One for the Road.
Prepare yourself for golf’s greatest—and oldest—destination, St Andrews.
No sane person places an empty glass on the floor, pulls out a putter, and begins, with great concentration, to tap golf balls across the carpet towards the glass’s open end. But if you’re reading this, you probably recognize the putt-into-the-empty-glass-on-the-floor practice round because you’ve done it before. Many times. Well, get out the water glass. Because we’re going to St Andrews.
Home sweet home.
While there are 11 golf courses in the town of St Andrews, the one that’s on every golfer’s must-play list is the Old Course. This is the Home of Golf, where the game was invented and first played. As you might imagine, with over 600 years of active club swinging, many people have helped shape the course. One of the most influential was Old Tom Morris, whose many innovations included maintaining course hazards, such as the famous bunkers. Before him, a hazard was truly a hazard. If your ball found a bunker, there was no telling what kind of wildlife was lurking down in that shrub-covered hole, ready to leap out or take flight during your backswing.
Getting the lay of the land.
You’ve checked into the Old Course Hotel and put down your bags. What’s your next move? Well, no mountaineer gets to Everest and bolts straight for the top, so take your time and get to know the place. With that said, you might want to make the Road Hole bar your first stop. It overlooks the Old Course and you can sit there sipping a whiskey, watching the players, and mentally play their shots yourself. Another option is to hit the Jigger Inn. This is where the caddies hang out after a day on the course and you’ll most likely pick up some invaluable information just sitting and listening to the conversations revolving around you.
The Old Course.
Ok, you’re at the tee box at Hole Number One, known as Burn. What are you doing? Well, hopefully you’re not on your knees praying. Or breathing into a paper bag. What you should be doing is relaxing. Look at it this way: yes, this is probably the most intimidating course in all of golf. And since they’ve been playing golf here for over 600 years, there’s nothing they haven’t prepared for, even your game. Just relax. There is no way you’ll figure the course out in one round or really even in one lifetime. So, enjoy the journey.
You’re not alone.
We’re not going to go into a hole-by-hole examination of the Old Course here. There’s not enough room here for that. The rolling layout is something like a green ocean, your view of it constantly changing from hole to hole, from round to round, depending on where your ball happens to land. The most oversimplified advice is this: if you opt to take advantage of the room on the fairways to the left, you’ll be faced with a tougher approach shot; if you choose to go right, you’ll be faced with a variety of hazards, but a simpler approach to the green. Suffice it to say, you’re going to get into trouble out there. Take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone.
Bobby Jones made history at the 11th during his first British Open in 1921. After rocketing his tee shot into the Strath Bunker, he flailed away at his ball three times before eventually picking it up, effectively withdrawing from the competition.
The Road Hole Bunker, situated in front of the green, was dubbed “The Sands of Nakajima” after the misfortune that befell Japan’s Tommy Nakajima at The British Open in 1978. He hit the green in two but an errant birdie putt tumbled into the Road Bunker. He needed five swings to get his ball back onto the green.
In 2010, Miguel Ángel Jiménez played one of the most memorable shots in British Open history at the Number 17 Road Hole. With his ball across the road in back of the green, and up against the stone wall that runs along the road, he turned around and decided to play a bank shot. His ball ricocheted off the wall and back onto the green. He scored a double-bogey, but secured a spot in St Andrews lore.
Oh, we forgot to mention the weather.
Besides the rolling landscape, there’s another thing the Old Course has in common with the ocean—the weather. This is where the locals refer to a steady 45 mph wind as a “breeze.” And where, if you see a fellow golfer foundering badly and someone remarks, “He’s really at sea out there,” it’s taken almost literally. The weather adds an extra dimension to a course already overloaded with character. Take the 11th hole for example, a relatively short 174-yard Par 3, also known as the High (In). Surrounded by bunkers, the large green slopes precipitously towards the front. But all of this information is meaningless on some days because the “breeze” makes the green almost unreachable.
Until next time.
Before you leave, make sure you revisit the Road Hole Bar. Sit down again, have one for the road, and reflect back to when you first arrived. Look out and mentally play the course again. Watch the other golfers. You’ll feel like you have a certain bond with them. And you do. Because the Old Course will have served up some moments of sheer exhilaration mixed in with your tribulations. And you’ll wish you were out sharing them again with those lucky enough to be on the course in front of you.
Why? Why? Why?
If anyone is questioning whether a visit to St Andrews is worth it, especially when you could always blissfully hack your way around your favorite course close to home, then maybe it isn’t for you. Just like some surfers are fine with never having ridden Pipeline, and some runners are content never having attempted the Boston or New York Marathons, there is no requirement for you to experience certain things to be happy doing them. But St Andrews is for the guy who wants to test himself against the best. It’s for the guy who places the water glass on the floor. And maybe that’s you.
Getting there. Easy. Fly into Edinburgh and rent a car. St Andrews is 50 miles north.
Requirements. To play, golfers will need a Handicap Certificate. 24 for men, and 36 for women.
Getting a tee time at the Old Course. Not too difficult actually, because even though it is the Home of Golf, it’s also a public course. There are many ways to go about it. Apply in advance in early September to secure a spot for the following year. Enter the Daily Ballot, or lottery, to play the following day. Get a guaranteed tee time through a golf package. Or, for single golfers, just show up and ask the starter to place you with a group and, odds are, you’ll play that day. For more information, visit www.standrews.org.uk.
Cost. Greens fees top out at 140 British pounds, or around $228 USD during the high season. You’ll pay more for a guaranteed tee time through a golf package, however.
Caddies. You don’t have to hire a caddie but it is recommended, as you will benefit from their invaluable store of knowledge. Cost is 45 pounds with tips at the golfer’s discretion.
Best time of year to play. This depends on when you prefer to play. The high season is roughly mid-April through mid-October with August being the busiest month. The Old Course is open year-round, however, with the exception of Sundays, when the public is allowed to walk the course.
What to wear. You should be prepared for any kind of weather any time of year. And, interestingly enough, tailored shorts are allowed on hot days. This should give you a few ideas as well.
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