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Six Favourite Holes on the Old Course at St Andrews

By: Kieran Clark | Wed 25 Jul 2018

The Old Course at St Andrews is the most iconic venue in the game. Dating back centuries, local figures such as Allan Robertson and Old Tom Morris played an integral role in the development of golf as we know it during the 1800s. The unique layout itself – which sometimes proves beguiling to new visitors – has been hugely influential within the design and creation of golf courses across the planet. Wherever you are, there is a cord that leads back to this atmospheric Scottish town. 

29 Open Championships has been played at St Andrews, with the 150th editing coming next in 2021, a history that has seen many indelible moments etched in the minds of those watching, including the Claret Jug successes of players as celebrated as Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Peter Thomson, Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods.

The 1st and 18th holes are perhaps the most photographed in the world, with the Royal & Ancient Clubhouse and Hamilton Grand serving as a scenic backdrop. The Road Hole has become synonymous as being regarded as one of the most challenging holes in championship golf, and keen students of the game know the names of the Old Lady’s many bunkers. These factors all forge together and enhance the legend. However, breaking through the mythology and hype, what are the best holes on the Old Course?

Golfshake’s Digital & Social Editor Kieran Clark is a resident within this famous old university town and has played the Old Course on many occasions – albeit mostly unsuccessfully. He has identified the holes and shots that excite him when walking these revered fairways.

I feel enormously privileged to be in the position to have the Old Course – and indeed the entire St Andrews Links catalogue – on my doorstep. There is an aura about this place, which never leaves, particularly when you see it through the fresh eyes of visitors. The layout is iconic and famous, but it nonetheless retains a wonderful accessibility. On most Sundays, the course is closed to golf, and becomes essentially a public park, with families and dog-walkers enjoying themselves. You couldn’t imagine that at Augusta National, Wimbledon or Wembley Stadium.

“I absolutely love the Old Course, for its quirks, history, and what it represents. But there are some truly fantastic golf holes on the layout. I could say endearing things about each of them, but I have been tasked with selecting only six of the 18. They’re all great for different reasons, but here is the third of the course that I feel most passionate about.”

4th – Par 4, Ginger Beer

The most challenging hole on the front nine – unless you’re me in which case it’s the first – Ginger Beer is a monstrous challenge into a breeze, with only a narrow fairway open to hit on the right side, protected by bunkers and gorse. Longer hitters may take on the mounds on the left-side, but that leaves a difficult approach shot from a poorer angle. Just short of the green, there is a unique elevation, a bump in the ground, that can deflect – or sometimes assist- shots played towards the pin.

The Old Course gives the player questions to answer of themselves. And the first real demanding one is on the fourth. It’s a hole that has been cited by names such as Tom Watson and Fred Couples.

11th – Par 3, High (In)

I regularly tell visitors that this is the shortest par five in Scotland. 170 yards of peril. Facing the Eden Estuary and the Leuchars Base, there is a picturesque nature to this hole, but the tee shot is thwart with danger. Strath and Hill bunkers are among the deepest on the course, while anything slightly short will run off the front. Leaving a tricky pitch. Worse still is going long, which leaves an impossible shot from below onto a green that is sloping in the opposite direction.

Even then, the green itself is tilted dramatically, making any putt tricky. Ultimately, take a three here and move on, and it will have been a well-earned par on the best par three that I have played.

12th – Par 4, Heathery (In)

The back-nine on the Old Course is sensationally good. The likes of the 13th – an immense par four – and the 16th could feel excluded – but I’m going to give the nod to the 12th, which is the most strategically vague of holes. From the fairway, it looks innocuous, but a series of bunkers are hidden from the player, finding each of which would likely cost a shot.

Aiming left or right is safer but leaves an awkward approach to a green that has two tiers and is protected by a bunker in front. I’ve considered the possibility of aiming for the fourth hole on the adjacent Eden Course, which may just offer the best angle into the green but is a decision that is hard to sell! This hole perhaps best encapsulates what makes the Old such an intriguing challenge.

14th – Par 5, Long

This is a spectacular par five, particularly from the back tee, which brings the out of bounds on the right-hand side into play. It’s also a scenic spot to play from, as you are directly facing back towards the town. That in itself merely adds to the sense of occasion. The Beardies are another obstacle to avoid from the tee, while the second shot asks questions of the player. Will you take on the famous Hell Bunker, or maybe even lay-up on the fifth fairway.

There are innumerable options to navigate this hole, even as you reach the green, which has a raised tier on the front and slopes to the back from there. It’s a tremendous par five, among the best in championship golf, and from a design and playability standpoint may be my favourite on the course.

17th – Par 4, Road

Fearsome. Intimidating. The hole that most visitors are looking forward – or perhaps dreading – the most. The tee shot demands that you take the blind line over the corner of the railway shed adjacent to the Old Course Hotel. Anything left of that leaves an impossible second shot to the green – this is the ultimate risk and reward course – and there is more room to the right than you may expect.

The approach to the green is a legendary shot. Facing the town, hitting towards a narrow, uniquely positioned green, the position of the pin can change everything. The Road Hole bunker is carnivorous, while anything long will run off the back and run onto the road.

Making a par – or an unlikely birdie – is an achievement here, and no matter how many times you’ve played it, the Road Hole never, ever grows old.

18th – Par 4, Tom Morris

The most photographed hole in golf. With a fairway that is 140 yards wide, it’s a generous and pleasant end to a memorable experience of playing the Old Course. Crossing the Swilcan Bridge is always a thrill and taking the walk up towards the green makes you harken back to the greats and imagine the packed grandstands and gallery around you. Quite often, there even is a modest crowd of tourists, locals and fellow golfers watching on.

However, there is enough here to keep you on your toes. The Valley of Sin is a hazard for any slightly misjudged approach, but more strikingly is the green itself, which is tilted significantly from an angle. Holing putts on this surface is rare, and many a potentially three has been carelessly turned into a five. Subtle.

Yes, there are more challenging and better holes on the Old Course, but few will strike a chord quite as much as walking in the footsteps of history.

This is the Old Course. There is nothing quite like it.

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