The Old Course in St. Andrews and the town itself is the affectionately known as ‘The Home of Golf.’ The origins of the game can be undisputedly traced to this town on the west coast of Fife before the foundation of the university in 1417. There have been many suitors to the title of ‘inventors’ of golf, including the Chinese, Dutch, Belgians and French, all of whom had one form or other of a stick and ball game, but the one factor that makes St. Andrews its home, is simply the hole, which the Scots are said to have sunk first, creating the game of ‘gowf’.
Throughout history, the ground upon which The Old Course now sits has faced numerous threats to its very existence. It was bartered at one point to prevent the town’s bankruptcy and at another juncture in 1769 was rescued from being plowed up by a provision being written into a land purchase. The railways had, like so many other links courses in Scotland and Ireland, an impact on The Old Course. Arriving in 1845, and bringing both economic benefits, additional golfers and a new hazard for part of the links, the path to the right of the 16th is where the tracks lay for almost 120 years until the line was closed in 1968. The birth of the famous Old Course double greens was as a direct result of the increase in golfers brought about by the railways. A way of easing congestion needed to be found, and Allan Robertson, who was one of the foremost producers of the traditional ‘featherie’ golf ball, and long-time opponent of the ‘gutta-percha’ ball, that partly aided the growth in numbers and was the precursor of the modern ball, who ultimately solved it. By the time of the R&A spring meeting in 1857, the first double green had been completed, soon followed by the creation of double fairways.
The reclamation of the ground to the left of the clubhouse as viewed, allowed Old Tom, as custodian of the links, to create the 1st green as is today and gave birth to the possibility of playing the course in different directions, both a left and a right-hand circuit. Old Tom decreed that the directions should be switched weekly to prevent wear, and this also gave rise to golf being banned on a Sunday, a tradition which exists to this very day. The first ever Open Championship, held in 1873 was played on the right-hand circuit and became permanent several years afterward. While Old Tom could never be credited with designing the Old Course, he most certainly had the most telling impact on it in terms of its development. Amongst his many influences was the relocation of the 18th green from before Granny Clark’s Wynd, the road that runs across the 18th, to its current position. He introduced dedicated teeing areas to help separate the many outgoing and incoming golfers for safety reasons and most notably introduced the “tin cup” to golf, the metal liner that went in the hole to keep its shape, thus setting the size standard for all golf holes.
The Old Course has evolved since the days of Old Tom, and there have been changes, but the layout remains much the same since the mid 19th century. The most significant change has been the bunkers, many of which have been given revetted faces that were not in existence in say the early ’30s and ’40s and have received significant criticism. The reason for so much focus on the Old Course bunkers is that they, in many ways, define the golf course. Many have become so infamous that they have been individually named such as Hell Bunker, the Road Hole bunker, the Kruger bunkers, Hill bunker, Sutherland bunker, and the Principles Nose. They all have tall tales to tell, mostly of misery!
The simple fact of the matter is that you can put as many words down on paper about the Old Course as you want, but there is just no substitute to standing on that 1st tee with the R&A clubhouse right behind you. The town of St. Andrews has an incredibly special feeling to it, it’s virtually indescribable, but you know that you have arrived in golf mecca when you get there. The history and heritage, the Open, the backdrop, the clubhouse, the Swilken burn, the fact that every professional golfer worth their salt in the history of the game have walked those fairways and greens and crossed that famous stone bridge, there just isn’t anything like it on this planet, it is unique. We could spend all day discussing the course, hole by hole, but what would be the point. Until finally, you stand on that 1st tee, you won’t really ‘get it.’ We can bring you there.