The Old Course at St. Andrews – A Golfing Venue Steeped in History
You know it as the home of golf. It’s undeniably the oldest golf course in the world, and many would call it the most iconic. Because as acclaimed as some of the finest golfing venues across the globe are, none carry as much history and tradition as the centerpiece of this page.
The Old Course isn’t the most well-known golf course on the planet just because it’s the oldest. It’s the greatness that has been displayed time and time again on the grounds of this public playground that makes it so special.
You can find its scorecard all over the internet, just like you can find guides that talk about the layout and show pictures of the signature holes. But not until right now when landing on this very page did you have one centralized location that includes everything about the Old Course one could imagine wanting to know.
How and why it got started will be how we kick this thing off, and we’re not just going to highlight the marquee holes. We plan on unveiling them with an inordinate amount of detail and authenticity.
Because after all, we can fall back on our personal experiences from playing the Old Course to help make that segment feel genuine.
Once you get a firm grasp of what the golf course looks and plays like, we’ll jump right into a section dedicated to all the Open Championships that have been contested here. All 29 of them. And we’ll even give you a major hint to when St. Andrews will host their 30th British Open because it’s already been set in stone.
It’s about that time to take a peek at some basic facts about the Old Course. Then feel free to jump right into the guide or skip around to the headings that pique your interest!
The Old Course at St. Andrews – Key Facts
- St. Andrews, Scotland
- Year Opened
- Owner/Operated By
- Public, Fide Council/St. Andrews Links Trust
- Course Designer
- Daw Anderson, Old Tom Morris, although both men didn’t contribute until after 1850.
- Host To
- The Open Championship (Multiple occasions)
- Official Website
The Home of Golf – The First Golf Course Ever Created
If you have read the introductions to any of the other top-ranked golf course guides we have created, then you might be expecting something a bit different here. But when we are dealing with the home of golf and the venue known as being the first golf course ever built, certain things take precedent.
For example, we can’t just gloss over and allude to certain aspects of how and why the course came to be. We have to hammer them home.
So let’s go all the way back to the beginning when it first started.
Sometime during the 1400s is when the idea of golf began in St. Andrews. By 1457, the sport had gained enough traction in the area that common folk were beginning to take notice – so much so that James II of Scotland caught wind of the growing leisurely activity and actually banned the game altogether.
His theory was that young men were spending too much time fooling around with a wooden stick and a ball and that they needed to pay more attention to their archery skills. And believe it or not, this uproarious decision was upheld over the next 45 years!
But in 1502, things changed. It was because King James IV, the ruler of Scotland at the time, actually enjoyed the game so much himself that he decided to lift the ban.
It would then take another 50 years, but finally, in 1552, Archbishop John Hamilton awarded the general public playing privileges at St. Andrews. And that was when the game of golf could really take off.
The original design of the Old Course at St. Andrews doesn’t belong to just one person, as many men had their hand in laying out the original holes. It wasn’t until much later (starting in the 1850s) when men like Daw Anderson and Old Tom Morris officially stepped in and made substantial amendments.
But about 100 years before that, St. Andrews Golf Links and the development of the game of golf caught a major break.
The Royal and Ancient (R&A) Golf Club was established in 1754, although back then it was called the Society of St. Andrews Golfers. The R&A is the official governing body of the game of golf in Europe and is the near equivalent to the United States Golf Association (USGA) in American golf.
And this is a perfect segue into why modern golf courses are 18 holes and not some other random number.
St. Andrews Reduced to 18 Holes
The original layout at St. Andrews featured 22 holes, 11 going out and 11 coming back in. But in 1764, the Society of St. Andrews Golfers thought that the first four holes and final four holes were too short and needed to be amended.
That’s when the first quartet of holes was consolidated to form two holes, just as the final four were. That brought the total down from 22 to 18 holes, and voila, there you have it.
Ever since then, golf courses all around the globe have been designed likewise.
The Golf at St. Andrews Was Almost Lost Because of Rabbits!
By the time the year 1800 approached, the game of golf was being threatened on the links at St. Andrews. And out of all things, it was because of rabbits!
When the Society of St. Andrews Golfers went bankrupt in 1797, the organization and town as a whole lost total control over the land. This meant that rabbit farmers intruded and started going to work at the grassy complex known as St. Andrews Golf Course.
For the next 24 years, it was an ugly situation for those involved. Not only were legal battles being handled off of the course, but physical disputes on the course between golfers and farmers were common.
It wasn’t until 1821 when a flourishing landowner from St. Andrews decided to step in and acquire the entire parcel. James Cheape of Strathtyrum purchased the land, rededicating it to golf and golf only.
He has been credited as the man who “saved links golf in Scotland,” and without his contributions, who knows what would have ensued?
Touring the Holes at the Old Course at St. Andrews
Now that you have some background knowledge as to what the early days of golf at St. Andrews were like, let’s start peering into the Old Course a bit more. That includes not just describing the most memorable holes, but unveiling the landmark features that are scattered throughout the property.
For starters, this par-72 track doesn’t consist of a typical layout that includes four par 3s and four par 5s. Instead, each nine at the Old Course has seven par 4s, one par 3, and one par 5. Just two par 5s means less scoring opportunities, although some par 4s (like #9 and #10) can be reached from the tee when playing downwind.
Unlike traditional golf courses you will encounter in America and other regions of the world, “double-greens” are a major staple at the Old Course at St. Andrews. Of the 18 holes, only four have their “own green.” Seven double-greens make up the other 14 holes, but don’t think there is any randomness to this idea.
The holes sharing a green all add up to the number 18.
For example, the putting surface is shared on the 2nd and 16th holes. The 3rd hole and 15th hole share a green, as do the 4th and 14th. The four holes that have an individual green are 1, 9, 17, and 18.
When it comes to sand traps at St. Andrews, there is no shortage. But don’t call them “sand traps” in Scotland, as many of the traditional locals refer to the sandy hazards strictly as bunkers.
Of course, none are more famous than the “Road Bunker” positioned in front of the 17th green. But we’ll tell you all about the “Road Hole” in much more depth coming up shortly. There’s also “Hell’s Bunker,” the mammoth-sized obstacle on the par 5 14th that has claimed its fair share of victims over the years.
None are more unforgettable than when Jack Nicklaus took a 10 in the 2000 Open Championship after lashing away at his ball multiple times from inside Hell’s Bunker. Before that, in 1933, Gene Sarazen had a chance to win his second consecutive Claret Jug when he rolled his ball into the devilish hazard.
Next thing you know, Sarazen wound up making a triple-bogey 8, finishing a single stroke shy of getting into a playoff with Denny Shute and Craig Wood.
And while there is an abundance of pot bunkers nearly everywhere you look, there are some other characteristics we’d like to reveal that actually bring smiles to the golfers’ faces – unlike the treacherous sand-filled hazards.
Like the Swilcan Bridge.
Also known as “Swilken Bridge,” it’s the place where every player fortunate enough to experience the links at St. Andrews will surely want to snap a photograph.
Not very large in the grand scheme of things, the Swilcan Bridge is just a little more than 30 feet long and about eight feet wide. Built out of stone, the bridge separates the 1st and 18th fairways but is notably nearly adjacent to the 18th tee box.
Once you strike your final tee ball at the Old Course, the next obstacle is quite literally to cross over the Swilcan Bridge.
This is where legendary golfers like Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus each waved goodbye to their loyal fans when competing in their final Opens at St. Andrews.
And who could forget seeing Tom Watson lean over and kiss the Swilcan Bridge, essentially thanking St. Andrews and Scotland for everything they have done for him and his career?
Now let’s start looking at the holes that everyone remembers.
The Opening Hole at the Old Course – “Burn”
If you can find a golf hole with a wider fairway, you’ll have to point it out. The opening hole at the Old Course has out of bounds left and right off the tee, but you have to be some type of nervous wreck to find a way to miss this fairway.
In fact, when Ian Baker-Finch snap-hooked his tee shot at the 1995 British Open and watched his ball tumble beyond the out-of-bounds fence line some 120 yards left of where he was aiming, onlookers were stunned.
Watch his playing competitor, Arnold Palmer, stop dead in his tracks in complete disbelief after Ian struck his golf ball.
Caddies at St. Andrews couldn’t remember anybody ever hitting one out of bounds left on the first hole – not even an inexperienced and high-handicapped vacationer.
Aside from the massively wide fairway that Mr. Baker-Finch would love to forget, the hole is rather short and straightforward. Players opt for less than driver as a horseshoe-shaped creek known as “the burn” bends its way through and across the short grass. The front of the green is just steps past the edge of the burn, creating precarious situations when the pin position is located near the front.
#13 – “Hole O’Cross”
What might look like a trivial 418-yard par 4 on the scorecard is anything but. There is a series of pot bunkers conveniently placed in the middle of the fairway that won’t be easy to escape. The fact that they are referred to as the “Coffins” will tell you all you need to know.
Clearing the Coffins is objective number one, but that doesn’t mean players can just bomb away with a driver. The fairway pinches it to virtually nothing around 300 yards from the back tee, with a couple more aptly named bunkers lurking.
“Cat’s Trap” might be a small pot of sand, but pitching out sideways is about all a player can do should their ball find its way in.
During the 2010 Open Championship at the Old Course, only the 17th hole played tougher. That’s because just 24 birdies were made compared to 118 bogies and 17 doubles or worse.
#14 – “Long”
The only par 5 on the back side can be a birdie hole under the right conditions, and eagles can be made as well. But in a swirling wind that’s either left-to-right or into the player’s faces, suddenly this hole turns into quite the predicament.
Golfers can aim for “Elysian Fields,” the area of short grass in between the out-of-bounds wall on the right and the nasty bunkers that loom to the left. A pounded drive in the right wind means a player can go ahead and give this green a rip in two, so long as they ensure they carry the aforementioned Hell’s Bunker.
Check out some quick flyover footage that puts this explanation into perspective.
#17 – The Road Hole
The old scorecard might say the “Road Hole” is 455 yards from the back tees, but don’t get it twisted for a second.
This hole was lengthened and measured 495 yards from the tee box to the center of the putting surface during the 2015 Open Championship. And that doesn’t include the wind that typically pushed back into the players’ faces when they arrived at #17.
All in all, it might just be the toughest par 4 on the planet.
Many vividly remember this hole because it’s the one with The Old Course Hotel jutting out into their line of sight off the tee. Guests of The Hotel (formerly railroad sheds) can gaze off their balcony and hear the balls whizz by their ears as they fly by.
Players who want to take an aggressive line here literally have to aim their ball directly over the out of bounds area and hope they flush one down the pipe.
And as demanding as the tee ball and second shots are at this course, it’s what awaits around the green that really causes players fits.
It’s called the Road Hole because a paved road is actually just a few feet past the back of the 17th green, with a rocky wall signifying out of bounds just beyond. You’ll get a perfect look at what we’re describing when you press play below and watch this heroic shot from Miguel Angel Jimenez during the 2010 Open Championship.
But with all this being said, the acclaimed “Road Bunker” in front of the putting surface is perhaps the most prominent bunker in all of golf. Its steep face and narrow base make it nearly impossible for players who end up in here to take a direct route at the flag with their next shot.
Player’s who succumb to the Road Bunker have one goal in mind – and that’s simply to come out unscathed.
The Final Hole at the Old Course – “Tom Morris”
What a cool par 4 to culminate the day at the most prestigious course at St. Andrews. If the 357-yard hole is downwind, big hitters can smash one off the tee and watch their ball trundle all the way down the fairway and through the Valley of Sin – sometimes winding up on the green.
And while putting for an eagle 2 is a possibility, making a 5 or 6 here can come in an instant. The same out-of-bounds fence that marks “OB left” on the first hole runs all the way down #18 from start to finish. Any ball right of this fence is deemed out of bounds, which is why players need to aim well left here.
The big clock that is visible on the R&A Clubhouse is a nice target to shoot for, although don’t expect any relief if your ball winds up on the tarmac that intersects the fairway. This road is played as “through the green,” meaning one must play his or her ball as it lies.
The main hindrance to negotiate on the final hole is the massive ditch in front of the green known as the Valley of Sin. Rather than use words to portray the hazard at the front of the green, just watch this magical video showing how the 1995 Open Championship went into a playoff.
It was one of the most scintillating moments in major championship history, and certainly for Costantino Rocca’s professional career. He might have gone on to lose the playoff to John Daly at the ’95 Open, but that 65-foot holed putt is the shot that everybody remembers.
Speaking of Open Championships played at the Old Course at St. Andrews, here we go!
Open Championships at the Old Course
There have been 29 Open Championships played at the Old Course since the golf tournament originated in 1860. Eight of those came prior to the 20th century, and eight more have come since 1978.
Already scheduled for the summer of 2021, the Old Course will host its 30th British Open in mid-July that year. Once again, the best players in the world will convene in St. Andrews to battle it out for the Claret Jug.
Zach Johnson claimed the honors of being hailed as the “Champion Golfer of the Year” when the Open was most recently held here in 2015, becoming the 24th man to win the British Open at the Home of Golf.
Go ahead and take a quick peek at the list of Open Champions who got the job done at the Old Course.
Bobby Jones (a)
*Altered from 36 holes to 72 holes in 1895
(*P) indicates tournament won in a playoff
Here are some fun facts about some of the history that has taken place.
- Tom Kidd was awarded just £11 for winning the 1873 Open Championship. That’s a far cry from the £1.15 million that Zach Johnson received for hoisting the Claret Jug in 2015.
- H. Taylor’s second round of 78 in the 1895 Open Championship was the first “sub-80” round ever recorded on the Old Course.
- Playing in his first British Open in 1921, amateur Bobby Jones walked off the golf course when he couldn’t get his ball out of a pot bunker on the 11th He’d exact his revenge by winning the Open Championship at St. Andrews in 1927.
- Doug Sanders missed a two-footer for par on the 72nd hole to win the 1970 Open Championship. He lost the playoff the following day to Jack Nicklaus.
- When Seve Ballesteros won the 1984 British Open at St. Andrews, he topped perhaps the most star-studded first page of a leaderboard we’ve seen at a major. Bernhard Langer and Tom Watson tied for second and were followed by Fred Couples, Lanny Wadkins, Nick Faldo, and Greg Norman.
- Tiger Woods played in his first Open Championship the same week Arnold Palmer played in his last – at the 1995 Open at St. Andrews.
- By virtue of shooting a 19 under par at St. Andrews at the 2000 Open Championship (tournament record at the time), Tiger Woods completed the Grand Slam.
A Quick Look at the Other Golf Courses at St. Andrews
While the Old Course receives all the prestige, those who live in the area or travel to St. Andrews for a golf vacation will surely enjoy the rest of the property. Between the six other courses that make up St. Andrews Golf Links, you are sure to find something that meets your eye.
Have a glance.
The New Course
- Year Built: 1895
- Yardage: 6,625 yards
- Par: 71
Built in 1895, the New Course at St. Andrews was the second track to be designed on the property. Old Tom Morris designed the New Course and had no qualms making it extraordinarily difficult for its time.
You’ll be treated to a well-kept track that has some of the more challenging greens anywhere at St. Andrews. If you are looking for a good, old-fashioned links-style layout, make sure you don’t skip booking a tee time here.
- Year Built: 1897
- Yardage: 6,742 yards
- Par: 72
Ask anyone who has played the rotation of St. Andrews golf courses which is the hardest one, and I bet you they don’t respond with the Old Course. That’s because the Jubilee Course is the one that causes the most problems for the average golfer.
Built in 1897 as the third track on the premises, this course was initially planned for female and beginner golfers. But some 100 years later, they finally realized how immaculate the layout and surrounding land was. That’s why in 1988, the Jubilee Course underwent major modifications and was transformed into one of the finest courses in all of Scotland.
- Year Built: 1914
- Yardage: 6,250 yards
- Par: 70
Harry Colt, the man behind Royal Portrush’s Dunluce Links, is the individual responsible for coming through with the fourth course at the St. Andrews Golf Links complex – the Eden Course.
You’ll notice that this par 70 track is a bit shorter than some of the others, and yes, it’s probably a bit easier. There is no shortage of bunkers, and the in-course out of bounds comes into play on more than one occasion.
Make sure you request a caddie here because you won’t want to tee it up here for the first time blindly!
- Year Built: 1972
- Yardage: 1,520 yards
- Par: 30
This nine-hole course consists of six par 3s and three par 4s and is a great place to practice and get ready for a tee time at one of the Championship layouts. Eagle possibilities await, as the opening hole is just a 220-yard par 4 that can be reached with a long iron.
Heck, #2 is just 219 yards on the scorecard, so an eagle-eagle start is actually not entirely out of the question!
- Year Built: 1993
- Yardage: 5,620 yards
- Par: 69
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look at the numbers and come to the conclusion that this isn’t the hardest course at St. Andrews. It was actually specifically created to give players a break from all the arduous golf taking place elsewhere on the property.
Despite being incredibly short, accuracy off the tee and into the greens is placed at a premium thanks to some distinctively-placed sand traps that lurk in the most inopportune places.
The Castle Course
- Year Built: 2008
- Yardage: 6,759 yards
- Par: 71
The Castle Course didn’t come until 2008, and it’s as pure and solid as any golf course at St. Andrews. It comes with a great balance of tough and accessible holes, and the views offered from the top of the cliffs are breathtaking.
Heading to St. Andrews and not playing the Castle Course would be a mistake you don’t want to make. However, don’t go early in the calendar year before March 1st because the course will still be closed due to upkeep during the winter months.
The Town of St. Andrews
There are many splendors of St. Andrews Golf Links that make it one of the premier and ultimate golf destinations in the world. First and foremost, any golfer avid enough to make the trip can go ahead and start booking reservations and setting up their tee times.
It’s public, so anyone can play.
The Home of Golf is far from a private oasis subjected only to the upper tier of society, and in fact, they welcome golfers from all walks of life. From singles showing up standby looking to squeeze in a round to a group of friends booking an entire package to stay and play for a week, the courses and facilities at St. Andrews are available for you.
When you aren’t swinging away at one of the seven St. Andrews venues, you can enjoy a pint of beer or a glass of Scotch whisky at one of the many local bars that encompass the area. If you care to do a bit of sightseeing and want to snap some photographs, the St. Andrews Cathedral and the St. Andrews Castle are just a short walk from the golf courses.
You’ll walk by the University of St. Andrews and many historic buildings on your way to the cathedral, so be sure to set aside ample time to soak up all the surroundings.
Anyone who is truly serious about the game of golf and has the means and the time to make a trip to St. Andrews, don’t miss the opportunity. The British Golf Museum situated next to the R&A Clubhouse will give you a chance to see first-hand how much the sport has evolved from its earliest days.
Considering those “earliest days” of golf took place on the very ground you’ll be standing on, it only seems fitting.
Some Thoughts to Finish
There’s so much history at St. Andrews. More than 13,000 professional rounds have been played under tournament conditions at the Old Course alone. Rory McIlroy shot 63 in the first round of the 2010 Open Championship to tie the course record, but it has since been beaten.
Ross Fisher fired a 61 at St. Andrews during the final round of the 2017 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship to set a new mark, and here’s the silly part about that round. Fisher three-putted from 25 feet on the final hole, including missing a four-footer for 60!
When you think that when tournament golf was first contested at St. Andrews back in 1873 and “91-88” was enough to seal the deal, it’s safe to say the game has come a long way. Thanks to St. Andrews being around as long as it has, we have data and information like this to fall back on and use for comparisons.
Most golf venues don’t have the extensive amount of tradition immersed into them as St. Andrews does, but then again, there is only one area known as the official Home of Golf.
We opened your eyes to the golf club’s origin and talked about the constant changes that were taking place as the sport evolved. Highlighting the 29 Open Championships that have been hosted at the Old Course helps you realize how significant this place is to the game of golf.
We shed light on the other tracks that make up the collection of the seven St. Andrews golf courses and even gave you a direct link so that you can start setting up your trip. Without a doubt, booking reservations is the best way to see and understand St. Andrews up close and personal.
Don’t tiptoe in, either. Dive into the experience head first.