St Andrews Old Course Reverse

It's a rare privilege to play The Old Course and even rarer to play it in reverse... grab the opportunity with both hands.

St Andrews Old Course Reverse

St Andrews, Fife KY16 9JD, Scotland, UK


In 1870, Old Tom Morris created the current 1st Green and the counterclockwise routing was established. For many years, The Old Course at St Andrews was played clockwise and counter-clockwise on alternating weeks. That practice evolved when, until the 1970s, it was played for one month every winter. For nearly 50 years, the opportunity to play The Old Course in 'Reverse' was a rare feat indeed.

Jasper’s Lessons Learnt

If there is any doubt as to the calibre of St Andrews Old Course, playing it in reverse should convince you of its pedigree.

The quality of a green can make a hole great. For example, the 17th at St Andrews Old Course is one of the best in the world. The same green played in reverse as the 1st is perhaps the very best on St Andrews Old Course Reverse.

The world's best par 3, 4 and 5 are on The Old Course's inward nine traditionally played. Even without the 11th, 14th, and 17th, St Andrews Old Course Reverse is world-class. Add in the fact it has not been primed for reverse play (mowing lines and gorse limit its full genius) and you must ask why it's still so elite - the only explanation is the land is that good...

I thought more bunkers would be on show in reverse - especially the 12th played traditionally, for example. Other bunkers shone brighter: Cheape's (17th or 2nd in Reverse), Cartgate (3rd & 15th Green), Cottage (15th or 4th in Reverse), Hole O'Cross (5th & 5th in Reverse), and Admiral's (12th and 7th in Reverse), all gained more relevance on St Andrews Old Course Reverse. See some of the gallery images for playing line photos.

Course Review
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Golf Course Review

St Andrews Old Course Reverse is a Bucket List item for any golf course architecture aficionado. It was a bit concerning a golf course you have studied so much and spent time both walking and playing on seemed completely new and foreign. A local asked to walk with our group as he missed out on the ballot and even for someone who played it hundreds of times, it was a somewhat confusing experience.

The Left Miss vs The Right Miss

The traditional matra on the ‘normal’ routing is a left miss is safe and you’d be forgiven for assuming the right miss is more acceptable on the ‘Reverse’ routing. In truth, I have never really found The Old Course to be cramped or narrow – there are better sides of the fairway no matter which you play it but I did lose the ball left on a couple of occasions playing in reverse and it wasn’t penal although the next shot was much more difficult than would have been had I found the preferred side. One of the assumptions you’d make based on theory seems to hold true in reality.

St Andrews Old Course Reverse – Crossing Holes

The preferred normal or counter-clockwise routing has the benefit of having no crossing holes. I am quite ok with crossing holes as long as they don’t impede the pace of play nor introduce safety issues. Royal Worlington and Newmarket is an excellent example of where this can be achieved with no real hindrance to the golfing experience. With the reverse routing, holes cross each other on the 1st & 18th, 7th & 8th, 9th and 10th, and the 12th & 8th. On a busy summer day with first-time visitors without caddies to shepherd, The Old Course in Reverse would be bedlam – it can be and is sometimes when playing it traditionally. Marshalls were present on the 3rd, 8th, 9th, and 12th to make sure things went as smoothly as possible… and they seemed to be busy.

St Andrews Old Course Reverse – Better or Worse?

As mentioned, St Andrews Old Course Reverse has numerous world-class golf holes that can legitimately lay claim to being the best in class, namely the 11th, 14th and 17th. It would be a stretch to say the 11th on the traditional routing (High In or Eden) was bettered by the 11th played in reverse.

Similarly the 17th is perhaps the greatest golf hole in the world… played in both directions, as the 1st in reverse and traditionally as the 17th, it is still brilliant. Further, it has been played with featheries, gutta-perchas, Haskell, balata and multi-layered balls as a par 5 and par 4 and is still stood tall. For many, the tee shot on 17 over the storehouses/ hotel is quirky and most hit and hope. The tee shot on the 1st has the benefit of clear strategy and from the tee, seeing the pin will influence your strategy. The closer you go to OOB the better the angle in to the green. Go right and safe, the more difficult your approach is. The same can be done when playing ‘normally’, but the glimpse of 17 comes on 2 and must be recalled quite a few holes later. Thinking the 17th could be anything but great no matter which direction, equipment or era it is played appears to be impossible.

The 14th and 5th on both routings share some of the best terrain on the planet (much of The Elysian Fields). Long, played traditionally as the 14th, famously had 5 routes from tee to green. The 14th played in reverse probably doesn’t have any less… I did feel that the Grave bunkers and Ginger Beer had more of an impact going to the left side of the green (4th Green played traditionally) than they would otherwise. The caveat is I have never played the 14th traditionally with a left pin position as was done in the Final Round of the 150th Open Championship – tucked left behind Ginger Beer.

The 9th and 10th holes traditionally take the lion’s share of criticism when it comes to The Old Course. Playing the traditional 9th, Kruger and Mrs Kruger don’t come into it for most. When played as the 10th in reverse, they certainly factored. Added to that, both End Hole and Boase’s seemed to influence play more when approaching the 9th green in the reverse routing. (With 9 & 18 as the only two greens on the course that are played as the same sequentially in both directions.)

The Old Course Reversed – Really?

The St Andrews Old Course Reverse experience seemed really authentic except for a couple of anomalies. The foremost being the 150th Open Tee for the 12th that was used for the 8th in reverse.

Additionally, the fairways hadn’t been mown to accommodate play in both directions nor would you expect that for 6 days of play in March & April… The rough was thin and whispy so not much was lost in that regard – however, the gorse in some areas limited visibility on playing lines and removed strategy to some approaches, especially on the inward or back nine.

The foremost example is the ground you carry on your tee shot when playing the 6th traditionally. When played in reverse as the 13th (the 7th Tee to 5th Green) the dunes, broken ground and gorse-laden hillocks look incredible. I would love to know what they would play like as an approach…

St Andrews Old Course Reverse – Worth It?

I found out of my Friday, 7:10 a.m. tee time on Wednesday at 6:00 p.m. Thursday was a 420-mile trek with bank holiday traffic that lasted almost 12 hours… I was still awake at 4:30 a.m. buzzing for the opportunity. The best bit was it didn’t disappoint. After play, it was home for work on Saturday. Tiring? Indeed. Worth it? Absolutely. Why? Some question the greatness of The Old Course. This provided an emphatic response as to why it is truly without equal.

Additional St Andrews Old Course Reverse Content

Cookie Jar recorded a Podcast with guest, Clyde Johnson following play… download the course guide and listen in.

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St Andrews Old Course Reverse - Videos

Featured Architect: MacKenzie, Alister

As taken from his book, Golf Architecture, Alister MacKenzie felt the following were essential: The course, where possible, should be arranged in two loops of nine holes. There should be a large proportion of good two-shot holes and at least four one-shot holes. There should be little walking between...

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St Andrews, Fife KY16 9JD, Scotland, UK
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