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Is the Old Course in St. Andrews Any Good?

The most iconic of all golf course. The Old Course at St Andrew’s is a dream for many – but perhaps the New Course offers better golf. 

St Andrews Old Course
St Andrews Old Course

Whisper it quietly but there are many who argue that the most famous golf course in the world is not the best in Scotland, and some even suggest it is not even the best in St Andrews.


We at MulliganPlus sympathise, and purely as a test of golf prefer the New. But although the Old Course has too many blind shots, several driveable par fours, only two par threes and is a place where you can hook all day and not get into trouble, it remains our favourite place in the golfing world for one simple reason – history.


From that knee-knocking tee shot on the first hole, directly in front of the imposing R&A clubhouse, to the easiest finishing hole in championship golf, the lore and tradition of the game seeps from the grass.


Every great player in history has played here, a boast unique to St Andrews, and if that’s not enough to lure you on your own golfing pilgrimage to this corner of Fife, you don’t have the soul of a golfer.


13th Best UK Golf Course


Such is the history attached the Old Course at St. Andrews, it is virtually impossible to do it justice by mere words – but try we must. Until 1764, the course comprised 12 holes and a round consisted of 22 holes. By 1764, the Society of St. Andrews Golfers decided to combine some holes, thus reducing a round to 18 holes. Due to the growing popularity of the game, the greens were enlarged in 1832, catering for incoming golfers playing two different holes, an economical way of creating 18 separate holes and fairways.


Though adjusted by Tom Morris, the Old Course is essentially natural, its layout changing little in over 200 years. Essentially the course has been modelled by the winds of God that formed the dunes into randomly complex shapes, indifferent then as now, to the vanities of mankind. While golf has been played for centuries at St. Andrews, the authorities did not always look it upon favourably. Under the Act of Parliament of 1457, it was declared that “golfe be utterly cryit doun and not usit”. James III and IV subsequently reinforced this statement from James II due to the belief that the pursuit of golf was distracting men from archery practice and thereby weakening the defence against the threat of invading English armies.


Though the championship credentials of the Old Course hardly require justification, the venue has played host to 25 Open Championships and many other events over the years. And while it measures almost 7,000 yards from the championship tees, the visitor is more likely to take on the 6,566-yard challenge. 


Golf was originally played here in a clockwise direction but over time, the anti-clockwise format was deemed to be superior and since 1870 only one championship has been held over the original layout and that was due to an oversight by the green keeping staff.

In the absence of wind, the Old Course can actually play quite easy but the overpowering sense of awe that one feels when standing on the first tee will certainly equalise matters. And while each hole is both a pleasure and an unforgettable experience to play, some of the finest on the Old Course include the 1st, 11th, 14th and 17th holes. 


Quite apart from the degree of difficulty, the first ball struck on the Old Course will probably prove to be the most shot nerve-wrenching shot that you will ever hit. One should steer the drive to the left hand side of the fairway, keeping the out of bounds on the right well out of play, while the long hitter must take care to avoid the burn, situated 260 yards from the tee. The second shot calls for a medium to long iron, depending on the wind and with the green almost at one with the burn, walk off with a par and it is a job well done.


The par 4, 17th “Road Hole” is one of the most celebrated and feared holes in golf. Should you take the advised line over the “Black Sheds”, your drive should be struck with a touch of draw and must carry at least 180 yards. And while the prudent second shot here would be to the front right corner of the green, for those who relish a challenge, great accuracy is required in order to avoid the road to the right and rear of the green and also the dreaded Road Hole Bunker. End up in the bunker though, and you may well experience both on your way to running up a nice score.


The Old Course at St. Andrews is a must for all avid golfers, who should make the pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime. While it is one thing getting the opportunity to play here, it is quite another to make the occasion a memorable one in scoring terms. Every virgin Old Course golfer finds that in addition to pitting their wits against the course, the none-too-slight elements of history, reputation, aura and self-determination all contrive against a low return. As the legendary Robert the Bruce said to his troops at the battle of Bannockburn “I have brought you to the ring, now you must dance”.


St Andrews (New)


Many good judges consider that, in pure golfing terms, the New Course at St Andrews is a fairer, better test than its illustrious neighbour, and we agree.

For one thing, it has few of the hidden perils of the Old – as you stand on the tee you can pretty much see what the challenge is. After a benign few opening holes the New draws you further and further into its net of undulations, shared fairways (and one double green), pot bunkers and large, subtle and true greens.


It is a classic ‘out and in’ layout and is probably the design by Old Tom Morris that has been altered the least over the years – because it doesn’t need to be.

Visit on a calm day, stay out of the bunkers and putt well and you will still face a good test. We particularly like the par threes, especially the 9th, over 200 yards, uphill, to a hidden green, with OB all along the left. Par this and you can call yourself a golfer.


32th Best UK Golf Course

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