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The Old Course at St Andrews

No golf course creates a higher level of expectation than the Old Course at St. Andrews. The “Powers that Be” maintain the allure by making the reservation process complex and exceedingly convoluted. Not enough room to describe here, so visit Regular stops at this venerable links venue for the British Open further add to the mystique. Does the course measure up?

On my last Scottish boondoggle our group took the chicken (and more expensive) way out and booked a round through an agency to ensure access. Unfortunately, due to some questionable internal planning our foursome arrived in St. Andrews at 3:00 a.m. the night before a 7:30 a.m. tee time, assuring I would play the course on less than four hours of sleep; not to mention the innumerable slugs of Scottish Whisky I downed on the mad dash from Machrihanish (about 5 hours) to our hotel. Hung over and lacking sleep is probably not a formula for properly evaluating a course, however, I have never been one to stand on convention.

The good news if you are hungover is that the course starts quite benignly. Hole number one offers a nearly impossible to miss fairway, sharing an enormous open space with the 18th. In addition, the hole is very short, with only a small burn (creek) protecting the front of the green. A simple two-putt par, and you are on your way to breaking 80. The course is rolling, but generally very level, with trouble in the form of gorse, a couple of out-of-bounds and some very nasty bunkers being the only obstacles to keep from going low. The crisscrossing holes are unique, but disrupt play. Many of the par 4’s are short by today’s standards, with the pros expected to drive many. There are only two par 5’s, with Number 5 being comparatively short. There are also only two par 3’s making for less variation. The best hole is Number 17, known as the Road Hole. This one requires a blind tee shot over the adjoining hotel, and a delicate second shot over a bunker onto the green. If you are getting tired, 18 offers a reprieve as this is another can’t miss fairway on a short hole. (Full disclosure, one of our foursome hit a massive slice into the cars parked along the adjoining street.) This one is nearly impossible to screw up unless you get stuck in the Valley of Sin…I did, and took a double bogey. Ultimately, despite the lack of sleep and generous alcohol the previous night, I shot a 79 on the par 72 layout. It was fun, but felt much less challenging than other Scottish venues.

No doubt, everyone will be raving about the Old Course during the British Open, because that is the “correct” thing to do. However, there are many courses in the British Isles I prefer. Ironically, the pros could not whine enough about Chambers Bay, but that course has more elevation, better views and more character…it just is not 250 years old. Apparently the experts make significant allowances for age. Nearly every top 100 list of world golf courses cites this venue as being in the top 10, but I respectfully disagree. The experience is terrific, but the golf…

Absolutely Must Play? Of course! It’s the frigging Old Course at St Andrews My rating: 8 out of 10, for the history, experience and ultra-cool location.

Weekly Observation: C’mon Rory, seriously? Soccer??


Paul Laubach is completely unqualified to provide expertise with respect to golf course rankings and design, however, he is a highly opinionated golf addict who believes everyone should be entitled to his thoughts. He has recently released Confessions of a Golfaholic: A Guide to Playing America’s Top 100 Public Golf Courses; now available in hardcover edition from Elevate Publishing. Please visit regularly for more (im)practical information.

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