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A must see

The Old Course St. Andrews ©

What can I say about The Old Course at St Andrews that hasn't already been said? If there were ever a "must play" golf course, here it is. A good layout but not the greatest layout in Scotland. Challenging but not the most challenging course in Scotland. Fun but not the most fun golf course in Scotland. What it is is enough--it's THE OLD COURSE AT ST. ANDREWS, and if you have even a smidgen of love for the history of the game of golf, you must play this course. It's like a pilgrimage to Mecca.

St. Andrews Old Course - 18th tee, the scene every golf in the world recognizes
This is a view from the 18th tee. The green is directly ahead--to the left of the white fence and about 357 yards away and 200 yards in front of the famous bridge over the Swilken Burn. That grey building off to the left is the R & A headquarters.

As a gplf destination, St. Andrews has it all: history, culture, tradition, and Scottish hospitality.. St. Andrews is far more than one golf course. It is a golfer's paradise, fit for a Saint.
GOLF NOOK SCOTLAND highly suggests
BONNIE WEE GOLF, exclusive to golf for vacations. Scotland is the spiritual heartland of the game of golf. See them at

Before You Begin

The Old Course at St Andrews is a classic "out and back" links golf course. With few exceptions you play out in one direction and play back in the opposite. Standing on the first tee the course doesn't look like much and you're left wondering what all the fuss is about. There are no trees, no hills and everything looks quite flat and uninteresting. (There's even a road that runs right across the first fairway!) Don't let all this fool you. It can be a tiger. Links courses play entirely differently than parkland courses or for that matter just about any other kind of course. Don't let its looks lull you into complacency.

Because of the "out and back" layout, the greens are shared on fourteen holes, with the white flags indicating the holes going out and the red flags coming back. So you can see that if you feel the wind is hurting your play going out, it can help you coming back. Since club selection is obviously critical, I highly recommend hiring a caddie for this course the first time you play it.

Do it right and treat yourself to a caddy on St Andrews Old Course

The fee for 18 holes plus the caddie and tip will cost a lot of money for a round of golf, but…this is the Old Course at St Andrews! Although this is not where golf in Scotland began (see Old Musselburgh) they were dabbling in the sport of golf in this area before Columbus discovered America. If there were ever a time to spring and do it first class all the way, this is it. To me it is worth every penny. I will never forget my first round here. A great golfing memory.

Anyway, how many times do you get to play such a special course, so treat yourself to a caddie. The caddie will help you with your line off the tee--believe me, you'll need it--and he (or she) will help you read the greens. I figure between helping with club selection, giving you the line off tee and green, and finding lost balls, a caddie on this course can save you at least 5 or 6 strokes. Considering the serious trouble you can get into, maybe even more. The rough is very rough and the bunkers very deep and many of them not visible from the tees. Some of the bunkers even have stairs cut into the edges to help you get in and out! (Some of the bunkers I was in should have had elevators!) Caddies can help you avoid them.

Tee Time

Teeing off on the Old Course at St Andrews is an experience in itself. You tee up directly in front of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club clubhouse--talk about feeling a part of history! What you may not know is that the first tee is in a very busy part of town, so you may have a large "gallery" watching you. When I teed up, two motorcoaches of Japanese tourists had just unloaded and they all ran up to the railing to take photos and watch me tee off. Of course they didn't know who I was, but I assumed that they assumed I was a hot-shot player simply because I was playing this world-renowned course. First tee nerves are bad enough when it's only your foursome watching, but this was really nerve-wracking. My only prayer was, "Please, God, don't let me wiff this ball." I got off a decent drive. (I should have kept praying for the rest of the round!)

Treat yourself to a St Andrews Old Course yardage book

Whether you have gotten yourself a caddie or not, get yourself a yardage book. The Old Course at St Andrews yardage book is one of the best I've seen, with actual aerial photos of each hole clearly showing the bunkers and also excellent advice on how to play each hole. It's outstanding and well worth the money even if you have a caddie. I always like to mark up my yardage books, indicating where each shot landed so I can replay the game in my mind any time I choose.

St. Andrews Old Course 11th fairway, in the land of pot bunkers
This shot is taken from the 11th fairway. There are over one hundred bunkers like this scattered about the fairways. Obviously there is a premium on accuracy off the tee.

Tips on playing St Andrews Old Course

I won't go into details about too many holes on this course, my comments will be more general. The first piece of advice I've already given--get yourself a caddie and a yardage book. Secondly, know that links golf is different from golf the way it's played in the USA or just about anywhere else. The wind is always a factor, whether it is blowing toward you, behind you or from either side. If it's very windy and you don't know how to keep the ball low, you will not score well. It's usually better to punch a 7 iron low and run it up to the green than to hit a full 9 iron. Even short wedges are affected-as are putts. (The first time I played a links course I hit a lob shot over a bunker that only had to travel about 15 yards. But since it was a high shot, the wind blew it a full 10 feet left of where it would have landed had there been no wind. Of course on that shot I couldn't keep it low because I had to get over the bunker, but I did learn to adjust my aim if I had to hit a high shot.)

St. Andrews Old Course -- typical fairway
This golf course looks so easy at first blush but the placement of bunkers at critical distances in the fairway over the centuries has made it a difficult test of golf. And you virtually never have a shot at the green from a fairway bunker.

St. Andrews Old Course with big bunker in the distance
This shot doesn't look too difficult from here until you realize what is awaiting a shot that comes up short. (See below.)

Richard in one of the St Andrews Old Course bunkers to show how deep it is
As you see, these bunkers mean business. You will often have to hit the ball backwards to get out.

The wind tends to dry out the greens, making them very hard and fast. If you go for the pin on your approach, chances are the ball will hit the green and bounce off, so it's generally more effective to play short and let the ball roll to the pin. Speaking of rolling up to the pin, in links golf it's not unusual to putt from way off the green. As you watch players coming in on the 18th at the Old Course at St Andrews and many other links layouts, you'll see what I mean. It's often difficult to distinguish where the fairway stops and the green begins. The fairway grass is cut very short so there's little delineation between the two. In addition, many of the greens are slightly elevated or plateaued and, of course, very hard so that if you're, say, 10 or 20 yards off the green you are taking a chance hitting a wedge. First of all, since the fairways are cut so short, it's easy to hit the ground first and scuff your shot, (a "chili dip") which happens a lot. Secondly, even if you do hit the ball solidly, it's difficult to judge where to bounce it so it will roll where you want it to and not roll off the green. With so little difference between the grass close to the green and the green itself, it's usually better to take out your putter and give it a ride. It's much easier to judge than hitting a wedge and you'll scuff a putt a whole lot less often than you will a wedge.

I was watching a tournament of Scottish professionals and without exception everyone who was short of the 18th green used a putter rather than a wedge. Some were as much as 30 yards from the pin! On a typical course in the USA you may putt from the apron but for any shot beyond that you would be chipping on with anything from a wedge to a 6 iron. Not so at the Old Course at St Andrews, where putting is usually your best play. Keep this tip in mind. If you have a caddie he'll invariably give you your putter in such situations. Don't think he's crazy. He's been caddying there for a long time so he knows what works and what doesn't.

Lesson from David Duval on St Andrews Old Course bunkers

My final tip for the Old Course at St Andrews? An obvious one--keep out of the bunkers. As I said, it sounds obvious but the bunkers at the Old Course at St. Andrews are penalizing. It's not like so many of the courses in the U.S. where you can often par or birdie out of a bunker. Not here.These bunkers, both fairway bunkers and greenside bunkers, are meant to cost you a stroke. In some of them you actually have to hit backwards onto the fairway to get out. If you are too close to the front edge you have to hit it into the side just to get a bounce to a better part of the bunker and then you can get out! Count two strokes more on your scorecard. If you remember the 2000 Open Championship, that's exactly what David Duval had to do on the 17th to get out of the Road Hole Bunker. His first attempt to get out failed. He could not get out on his second shot because the ball was too close to the side, so he hit it into another part of the bunker. Then he barely got out on his third shot. He was in second place when he started the hole and ended up way down the list. At the Old Course at St Andrews this happens in a heartbeat. You're going along playing well and having a good time and then you're mugged!

Remember, too that if you don't have a shot out of the bunker, you can call any ball "unplayable" at any time. It will cost you a stroke but at least you'll be sure of a better lie. Of course, if you're calling an unplayable in a bunker you have to drop in the bunker not more than two clublengths from the spot or as far back as you want to go but in either case you must drop in the bunker and no closer to the hole.

The 17th, "The Road Hole" that got David Duval, is not the only one that can beat you up although it's a really tough hole because the green is difficult to hold, and if the ball runs off the back of the green it lands on a road. The road is not out of bounds and you have to play off it! Or, the ball can easily roll past the road only to stop at a stone wall. You have to play the ball where it lies. You can NOT take a one or two club length drop from the wall. If you are 1 inch from the wall, that's where you have to play it. I've seen golfers who were 6 inches from the wall actually hit the ball into the wall so that it would ricochet off the wall to give themselves a shot. Even then it takes the most delicate shot to get under the ball, land it on the green and then hold the green. The Road Hole is thought of by many as one of the most difficult holes in golf. It certainly is among the most famous.

St. Andrews Old Course -- 17th tee for the "Road Hole"
Here's a view off the tee of the most famous hole in golf--the 17th at St. Andrews. The best line off the tee is the steeple you can just barely see sticking out over the top of the roof of the hotel in the center of the picture.

The Old Course at St Andrews is intriguing, baffling, challenging, and a treasure to play. Treat yourself to a round at this famous course. Marinate for 18 holes in the history and the lore of golf. I guarantee you'll be glad you did.

And for something completely different, The Old Course on Christmas Day 2009

The Old Course, Christmas Day 2009 St Andrews Old Course, snowbound on Christmas 2009
Photos by David Scott, manager of The Duke's St Andrews golf course
How to book the Old Course at St Andrews
The Old Course is extremely popular. About 42,000 rounds a year are played on it. Over half the starting times are put into the daily lottery which is drawn every day for the next day's play. A minimum two golfers can enter by telephone (0) 1334 466666 or in person before 2 PM on the day before play. The results are posted late the same day at various locations, including next to the caddy's shack and the starter's house. They are also listed at

Single golfers can get on the St Andrews Old Course by going first thing in the morning to the starter who will try to team you up with the first available 2 or 3 ball. GET THERE EARLY unless you want to tee off sometime in the late afternoon (which is not really a bad idea (see further down under Special Notes).

To find out how to book in advance, go to the St. Andrews website. It's got all the information you'll need.

Special Notes

1 - The Old Course at St Andrews is closed for play on Sundays. Sounds unbelievable but it's true. The other courses that are part of St. Andrews Links--the New Course, Jubilee Course, Eden Course, Strathtyrum Course, and the Balgrove Course--are all open. It's fun to walk the Old Course on Sunday. In fact, it's usually filled with people walking dogs and families just enjoying the outdoors--a good time to bring your camera and take some pictures to show the folks back home just what you had to do battle with. Those nasty bunkers make great photos! Late in the day is especially good for photos because the shadows clearly show all the undulations.

2 - Men need a handicap of at least 24 to play, ladies need 36. You must have a valid certificate proving your handicap. (A letter of introduction is no longer acceptable.)

3 - In the summertime you can tee off as late as 6 PM. Remember, St. Andrews is high in northern latitude and in the summer the sun doesn't set until very late. I've seen players coming in at 10 PM with plenty of light to see what they were doing. So don't be upset if your tee time is late in the afternoon. You'll have plenty of time to finish.

4 - Caddies - Get one! As I said, it's the best way to enjoy this very special course. That said, if someone in your group has a caddie and you don't, it's okay to ask the caddie for the line off the tee or the reading of a green. But be sure to give him a generous tip when you're finished

5 - Trolleys (pull carts) are available but can be used only after 12 noon. Buggies (electric or motorized golf carts) are NOT available at any time.

Between April 1st and October 31st there is a two-course policy which means you have to play another course in addition to the Old Course and you will have to choose this additional course when you apply. With so many fine courses that are part of the St. Andrews Links complex, that's not a problem. (See our reviews and ratings of the New Course, Jubilee Course, Eden Course, Strathtyrum Course, and the Balgrove Course.)

Golf Nook Scotland rating -- a HOLE-IN-ONE.

For What to Do All Day, please see St. Andrews area.