We all have a secret shame – an event, an act, a moment that niggles away in the back of our brains ever ready to emerge and make us squirm with embarrassment.
Mine was so heinous; it would keep me awake at night. Are you ready to hear my confession?
Here goes. I had never played a round at St Andrews.
I know, I know. Call yourself a golf writer. Believe me I’ve heard all the barbs. Whether it was bad luck – I’ve lost a couple of tough ballots – or circumstance (it’s a six-and-a-half-hour drive from my door), I’d regularly bore people to tears with my tale of woe.
No more. I’ve finally made my Home of Golf debut and it was on what’s probably the oldest ‘New Course’ in the world, the links laid out by Old Tom Morris 125 years ago.
So, firstly, a notice. If you’ve come here looking for me to make comparisons with the Old you’ll be disappointed.
As I’ve said, I’m yet to play the venerable links. Secondly, what’s the point anyway? They’re two very different courses that just happen to live side-by-side. Let’s judge the New on its own merits and, in that sense, I suppose I’m your perfect guide.
Now we’ve got the ground rules out of the way, we can begin…
What can we expect from the New Course?
The linksland is obviously familiar and if you can resist the temptation to avoid hitting balls towards the Old – there’s no internal out of bounds – then what you’re going to find is a narrow layout that conforms to all that you’d think of from a ‘classic test’.
You’ve got to get off to a fast start. The opener is a gentle start by any stretch, though the mound guarding the green adds an interest to the eyeline, and that generous introduction continues into a 2nd that boasts one of the wider fairways on the course.
It all starts to get a bit sterner from the 4th, with three deep bunkers guarding the green on the left and a bank of heather waiting on the right for any player that overcompensates.
Suddenly the tee shots are looking ever more demanding and the gorse ever more threatening. Turn at the estuary and you’re met with the outstanding 10th hole – a blind drive that can turn into a blind approach the further right you go.
The quality continues with the marvellous short 13th and then you make your way back towards home and a set of holes that largely play into the wind.
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The stretch from 15 is formidable and the 16th holds a potentially nasty surprise for the uninitiated in a couple of fairway bunkers that are shared with the 3rd.
Negotiate some thick fescue off the tee on the left, and some more gorse on the right, and you’re left with one of the more satisfying closing approaches in the game at the last. But don’t go long, as only out of bounds awaits.
What an experience.
What were your favourite holes?
It’s a consistent test all the way round but the New started to seriously get my attention at the 6th – a long par 4 where you have to ensure your drive creeps down the left hand side to avoid the broken ground on the right.
The green slopes from the back and there’s a hollow on the left, which makes an approach from distance a pretty difficult shot.
The 9th has fabulous views of the estuary but at 225 yards off the back, and often dealing with the wind, it’s a brute. I actually laid up with a 2-iron to avoid disaster as anything left is basically gone.
I hit an even better shot on 13 – all 157 yards of it – only to see the wind grab and pitch it on the slope and funnel the ball right back down off the elevated green.
But I thought 14 was a really solid hole, with a big ridge about 60 yards short of the green messing with your depth perception. The undulating ground requiring two well-struck shots.
Tell us about your best bit?
It was hard to top the feeling of hitting the tee shot on the 1st. After so many trips to St Andrews over the years, none of which involved playing a single hole, it was exhilarating to finally be striking shots on the hallowed turf. I even managed to hit the fairway too.
Twenty points on the back nine, after being beaten up a touch on the opening half dozen, was great – as was the feeling of getting ever closer to the Auld Grey Toon with every passing hole on the inward stretch. It really is a sensational place to play golf.
Will you do anything different next time?
After prudently taking an iron off the 1st – as much to handle nerves as anything else – I then went after it a bit with a driver. This was a mistake.
Not only is it far from my favourite club, but you’re actually much better off sacrificing a touch of distance and getting the ball into play.
Once I’d figured this out, and only after a particularly painful blob on the 7th, did rhythm arrive and the scores follow.
Finally, where is the New Course?
Not that you really need me to tell you this but the New Course is in St Andrews, the Home of Golf. You’ll find the 1st tee just beside the Links Clubhouse.
For more, visit the St Andrews Links Trust website.
Have your played the New Course? Let me know in the comments or tweet me.
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