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The Old Course at St Andrews

Posted on Feb 18, 2014


Course:   St Andrews (Old)
Opened:   n/a
Designer(s):   unknown, Old Tom Morris, Allan Robertson, Martin Hawtree
Location:   St Andrews, Scotland
Significant Holes:   Holes 2 (green), 11, 14 and 17


St Andrews is without doubt the birthplace of golf and is considered by many to be hallowed ground. The Old Course at St Andrews is the oldest continuous golfing field in existence, having been in action since at least 1457. It was at this time that the game was banned by King James II, the recording of this event is the first know evidence of the game in Scotland.

The Old Course at St Andrews has undoubtedly offered more to the evolution of golf course design than any other course in history. The links of the Old Course formed naturally overtime. Fairways were formed by grazing sheep and bunkers created by feet of animals sheltering from the wind. However, it was the undulating ground forming unique contours for golf which captivated the early minds of golf course architecture. This effect has lasted through the ages, and still resonates strongly today.

In 1764, the original twenty-two hole course was reduced to an eighteen hole layout. This model would become the standard for many golf courses to follow. In 1848, Allan Robertson doubled the width of the shared fairways. This design alteration set the stage for the strategic school of golf course design, as it allowed golfers to take longer routes around hazards or challenge hazards to achieve greater rewards. Around the same time the eight shared greens were also expanded. Old Tom Morris would later rebuild the standalone 18th green and split the 1st and 17th green allowing the previously clockwise links to be played from the opposite direction. This counterclockwise routing would become permanent after many years of alternating play.


While the opening three holes are a fine start to the round and others like 5 and 7 are also very good, the real strength of St Andrews is the run home from the 11th.

The 11th hole, also called the Eden or High (In), is a wonderful short hole.  Strath bunker is a small pot bunker on the right side of the 11th green, near the middle of the double green, and Hill bunker is a large, deep bunker on the left side that is the most dangerous hazard on the hole.  However, it is the severe back-to-front slope of the green is the real terror.  Shots that come up short are likely to roll off into a swale fronting the green or into one of the two hazards.  Alister MacKezie would rave about the Eden green in his 1920s publication, The Spirit of St Andrews.

The 14th is an amazing three-shot concept dominated by the huge Hell bunker.  Some have labeled this hole "the game’s best three shotter" due to all its options.  While many comment on the different ways to play the hole, don’t overlook one of the best greens on the course (or anywhere).  Alister MacKenzie was right when he lamented that the fearsome Hell bunker is not visible for the second shot — it would be more effective if it stared the player in the face, daring him to knock his second shot over it. 

The famous 17th, or Road Hole, is arguably the most charismatic and exciting golf hole on the planet, where the strategy is defined by the angles of the design.  The road hole is golf's ultimate 'half par' hole. 


  • Featured Image:  Hole No. 2 at St Andrews by Iain Macfarlane Lowe, author of Scottish Golf Links
  • Logo and Hole-by-hole plans obtained from St Andrews Links (click here