Everyone waxes golf poetic when The Open Championship goes to St. Andrews, and there are plenty of reasons. There’s the charming male-only (harrumph!) clubhouse and the picturesque Auld Grey Toon. But there are unique characteristics at The Old Course, and since it was first to have 18 holes, that set the stage for the sport.
So on to our top 10:
1. The Old Course was the first 18-hole track. Way back when, they kept changing the number of holes until they figured out what worked.
Originally, there were 12 holes, and 10 of them were played going out and coming back for a total of 22 holes. Whether it was because they thought some of the holes were too short (probably some new featherie ball distance innovation) or whether it was for other reasons, the first four holes were combined in 1764 and the result was an 18-hole course. That number of holes became the standard.
2. It has stealth bunkers. On most of our modern courses, you can see the bunkers before you hit them.
Not at St. Andrews.
They are total stealth. Pretty much just holes in the ground.
Your golf ball bounces along and, ooops! It’s gone into the depths of the sand. Sometimes your only play out of a bunker is sideways or backwards because of the revetted faces or because they are small pot bunkers.
Basically that is layer upon layer of sod that is used to build up the bunker wall. It is used in sandy areas, like The Old Course, to reduce erosion from wind. Pot bunkers are just small pits with a bit of sane in them. Sometimes there’s barely enough room for a golfer to stand in one, much less take a swing.
3. It has a hole where the road and a wall are in play. That’s the famous 17th, the Road Hole. It’s not just the road that’s the problem. There’s a stone wall at the edge of the road, and you don’t get a drop away from it any more than you get relief from the road. Aye, laddie! It’s the goff.
4. It has a Valley of Sin, which, let’s face it, must have been named by a minister since Las Vegas hadn’t been invented yet. The Valley of Sin is the little swale in front of the 18th green. If the ball is rolling up to the green and doesn’t have enough speed, it rolls back into the Valley of Sin. You curse.
5. It has the Swilcan Bridge, a 700-year-old relic which predated the golf course and was in play when sheep were in charge of what is now the links.
6. It has seven shared or “double” greens. The 1st, 9th, 17th and 18th holes have their own greens. The rest of the greens are shared with two flags, different colors for the outgoing nine than the incoming nine.
7. Not only to the holes have names, the BUNKERS have names. And they are no average names either. There’s the Principal’s Nose, The Spectacles, and everybody’s favorite but Jack Nicklaus, Hell Bunker.
Hell is on the 14th hole, and Nicklaus took a quintuple bogey after having been to Hell and back. I once had a walking tour of the bunkers with some golf experts, and wish I had taken notes. They asked me to stand in Strath bunker because they wanted to see how deep it was. About six feet, we guessed as it was higher than the top of my head by several inches.
8. It survived the Rabbit Wars. The Old Course was always owned by the town, but in 1799, financial problems caused the town Council to sell the course to rabbit breeder. Six years later, common sense prevailed and locals were allowed to kill the rabbits. For the next 16 years the Rabbit Wars continued until 1821 when James Cheape of Strathtyrum bought the links for the golfers. For his trouble, he has two bunkers named in his honor. Cheape’s Bunker and Strath Bunker.
9. The stands that surround the first hole and back the 18th green it feel more like a football stadium than a golf tournament, and when the winner walks up to the final hole on Sunday, the cheering will give you goose bumps.
10. The people of St. Andrews own it and the golf course becomes a public park on Sundays—even Sunday after The Open Championship. It’s an amazing sight to see people out for a stroll, children turning cartwheels and the locals generally having a frolic no more than an hour after the champion has lifted the trophy.
Check your tv schedule, and speaking of that, if you go to opengolf.com for tee times, and mouse over the tee time of any player, it immediately converts the time to YOUR time zone. Is that great or what?
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