the ballot.

Alarm went off at 5.30am in Gleneagles and we were off to make the ultimate pilgrimage to the home of golf. It’s a surreal experience seeing the clubhouse and the iconic opening\closing holes. As many have commented, the site isn’t what you expect. The course routes to the right after the opening hole and it’s hard to get a sense of things. Certainly the idea of the Old Course was different to when we got there. Green fees on the day were 170 pounds, we took the obligatory photos, hit on the Himalayas and got ready to tee off. We were paired with two guys from Houston who had hired caddies for the day. Nothing prepares you for the opening tee-shot on the course, heart was racing but I got the ball away and managed to par the hole.

The thing we kept hearing for the opening nine was stay left of fairway for the best lines. Most holes were double greens with yellow flags for outbound and red for inbound. With nerves I went for the wrong flag on the second. The bunkers are absolutely penal and located in the most inconvenient places. Hit one and you’re often in trouble. I was right up against the lip on one sharing the bunker with someone playing the incoming hole. Poor bugger went first watched by me and 4 caddies and picked up after 5 attempts to get out. Then it was my turn and somehow I escaped, I’ll never know how as feet were symmetrical to the bunker. The fairways are heavily shaped, one time an overhit iron approach hit a mound at the back and the ball speed on about 50 yards. These are challenges you face on the Old Course! The greens are the best manicured that I’ve played and though tough run true. Quite often you will have to hit 50-60 yard putts.

I don’t usually talk about my (lack of) golfing prowess but I managed to birdie three of the holes in the opening nine holes including almost acing the 8th. My pitch was just a few inches away. I walked away with 23 points for the opening nine but just 11 for the closing. One of my playing partners mentioned that it would have been expensive in the clubhouse had that ball dropped! Very true but a great problem to have. The 12th hole is a mid-length Par 3 (164 yards) and we were joined by the course Marshall. He quipped that this was longest Par 5 on the course, well the wind was blowing hard on the day. Hearing this one of my playing partners and I changed our clubs to hybrids and promptly hit our shots into the beach. I blame that Marshall for the wheels coming off our round! Dad hit his driver to about 10 feet of the hole which must have angered the St Andrews gods as his first putt shot by the hole resulting in a three putt. To be fair I didn’t see the borrow that severe either!

One of the Houston guys (Sorry forget the name) had this massive drawing drive in his arsenal. On the Par 4 16th (Melville) he decided to go for the green, he hits this draw right over the driving range and it starts arcing back towards the green. Right is out of bounds so its touch and go if he made it. Anyway we get to the green and there is his ball wedged up against the white stake unfortunately on the other side. Provided a moment of hilarity for the rest of us! The road hole was another experience, I was first up on the tee seeing the massive billboard advertising the Old Course Hotel in front of me. Had a brain explosion and decided to hit the left and received an admonishing from both caddies. Pretty good shot but in the wrong location. Managed to get the second fairly close and walked away with a bogey. Approach shot is so tough if you’re out of position here.

The final hole just takes your breath away. A lot of people are watching with all the classic St Andrews surroundings. Unfortunately I sliced my tee-shot here but was able to sample the Valley of Sin with my provisional. Dad hit a great drive but fatted the approach right into the wall behind the green. Never seen him so upset. With the locals help, he was able to retrieve the ball but had to hit against the wall. Walking up the fairway, we took the obligatory photo on Swilken Bridge and approached the green. I turned round and saw some tourists run unto the bridge to steal a photo as well – not of me much to my chagrin!

And the round was finally over, felt pretty tired when the adrenaline started to wear off but what a day. Now for some reality, its very hard to evaluate a course like St Andrews. Aside from the experience that you’re walking arguably the most famous golf course in the world, there are people everywhere taking photos (me included). There is organised chaos on some of the greens\fairways with groups of 4 often with caddies playing across each other. I’d love to play the course when its quiet but this might only happen over the winter. The Marshall zips along and offers hints and snippets of history. The new course plays alongside the Old. It’s hard to really quantify. The best analysis I’ve seen is John Sabino’s review, he hits the nail on the head here and link is here.

Best Hole – 17th (Has to be the Road Hole!)

Hardest Hole – 14th

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