As the saying goes, it’s not what you know, but who you know. My golf trip to St. Andrews was all about who I knew. I was planning to be in Glasgow, Scotland, for a convention when a close friend and associate asked if I’d be interested in a side trip to St. Andrews to play the Old Course. Of course, the answer was yes.
As I mentioned, it’s not what you know, but who you know. To really experience St. Andrews, it’s best to know a member of the Royal and Ancient Club. The Old Course is open to the public, but it can be difficult to secure a tee time as such. The club and clubhouse are private. At the time, my colleague was hosting an exchange student who happened to be the daughter of a member. That connection opened the doors to the inner sanctum.
Our group consisted of four men and one woman. We were advised well in advance of the club’s men-only policy, but our female companion decided to test the waters. Told to tour the area on her own while we enjoyed lunch, she was shocked and irate. Frankly, it led to a bit of a scene. Eventually, she decided to head out to do some shopping while we entered one of the last male bastions on earth. Don’t get me wrong. I would have been pleased to have her join us, but when in Rome . . .
To make matters even more interesting, whom do I see sitting at the next table? Sean Connery. Talk about a fitting Scottish experience. After an enjoyable lunch, we made our way back to the locker room. As I passed Connery’s table, I stopped to tell him how much I enjoyed his movies. He responded in that wonderful Scottish accent, “Thank you very much. Enjoy your game.” A very nice chap.
Playing this course on a calm and sunny day would diminish the experience. This particular day was perfect – the wind was howling, and a light drizzle was falling. As they say, “If you don’t play golf in the rain, you don’t play golf in the U.K.”
Hole 1 (370-yard par 4)
I was overwhelmed by the sheer thrill of playing what is unquestionably one of the best and most famous golf courses. Old Tom Morris used the Gutta Percha ball or “Guttie” off the tee here more than 100 years ago. The history of the game is all wrapped up in your first shot off the first hole at St. Andrews.
Dubbed “The Burn” due to the ditch, or burn, that runs in front of the approach to the green, this is not a terribly difficult hole. Favor the left side; the road to the right is out of bounds. Our group included a 3-handicapper, who confused the caddies a bit getting his ball into play. He was blowing the ball about 100 yards beyond where they thought he could land, and on the first hole, his ball was nearly out of bounds. (He shot a 76.) The other obstacle you need to be aware of is the gorse; any shots that stray may fall into the bramble of thorny, thick, green bushes. Once your ball enters the gorse, it’s in Scotland forever.
Hole 2 (411-yard par 4)
Hole 2 is a blind shot off the tee, but the day I played, the most incredible thing was the wind. It was really beginning to affect me mentally. Imagine yourself ready to swing as gusts of wind literally push you back. We had to adjust, hitting hard with the wind behind us and hitting low launching into the wind.
The second hole is called “The Dyke” because of an old wall between the Old Course Hotel and the 17th fairway. The landing area on the right has several bunkers and heavy gorse, so try to stay center left off the tee. Your approach to the hole depends on the pin placement; often you will be able to shoot short of the green and let the ball roll on. This great Scottish tactic was successfully used repeatedly by our Scottish hosts.
Hole 5 (514-yard par 5)
Called “Hole O’ Cross,” some say a cross once stood at the chasm where you make your approach to this hole. (I made the sign of the cross before my shot.) It is a long par 5, bunkered in many areas. On approach, you’ll need an all-or-nothing shot to clear the ridge. Remember the St. Andrews wind when making your decision on approach here.
Hole 6 (307-yard par 4)
Called “The End,” because this hole marks the end of nine holes or the turn, this is an excellent example of an approach to the green where you could actually choose your putter over an iron (once you get a handle on this technique). Your drive off the tee is a go-for-it shot, at 307 yards you should be fairly close to the hole (our single-digit handicapper drove the hole for a birdie). If you can clearn the obstacles off the tee (a bush center) and make the fairway, your second shot should not be a problem. The gorse can come into play on errant shots.
Hole 15 (414-yard par 4)
Known as “Cargate,” this hole has a very interesting history. In 1869, the Greens Committee decided to fill the left fairway bunker that lies beyond the famous large “Cottage” bunker. One member, AG Sutherland, was so perturbed that he took it upon himself to restore the bunker three days later. (Actually, the club did the restoration, but this makes a better story.) Curses to him as I landed in Sutherland’s bunker and it cost me a stroke.
Tee shots should be aimed toward the church steeple and threaded through two humps fondly known as “Miss Grainger’s Bosoms.” From here the safe approach is to take more club to the green, as it plays longer than it looks.
Hole 17 (461-yard par 4)
The “Road Hole,” as it is called, is a killer for guys like me who try to cut the corner and fail. It’s only 180 yards to carry to the famous green shed and to cut the corner – which I did on my second shot. It’s all about reining in your nerves and remembering how you’ve seen this hole played on televised tournaments. A very long par 4, the prudent approach is to the right of the green, avoiding the road bunker in front and pitching the ball toward the hole.
Hole 18 (354-yard par 4)
Probably one of the most famous golf holes in the world, the finishing hole at the Old Course at St. Andrews is named “Tom Morris.” That’s because the green was constructed by Old Tom Morris, who considered it some of his finest work. Keep that in mind as you approach the green and putt in. Aim for the Royal and Ancient Clubhouse off the tee. The road that crosses the hole is not a hazard but part of the hole, and the ball must be played from there and not moved. After your tee shot you cross over the Swilcan Bridge, which was not built for golfers, but for people going to the Eden estuary. It is probably the course’s most noted photo op. As you walk up the fairway, you pass the Old Course Hole and can see fellow golfers enjoying a drink in the bar on the second floor, which overlooks the 18th fairway. Your approach to the green may look deceptively short. be sure to avoid the “Valley of Sin,” which guards the hole.
ST. ANDREWS LINKS TRUST
St. Andrews Fife
tel 44 0 1334 466666, fax 44 0 1334 477036
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