The Old Course at St. Andrews is a course we all aspire to play at least once in our lifetime. I always knew I’d take the trip someday, and that day came when a business trip to London was put on my calendar in early April. Immediately, I decided I’d look into traveling to Scotland in hopes of playing the Old Course.
Our plans were sealed a few weeks before playing: Travel to London and fly to Edinburgh the weekend before our meetings to play Kingsbarns and St. Andrews (hopeful to play the Old Course by entering the Ballot) and then drive North and play 18+ holes at Royal Dornoch. The Ballot process to get a tee time at the Old Course is a great system that allows golfers traveling to the area to enter 48 hours before the day you’d like to play. Fortunately, we got the second to last tee time on Saturday, May 13th – one of the most exciting emails I’ve received in recent memory! So off we flew and after 24 hours we arrived in St. Andrews to test our games against the best links courses in the world.
The Old Course was truly a surreal experience. Having watched it on TV many times growing up, I knew the course well from that perspective. But to step foot on the first tee and experience it first hand is a different story, and one I’ll never forget. Here are some highlights, photos and a recap of our day at The Home of Golf.
We stayed 600 ft. from the entrance of St. Andrews at the Ardgowan Hotel, which made for an easy and comfortable stay. After a morning round at Kingsbarns (article to be posted separately) we had a few hours until our tee time at the Old Course. I decided to head over and check out the Himalayas, the gift shop and take in the vibe around St. Andrews. The town truly revolves around the courses, people jogging along the first hole, walking their dogs behind the first tee and eighteenth green, locals watching golfers tee off and finish their rounds and tourists snapping pictures. It’s a busy scene outside the R&A Clubhouse, which makes the first tee shot nerve racking despite a 400 yard wide target that is the first and 18th fairways.
Our 4:40pm tee time ended up being a stroke of good fortune as the fog off of the North Sea rolled in for the majority of the early afternoon My pre-round prep had me nervous we’d be playing in sub par conditions but at about 3:30pm the fog cleared, the wind kicked up and the sun came out. Just like that we had ideal Open Championship conditions to experience the Old Course in all its glory.
The first tee shot felt like I was about to tee off in the Open Championship. It’s amazing the number of people so interested in watching players tee off. The front nine was really enjoyable, tough par 4’s out of the gate with really severe greens. The wind was at our backs the entire front nine, so we were thinking that the back nine would be playing extremely long back into the wind but thankfully it died down and was calm once we finished the 10th hole. The opening stretch of four par 4’s followed by a par-5 makes for a tough opening stretch. The par-3 8th “Short” is an amazing design with a massive bunker positioned front left. I managed to drive the 9th green and two putt for birdie, so naturally it was a favorite.
The back nine is truly amazing. The finishing stretch of holes from 14-18 are such great holes for championship golf. The par-5 14th features the famous ‘Hell’ bunker that is well disguised on the second shot as it sits in a hollow roughly 110 yards from the green. Jack Nicklaus ended up making a 10 after leaving four shots in this bunker in 1995. It’s really a sight to see in person. 15 is a narrow straight away par-4 with strategic pot bunkers in the middle of the fairway. Short left off of the tee is the easiest play but the toughest angle. I managed to drive it 320 yards right down the middle and ended up right between three pot bunkers. The 16th hole features the ‘principal’s nose’ collection of bunkers that encroach the fairway in the shape of a nose down the left side. The hole runs along the road separating the course from the range, and out of bounds looms with any shot veering right. It’s a really great short par-4 with a large undulating green shared with the 2nd hole.
That brings us to the world famous ‘Road Hole’ in which The Old Course Hotel sits all the way down the right side. Hitting it over the hotel is such a fun experience – just lining up the drive was a lot of fun. My tee shot ended up even with The Jigger Inn Pub leaving about 170 yards into the wind. The small narrow green makes back pins hard to get to, and I was left with a 60+ footer. Luckily I didn’t miss left in the famous Road Hole pot bunker which is probably the deepest bunker I’ve ever seen in person.
The finishing hole really is so iconic that you can just imagine all of the history made at this hole. From Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus all the way back to Sam Snead and Bobby Jones who won it as an Amateur, hitting that tee shot is downright magical. Walking over the Swilken Bridge and walking towards the green that sits right in the heart of town is really just a golfer’s dream come true. Making par was really special, as I managed to make a downhill putt from behind the hole to cap of one of the most fun rounds I’ve ever had.