The town of St. Andrews, on the Fife coast, is home to arguably the most famous golf course in the world – the St. Andrews Old Course, which first staged the Open Championship in 1873. However records can actually trace golf as having being played ‘in the vicinity’ of the famous links since the 1500s.
No single golf course designer can lay claim to having designed the Old Course, with several architects having an influence in shaping the golf course; most notably, Daw Anderson in the 1850s, Old Tom Morris between 1860 and 1900, and Dr Alister Mackenzie in the 1930s. The course has been relatively untouched since then.
The St. Andrews Old Course has several distinct physical features which set it apart from other links golf courses. For one, its bunkers number 112 in total; many of which are deep, pot bunkers with coarse sand and steep bunker walls which make them a fearsome challenge. Some bunkers have actually been named, such is their notoriety, such as ‘Hell’ (14th) and ‘Strath’ on the short 11th hole.
Perhaps the most famous bunker of all is the Road Bunker, which lies in wait at the front of the seventeenth green on the Road Hole. Considered by many as the most famous golf hole in the world, the seventeenth or Road Hole is so named because of the road which runs hard against the back edge of the green. The road is also in play, and a wall lies just beyond the road. This hole has dented many golfers’ Open challenges; the tee shot itself involves playing across the corner of the Old Course hotel while the long green is firm and stopping the ball on the putting surface with a long iron is a difficult task.
Another peculiarity found at St. Andrews but much less so at other courses are it’s double greens, where the same one putting surface accommodates holes on both the outward and inward halves of the round. As a result, the greens are expectedly very large, and golfers can face up to putts of almost 100 yards on some occasions.
St. Andrews has held more Open championships than any other venue, while other tournaments have also been played over the course. Most notable are the now-defunct Dunhill Cup, which ran between 1985 and 2000 and later became the Dunhill Links Championship, and the Walker Cup, which is the Ryder Cup equivalent for amateur golfers.
Despite its reputation and standing in the game, St. Andrews is a public golf course and golfers can simply turn up, pay the green fee and play. However, as slots can be difficult to secure it is often much more prudent for golfers wishing to tackle the Old Course to book ahead for a tee-off time, or book a St. Andrews golf tour which can offer golfers the chance to secure a tee-off slot on the Old Course, as well as playing any of the other six golf courses St. Andrews has to offer.
And with the Open Championship returning to the famous Old Course links in 2010, the town is sure to become a popular place with golfers looking to take in the action when it unfolds over its four days in July. In fact, such is the allure of golf in the town that there are numerous golf shops situated around the town while its not unheard of to find golfers fresh from a round and still wearing golf-shoes and carrying clubs supping a pint in one of the local pubs.
If golf was a town, it would be St Andrews and any serious golfer should strive to visit the home of golf to pay homage to where it all began.
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