A Definitive Guide to Scotland’s Greatest Open Courses Volume 1 – St Andrews

The famous “Swilken Burn”.

Nessie. Haggis. Bagpipes. This trio of cultural icons has characterised Scotland since time immemorial. However, if you talk to any fan of the famous club and ball game, they’ll be quick to tell you there’s an important omission here. And they’d be right. Golf is as synonymous with Scotland as the mysterious monster that supposedly inhabits the loch, and fits in as well with the country folk as a ladleful of “tattie scones” in a Scottish breakfast.

Home to some of the greatest courses on the planet, Scotland belongs on any travelling golfer’s bucket list. I start my series of exclusive Golf & Travel guides to Scotlands Open venues with a look at the seminal venue – St Andrews. This blog post ought to give you some ideas if you ever decide to venture up to the “Kingdon of Fife” for a round or two, outlining the best alternative courses to explore in the area (if time permits).

If you are tempted by the Old Course why not let Birdieable Tours take you there for a truly memorable experience. For more information email me at robwest@birdieable.com

St Andrews

The R&A “Clubhouse” and Martin Slumbers office!

Location Lowdown

St Andrews – the self-declared “Home of Golf”. A little self-aggrandising? Ahh, perhaps. But no matter how you feel about this proud moniker, it’s tricky to argue with its validity. Golf has been played on this site for well over 600 years, St Andrews has a right to boast about its importance and prominence in the golfing world, hosting a splendid selection of championship courses and members’ clubs, which golfers from all over the world frequently come to visit. As for the town of St Andrews itself, it’s one of the most famous spots in Scotland, alongside Glasgow and Edinburgh, with loads to see including castles, monuments, and the brilliant British Golf Museum.

The Old Course itself is a golfing gem, but probably not for the reasons you think. It is a relatively short walk compared to most Championship courses these days at 6,721 yards and a Par 72, that ratio is not half bad. Indeed, Tiger’s demolition of the course in 2000 at 19 under par and with an aggregated four round score of 264 (averaging 66 a day for four days), is a testament to the fact right? Especially when you compare the links to that of the brutal Carnoustie a short drive further up the coast, one might even go as far as to say the iconic links is rather tame by today’s standards?

You would be wrong though.

Admittedly, the course does lull you into a false sense of security with the first half a dozen holes being pretty uninspiring IMHO. However, as you turn towards the back nine the links start’s to bite back. Holes 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 you really have to think about, and are some of the finest natural holes in golf.

The infamous Coffins bunkers lie around 290 yards off the 13th tee, so avoiding them is imperative to be in with a chance of making a four. It’s the start of a tough run of holes. At 14, It is vital to get a good drive away, on what is the longest hole on the Open rota. Even if you hit a big second shot over the well named Hell bunker, players will find it hard to reach the green in two. At 15 the longer hitters may bring the second set of bunkers into play if they drive off the tee. The fairway gets pretty tight but the main St Andrews church steeple provides the line, in-between two mounds which are gloriously named “Miss Grainger’s bosoms”. Second shots tend to feed down to the back of the green making for a tricky putt.

Hole 16: Corner of the Dyke 424 yards Par: 4, you have to hit a really long drive to get any real momentum, carrying the Principal’s Nose group of bunkers at 260 yards. If the wind blows, especially in from the sea, this hole is nigh on impossible. In serene conditions, if you are lucky enough to be left with a wedge shot, you are firing into another very tricky green that rises sharply at the front and slopes off to the back where another bunker awaits.

Finally, the utterly terrifying Road hole. Everyone knows what’s at stake on this, golf’s ultimate risk/reward hole. Aim it just to the left of the imposing Old Course Hotel, carrying another 260 yards over the large replica railway sheds to find the middle of a very narrow fairway. Then an approach to the green, which is just 13 yards wide and the “wrong way around”, avoiding the treacherous Road Hole bunker that is a Mecca for slightly wayward balls (ask Tommy Nakajima who during the third round of the 1978 British Open at St Andrews, came to the 17th hole 4-under for the day and tied for the lead in the tournament — until, that is, he putted his ball into the fabled Road Hole bunker, then took four strokes to get out: quintuple-bogey 9). The bunker is now known in local circles as the “Sands of Nakajima”. If you go off the back, an old stone wall or the road itself await. Easy, well if you are Tom Watson it is.

The double greens of the Old Course (only the 1st, 9th, 17th and 18th holes have their own) make for some gargantuan putting areas and many 100 feet plus putts. If the wind blows, the greens dry out and putting becomes an art form, especially over those kinds of distances. My top tip, invest in a caddie and make sure you listen to what he says. When I played, Tip Anderson (famously caddie to the great Arnold Palmer), said to me at the fifth “right you have 175 and a bit yards to go so hit it 120 yards left of the pin laddie, knee high with a five iron if you can”. Wonderful, except that it ballooned higher than my best 8 iron and went the princely distance of 120 yards. In crosswinds that would make a Dreamliner pilots toes curl, two more shots and I’d reach the green.

Jubilee Course St Andrews

The Courses In A Nutshell

There are actually seven courses administered by the St Andrews Links Trust, so diversity isn’t an issue, although deciding which course to play may prove a little troublesome. The pick of the bunch (onsite) is probably either the New Course or the Castle Course. The “New” is not new by the way in case you were wondering. The original links were laid down in 1895 when Grover Cleveland was president of the United States, the Wright Brothers were still repairing bicycles, and it would be another year until Henry Ford built his first automobile. The course was rated 38th best by Golf World in their top 100 courses of the British Isles, so worth playing if the Old Course is busy/full/impossible to play.

My advice though would be to jump in the hire car and head for Kingsbarns a 10 minute drive along the coast, which bizarrely counts itself as part of the St Andrews set up (it is one of the rotation courses in the Dunhill Links championship played in October along with Carnoustie and St Andrews – Old Course). What a golf course. Kingsbarns was ranked 46th in the World by Golf Magazine in 2001.

Kingsbarns

Like most things that highly rated, playing the course comes at a price – £200.00 to be precise (2017 green fees). That is before you fork out the obligatory £55.00 for caddies (you can choose to pull or carry), however, If you want to shoot lower than 90 and finish with at least three balls remaining in your bag, I would highly recommend biting the bullet and investing is some of the best help around. If you are a good player and like a challenge, play off the white markers, with a USGA rating of 73.6 and a slope rating of 138, the going is tough but enjoyable. “Cundy Brig” Is my favourite hole, you have to wait right to the end until you play it though but one of the best closing holes I have ever played (maybe the 18th at Harbour Town or Whistling Straits – Straits course are better). If you have any money left over after playing the old course, this is where I would head too.

Facts and figures:

Old Course

  • The pricing is quite a complex beast, however. Full prices can be found here
  • 18 holes
  • Architect – Old Tom Morris (1865 – 1908)
  • Par-72
  • Spread over 6,721 yards
  • One of the oldest courses in the world
  • Toughest Hole – The Road Hole (17th)
  • Most Birdieable – 18th hole.
  • High point – Everything
  • Low point – It’s difficult to play unless you are prepared to enter the ballot. You can learn how to organise a green fee here.
  • Birdieable rating – 3 UNDER JUST FOR THE OVERALL EXPERIENCE. Learn more about how to play the famous course here.

The Castle Course

  • See above, prices can be accessed via this link here
  • 18 holes
  • Architect – David McLay Kidd, (of Bandon Dunes in Oregon fame) http://dmkgolfdesign.com/
  • Par-71
  • Spread over 6,759 yards
  • Opened in 2008
  • Situated on a clifftop
  • Toughest Hole – 5th hole
  • Most Birdieable – 1st hole
  • High point – Position, difficulty (not for beginners).
  • Low point – Price boy is this expensive relative to the other high-quality courses in the area!
  • Birdieable rating – SOLID PAR

Castle Course, St Andrews

New Course

  • 18 holes (originally intended for Ladies and beginners, and converted into a championship course in 1988)
  • Architect – The Keeper of the Green Tom Morris!
  • Par-71
  • Spread over 6,625 yards
  • Still standing since being built in 1895
  • Toughest Hole – 6th hole – you can get the full lowdown from this great review by GraylynLoomis
  • Most Birdieable – Mmm difficult I’d go with the 6th.
  • Birdieable rating – MAYBE 1 UNDER

Jubilee Course

  • 18 holes
  • Architect
  • Par-72 – Considered by the locals to be the most difficult Course until the Castle Course came along.
  • Spread over 6,742 yards
  • Built in 1897
  • Changed to championship layout in 1988
  • Toughest Hole – 9th hole (uber long par 3 – 225 yards)!
  • Most Birdieable – 12th hole – the only par 5 and at 495 yards realistically reachable in 2 weather permitting
  • Birdieable rating – SOLID PAR

Eden Course

  • 18 holes
  • Architect – Harry Colt
  • Par-70 – Receives the most local play so can get worn out
  • Spread over 6,250 yards
  • Built in 1914
  • Toughest Hole – 3rd Par 3.
  • Most Birdieable – 4th hole so long as the wind is in the right direction. You can reach the green with your drive.

Strathtyrum Course

  • 18 holes
  • Par-69
  • Spread over 5,620 yards – Straightforward courses designed for beginners. Ditto the Balgove Course
  • Opened in 1993
  • 15 strategically placed bunkers

Balgove Course

  • 9 holes
  • Par-30
  • Spread over 1,520 yards
  • Bunkers and a double green

The wonderful Kingsbarns

Kingsbarns

  • Full prices can be found here
  • 18 holes
  • Architect – Kyle Phillips (also has the Grove to his name in the UK a fabulous inland course where Tiger won the 2000 American Express Championship.
  • Par-71
  • Spread over 6,759 yards
  • Opened in 2008
  • Situated on a clifftop
  • Toughest Hole – 5th hole
  • Most Birdieable – 1st hole
  • High point – Position, difficulty (not for beginners).
  • Low point – Price boy is expensive relative to the other high-quality courses in the area!
  • Birdieable rating – 2 UNDER

How To Get There

St Andrews Links is located at West Sands, St Andrews, KY16 9XL. If you’re arriving by train, the closest station is Leuchars – which is about a 10-minute taxi ride away from the main clubhouse. A free on-site shuttle bus runs between the courses. Glasgow and Edinburgh airports offer good connections to St Andrew’s and car hire is also available.

Contact & Costs

Contact +44 (0)1334 466 718 to reserve a spot on the green at any of the St Andrews courses. Additional fees include:

  • Battery powered trolleys – £18
  • Manually operated trolleys – £15
  • Caddie – £55
  • Callaway Hire Shoes – £12.50
  • Hire Clubs – £45 per day (or £35 per round) for adults

Places To Crash

St Andrews is home to the country’s oldest university as well as a series of exceptional golf courses, meaning the town attracts plenty of tourism and has a wide range of bed & breakfasts to accommodate you. The Old Course has its very own affluent hotel, while the Macdonald Rusacks Hotel offers a similarly luxurious experience. If you’re after something a little cheaper, the Albany Hotel, Greyfriars Hotel, and the aforementioned Dunvegan Hotel are all comfortable, hospitable, and conveniently located close to the town centre, while the Ardgowan Hotel is also worth consideration for its golf package accommodation deals.

When You’re Not Golfing…

St Andrews is a popular coastal town with an osmotic population, as people from the surrounding areas drift in and out of the region during the holiday season. There are plenty of coastal paths to venture down and several historic sights to marvel at (including St Andrews Castle and Blackfriars Chapel), but the British Golf Museum will hold the most appeal for many readers, offering an enriching experience for any golf lover.

A lot of the older golfers also like to kick back in the St Andrews Golf Club after hitting the green in the afternoon. It’s pretty exclusive, and you’ll have to be friendly with a currently registered golfer to qualify for even a temporary membership. That said, it’s a lovely place to relax if you can swing an invite, with some excellent food and drink served up in a beautiful lounge area.

St Andrew’s watering hole, there are many 19th holes to choose from

At The 19th Hole

The Dunvegan Hotel is one of the most popular and famous golfing pubs in Scotland, attracting enthusiasts of the sport all year round. It’s perfect for the 19th hole during your trip to St Andrews. The 19th hole is as important at St Andrews as anywhere, but for most, it has more meaning. I would head for the Jigger Inn, nestling beside the Old Course Hotel. The Jigger’s traditional Scottish interior and stunning location alongside the famous Road Hole, rightly make it one of the finest and most recognised watering holes in golf.

And Not Many Know This But…

St Andrews is home to the oldest golf shop in the world, which was opened by Tom Morris way, way back in 1866.

Next up….Turnberry

 

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