An alternative guide to the Old Course

The Scoop

Mark Townsend first played St Andrews' Old Course in 1986 and he continues to get excited and spooked in equal measure by its unique and eccentric charms

Every year more than 230,000 rounds are played over seven public courses at St Andrews, but it’s the course that starts and ends in the town that we are all fascinated by. The Old Course, home to 29 Open Championships, is said to have been designed by Mother Nature herself and it’s like nowhere else.

I first played here in 1986 with three school friends and my latest effort came at the recent media day for the Senior Open which visits this corner of Fife for the first time in July.

And, much like my first wide-eyed visit 31 years ago, the Old Course continues to thrill and spook me in equal measure.

So, if you are lucky enough to tread the hallowed links, here is your cut-out-and-keep guide to trying to remain measured and live up to your own moderate expectations.

Spend some time on the 1st tee

Take 20 minutes out of your day and just sit down and watch people teeing off the 1st. This is what you look like. There might be some small talk, a few giggles and plenty of practice swishes but you can’t hide the fact that whoever you are or however many times you’ve played the Old Course you will be in tatters at this stage of your round.

I watched four groups tee off, three gents almost hit it on the beach and none hit a second ball. Most found the biggest fairway in the world and heaved a big sigh of relief and a couple very nearly popped one into the lobby of the Rusacks Hotel but stayed on the short stuff.

Play a succession of holes from the wrong fairway

Old Course

People talk often and regularly about easterlies and westerlies but I’ve never really got my head round any of it.

Put more simply the last two times I’ve been here the wind has been howling off the left from the 2nd to the 7th which means that you will generally spend your first hour and a half holding on to every driver and trudging across to the wrong fairway.

And this, as we all know, will leave an unfathomable shot to a distant green and a missed green.

Coming home you think everything will be so much easier but, with a right-to-left wind, your ball-striking and lack of control will only be highlighted as you continue to bat shots away from the out of bounds.

Get acquainted with the bunkers

Hell bunker

You’ll be familiar with the Road bunker at 17, Hell bunker at 14, pictured, and maybe Coffins bunker at 13, but then the memory might get a little sketchy.

After 18 holes all that should have changed as you effectively drop a shot, probably two, by visiting plenty of them. There are more than 100 either dominating or dotted around the course.

At the 3rd, just short of the enormous Cartgate bunker, there is one that is so small it resembles a trap door to a cellar.

Otherwise there were memorable visits to Strath at 11, one unnamed hazard at 14 that shouldn’t really be part of the hole and the left nostril of the Principal’s Nose two holes later.

All came with dropped shots, as they do at a premium links course, and my mind drifts to Tiger in 2000 when he didn’t find a single bunker in 72 holes. Unbelievable.

Mark’s alternative Old Course guide continues on the next page, where he takes an interesting approach to 17…

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