The Old Course Hotel sits imposingly on the 17th hole of the Old Course. Golfers playing this famous dog leg must negotiate part or all of the hotel with their drive. Some succeed, many fail – evidenced by the countless golf balls that reside on the roof of the hotel, in the garden, through the roof and in other places.
We were fortunate to be staying one night at the Old Course Hotel thanks to one of Gary’s contacts Iain. This was truly a treat. The top of the hotel has an outdoor lunch sitting area with commanding views over the whole Old Course. It is a great place to soak up the atmosphere of The Home of Golf.
From this vantage point you can see the golfers hitting off on the 17th tee playing over the hotel at the corner of the dog leg. As we were observing the golf from the “safety” of the balcony we noted with concern one golfer who seemed to be aiming too far right as he prepared to hit his tee shot. Ten seconds later and his airborne golf ball flew within two metres of us before drawing back and miraculously finishing on the fairway. A game shot!
The town of St Andrews is best known for golf but it is also a very large University town (population 13,000 excluding the 7,000 students). This week is graduation week and there are students (and parents) everywhere, dressed up in suits and graduation gowns. Quite an interesting contrast to the normal golfing attire that peppers the landscape (especially the “color rich” outfits worn by some of our American friends!).
St Andrews also “boasts” a beach alongside the New and Jubilee courses (to the right of the Old Course). For the one day a year when the temperature exceeds 19 degrees Scots from all over Scotland flock here to work on their tans. The beach was also used for the famous beach running scene in the 80’s film Chariots of Fire.
The first tee of the Old Course is scary. Not because it has rough or bunkers or hazards but because before you is the widest fairway in golf and behind you are many hundreds of sightseers looking to see where your tee shot ends up. It is the widest fairway in golf yet Ian Baker-Finch still managed to hit it out of bounds left and across the adjoining fairway during an Open Championship a few years ago.
Safely negotiated we strode down the first fairway full of confidence. The course proceeds out like traditional links and then turns around and comes back to the 18th in the town itself. The Old Course has 14 double greens and they are big (one green extends over one and a half acres). Interestingly for two former accountants we loved it that the hole numbers of the double green add up to 18 for example 2 and 16, 3 and 15, 4 and 14, 5 and 13 etc (you get the picture…).
The conditioning of the course was exceptional considering the traffic that the Old Course copes with (44,000 rounds a year in roughly 8 months). Tee times start from 6:30am until 6:00pm every day except Sunday (where the course is closed and the Old Course transforms into a park where people walk their dogs, have picnics, kick soccer balls and just have a relaxing day out).
The St Andrews Links Trust administers the allocation of tee times on the Old Course and the other 6 courses under its auspices. They do a great job in keeping everyone happy especially on the Old Course where demand exceeds supply by almost double.
Any golfer can put their name in for the daily ballot (you apply two days prior to your desired date of play) and results are posted by 4:30pm on their website. The ballot is drawn under “government supervision” (we had to say that) and we had visions of hundreds of golf balls enclosed in a large perspex sphere and two golf balls named Burton and Lisbon contained within! Thankfully they were drawn out and we could play!!
Making our way around the course we were initially confused about a number of the bunkers that seems to be in non descript places away from where “most” golfers would hit the ball until we found out that the Old Course used to play in reverse order from time to time. It was upon realisation of this that we saw some beautiful holes shaped the other way to the way we had played them.
Hitting a green in regulation at St Andrews is no guarantee of a par. With such large putting surfaces (up to 80 metres across) taking the putter back past your right ear on your backswing is necessary to get the ball to the hole! Also a word of warning – know which flag you are playing to – white flags are going out and red flags are coming home. Gary hit what he thought was a great shot to within 2 metres of the flag only to be told it was the incorrect flag he had played to! He then needed to hit a 40 metre putt to finish the hole.
At 10:25pm we came to the last tee. A wide hole with out of bounds right, and a fairway that adjoins the first hole, it gave us chills as we thought of all the famous golfers who have played the hole waving to the same crowds we had (well they had a few thousand more than we did). The biggest hazard off the tee is to avoid hitting one of the many pedestrians crossing the 1st and 18th fairways completely oblivious to the golf going on around them.
The obligatory photo on the Swilcan Bridge with the R & A clubhouse in the background, followed by a short approach through the valley of Sin, two putts and we had finished. Wow what a day!
Shot of the Day
Without a doubt the shot of the day was our first tee shot at The Home of Golf! In front of a packed crowd the three of us (Dave, Gary and Ron) split the fairway to raptuous applause (in our minds anyway).
Overall birdie tally
Gary (1 birdie, cumulative 40)
David (0 birdies, cumulative 14)
Ireland awaits tomorrow with a mid morning flight from Edinburgh straight to Shannon (named after our Aussie friend David Shannon) and an afternoon game at Doonbeg. Maybe a Guinness at night (for David) and an Appletiser for Gary! Stay tuned…