St Andrews Links – Old Course

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At A Glance

The greatest golf course in the world for the architecturally inclined.

Full Course Review

You’ve made it! The Old Course (TOC) at St Andrews is a spiritual pilgrimage for most golfers. Despite The Old Course St Andrews being the Home of Golf, it is not the birthplace of golf. It is, however, where the game evolved into what we know it today. In fact, for golfers outside of the USA, the Royal & Ancient (R&A) is the governing body which governs golf. The R&A flagpole behind the shop was a mast salvaged in 1948 from the private steam yacht 'Cutty Sark' that belonged to the Duke of Westminster.

For the golfer with an interest in golf course architecture, it is noteworthy Bobby Jones wrote there is more to learn from TOC than in playing a hundred ordinary American golf courses. In addition, Old Tom Morris, Herbert Fowler, Harry Colt, Alister MacKenzie & C.K. Hutchison have all advised or consulted on The Old Course St Andrews.

On this somewhat innocuous and barren 92 acres lies the inseparably connection between the number eighteen and golf. It is here in the 1850’s that the routing was adjusted, and the total came to eighteen. It then set the standard by which the game itself is now measured.

The connections to golf throughout the world don’t stop there. Many golf courses offer free tees from the Starter and in the Pro Shop. In the early days, golfers were meant to play their next tee shot from the immediate vicinity of the previous hole. Before wooden tees were invented golfers used to build tees out of sand, usually from the hole just played. Due to the holes becoming so deep, TOC began provided sand boxes from the 1880’s for golfers. Complimentary tee’s are another link to The Old Course St Andrews

From the Starter’s Hut, TOC looks flat. Don’t be fooled - Stan Dundan, an American who played in the 1960 Open, said the topography of the Old Course is as if Marilyn Monroe has the mumps. Remember, most greens with the exception of 1, 9, 17 and 18 are shared. The white flags = Out and red flags = In! This especially important on holes 7 & 11. Interestingly, if you add the respective hole numbers which share each green, the total is always 18!

Whilst the legend is that TOC has never been altered, that is far from the truth. The landscape is constantly evolving organically. Man’s touch also has not been light. For example, tee’s have been added to TOC and in some cases spill over into the adjoining courses. Such has been the effect of modern technology on golf. This represents the R&A’s effort to combat advances and keep TOC relevant as an Open venue. Greens on 4 & 14, 6 & 12 and 17 have all been altered with time. 18 is an Old Tom Morris original design.

Playing round, some bunkers appear to be in odd places - perhaps not even in play. Why do they exist? Some are relics, others are in play when weather conditions shift, and yet others are in play when the course is played in reverse, as it was intended originally. In the early days, the 1st played to the 17th green and then continued around the left loop. Now, except on rare occasions, Old Course St Andrews plays the right loop.

Due to a lack of landmarks and trees aligning yourself for the tee shots is a good test of skill. The line in for many shots is the church steeple. Your caddy will advise accordingly.

Hole By Hole Course Guide

1 - Do you like playing in front of a gallery? There are usually townspeople or fellow golfers in and around the first tee. Behind you is the R&A Clubhouse. Look carefully, there is a plaque of Old Tom Morris gazing over his links.

At first glance, the first is a rather bland hole. No bunkers and one of the widest fairways in golf. However, Granny Clark’s Wynd, a pedestrian path from town to beach, is in play. Find it and you’re not entitled to any drop nor relief. Wide fairway & no bunkers, but the burn makes up for it. Play left towards Golfers' Bridge (aka Swilcan Bridge). Play away from OB right and the green opens up. Next comes Swilcan Burn, once a sandy natural hazard, it is now a cement walled channel. Some find it easier to play a full shot in rather than try to finesse a wedge off the tight lies of these majestic fairways. The first green was placed by Old Tom Morris. It allowed play to proceed right rather than left to the 17th.

Hole 1 & Hole 18 at the Old Course St Andrews.

To see how to play the Old Course click here

2 – This is a sleeper and classic risk and reward hole. It is considered as one of the best on the course amongst many well-known architects, but it escapes without much notice from the common golfer.

The ideal line is right hand side of the fairway. Cheape's bunker guards the left-hand side of the fairway. The further right you place your tee shot, the more the green opens up. The safer tee shot is left but the further you go left the less you have to shoot at for your second. The preferred approach shot is to land it on the green as opposed to playing the run up. Pins are usually on the top shelf for championships.

Hole 2 at the Old Course St Andrews.

3 – Another classic risk and reward hole similar to the second. Left is safe but a harder approach shot awaits. The right side of the fairway is preferred as the green will more gladly accept a running shot, in contrast with the strategy of the second. This is especially true if there is a front pin.

Hole 3 at the Old Course St Andrews.

4 – Your first and most important task is to find the fairway. Left is longer but wider and you need to find the plateau. If you do you have a better visual. Right is narrow but you have a better line in, although with less optics. Another give and take hole, there is no one option which gives you everything. The dominant feature is the large pimple in directly in front of the green. Unnamed, it is one of the most prominent and unique design elements on TOC.

The hazard named "The Students" derived its name from those students who played the first 4 holes OUT and would turn back to play the last 4 holes IN. Perhaps the greatest short course in the world, certainly the greatest 8 hole course in the world! This hole is also the backdrop of the famous painting by Charles Lees named The Golfers – A Grand Match Played Over St Andrews Links in 1841.

Hole 4 at the Old Course St Andrews.

5 - How big are the greens at TOC? To hand cut this double green serving 5 and 13 will require the greens keeper to walk 3.5 miles! Another indication that you will come across are sprinklers in the greens themselves as opposed to the perimeters. Once you reach the green look for the red flag. Is it on the left or right side? Note this and remember as it will dictate your strategy on 13 coming in!

On the 5th fairway you will notice one of the March Stones. These were set in the ground at one time to show the boundary of the links. The large G indicates the golf side!

Hole 5 at the Old Course St Andrews.

6 - The marker post or even left of it is the line. Too far left and you’ll find Coffins – a series of 3 bunkers which will take a shot from you if found.

Hole 6 at the Old Course St Andrews.

7 – This is where it can go wrong for you if you are ill informed or don’t have a caddy. Large double green is an original Old Tom Morris creation. Remember that white is the flag you’re shooting for. It’ll be found on the right-hand side of the green - not the left! This green is the highest point on the course. The wind will affect your approach here more than usual.

Hole 7 at the Old Course St Andrews.

8 - This is the beginning of 'The Loop' - a sequence of three-holes which will ultimately bring you back in. It is the breather before a significant stretch of tough holes. Wind is the biggest factor to consider. How to hold the green on which tilts from front to back is the second.

You should be looking at picking up some shots here… 8, 9 & 10 are the easiest holes on the course.

Hole 8 at the Old Course St Andrews.

9 – End’s bunkers are named after Boer War veterans. A rare standalone, single green differentiates the 9th. It is one of only four on the course. The others? One, Seventeen & Eighteen.
The similarities don’t end there. Nine & Ten are reminiscent of One & Eighteen – both share a fairway and appear to be seemingly innocuous.

Hole 9 at the Old Course St Andrews.

10 - Named Bobby Jones in 1972 after his death in 1971. This was the last hole named at The Old Course St Andrews - the highest honour bestowed on St Andrews adopted son. Look closely and you’ll find another of the March Stones.

Hole 10 at the Old Course St Andrews.

11 – Known officially as High Hole. It is known as Eden in golf course architecture and design circles. The name is derived from the Eden estuary located behind the green. Whether you realised it or not, you’ve probably played a template of this hole before. It even served as the inspiration for Alister MacKenzie when designing the 4th at Augusta National GC where the Master’s is played yearly. Hill Bunker ended Bobby Jones chances of the Open in 1921 and it will derail your round if found.

Look closely and you’ll find another of the March Stones. Another bit of trivia and golf history – it was here that the first tin cup was used when a “sheet iron case put in to keep it in proper shape.”

Remember you’re seeking the red flags now!

Hole 11 at the Old Course St Andrews.

12 - Unseen danger lurks. Trust the distances and try to carry the hidden bunkers. Played in reverse, the bunkers are visible. This hole also has one of the narrowest greens on the course. Admiral's Bunker is so named, as legend has it, because one Admiral Benson fell in while looking at a young American lass in a red miniskirt and white shoes.

Hole 12 at the Old Course St Andrews.

13 - Famed golf course architect Tom Simpson called this hole the best in the world. The structure and architectural elements the hole provided a basis for hole designs at Sunningdale, Pine Valley and Cypress Point. They, in turn, provided the inspiration for many others after them.

As you approach the 13th green look for a small raised (4x6m) area in front of the pot bunker guarding the front of the green. It is one of the earliest teeing grounds, probably built by Old Tom Morris, still in existence despite not being used. Before you leave the green… read the hole report for 14!

Hole 13 at the Old Course St Andrews.

14 – From the 13th green look towards the 14th green. This would have been the line from roughly 1875 to 1932. From this line, it is easy to see the options which made Long so good for so long.

It is now a single option from the tee. Previously you would have had to play towards it and alongside it. This new tee, more than any other, has changed the play of the hole more than any other at St Andrews.

Play away from O.B. just to the right of Beardies and then over Hell to the green. Aim for the tallest spire you can see off the tee. Don’t feel upset if you fail to score on this hole... Jack Nicklaus carded an 8 and 10 here during Open Championships.

Hole 14 at the Old Course St Andrews.

15 - Aim for the 2 bunkers that are visible from the tee. There is actually 3 but only two are visible. The approach shot needs to be carried to the green as the ground before the green is broken.

Hole 15 at the Old Course St Andrews.

16 - Avoid the temptation to go right. The reward is not worth the risk with OB so close. As well, the bunkers on the left of the green are brought into play when attacked from the right fairway. Play left and be happy with par - you haven’t lost a shot.

Hole 16 at the Old Course St Andrews.

17 – One of the most famous holes in the world it is also a template for holes worldwide, it served as template for 5th at Augusta National GC.

The railway station used to sit where hotel now sits. The Jiggers Inn was the original station masters house. Now removed, the original train line now demarcates O.B. creating the right-side boundary for holes 16 & 17.

Until 1964, the Road Hole was a par 5. If you’re lucky enough to take a four, remember that was considered a birdie in the Open until only recently!

The infamous Road Hole Bunker also known as the Sands of Nakajima. After reaching the green in two, the Japanese Open contender putted into the bunker and took 5 shots to get out, ultimately holing out for a nine!

Himalayas or the Ladies Putting Green is well known. A Children’s Putting Green also existed once - across the road from the seventeenth green and behind the wall.

Have a go at the hero shot - the glass in the hotel has bullet proof glass!

Hole 17 at the Old Course St Andrews.

18 – The 18th at The Old Course St Andrews served as the inspiration and template for the 7th at Augusta National GC.

The aim point is between the monument to the right of the R&A clubhouse (called locally the Scotsman Lying His Back) or the clock on the clubhouse in. A drive of 250 yards will put you just over Granny Clark's Wynd and leave you about 100 yards in.

It is now bunker-less, but a grassed hollow in the fairway is a silent witness of Halket’s Bunker.

The green, 100% man made, was positioned by Old Tom Morris in 1866. It was previous used as a waste fill and cemetery. The Valley of Sin in front seems to factor continually in major tournaments.

The 18th is the only hole on the back nine which sports a white flag. This is so you can see it against the red brick hotel which stands behind the green!

Hole 3 at the Old Course St Andrews.

Momento, Souvenir or Gift?

If you've enjoyed the artwork, why not acquire a print for yourself to remember your time at The Old Course St Andrews? Click here.

Further Reading

Clyde Johnson contributed an analysis of the 14th hole on The Fried Egg.

If you can get your hands on a copy of Scott MacPherson's book it'll deepen your appreciation exponentially.

Further Watching

No Laying Up visited the course and the video can be seen by clicking here.

Erik Anders Lang visited the course and the video can be seen by clicking here.


This course features in these collections. Click an icon to view the entire set.

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Everything you need to know before you go!

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