12 things you may not know about The Old Course at St Andrews

Ahead of this week’s Open Championship, here are a few quirky bits of trivia about The Old Course at St Andrews.

The Open Championship returns to the home of golf this week and in preparation, here are things you may not know about The Old Course at St Andrews which (not surprisingly) has a long and fascinating history.

1. The tee shot on the 17th Road Hole is just a replica of what it used to be
Most golf fans know of the famous 17th hole, particularly the blind tee shot that requires a drive over the old train sheds. But did you know those sheds are just replicas? The original ones were demolished in the 1980s when the railway line shut down, but after several Open Championships without them, the sheds were rebuilt as replicas to ‘replicate’ that blind tee shot.

2. The story behind those stone markers in the middle of the fairways
There are a number of stone markers sitting in the middle of a few fairways – namely the 4th, 5th and 7th holes. They were the boundary (or march) markers that defined the edges of the land purchased in 1821. The markers have a ‘G’ on the golf course side which was much narrower at the time. Old Tom Morris widened the golf course considerably meaning those markers now lie in the middle of the fairway.

3. There used to be a bunker on the 18th hole
The 1st and 18th holes are the only ones without bunkers at The Old Course but prior to 1842 there was one on the 18th hole. Known as Halket’s Bunker it lay halfway between the Swilcan Bridge and Grannie Clark’s Wynd but it was removed in 1842 when the area was returfed and repaired. You can still see its outline from the air.

The Old Course at St.Andrews (Photo courtesy of golferlogic)

4. There is no golf on Sundays – except…
The Old Course is usually closed on Sundays – except when there are golf tournaments on such as The Open or the Dunhill Links Championship. When closed, the course is open to the townspeople as a park where they can walk or have picnics.

5. You can play The Old Course at St.Andrews
If you’ve got an official handicap you can get on and play The Old Course. Getting a tee time can be challenging because of the demand, especially in peak season, but it’s not impossible. The green fees at St.Andrews are around £170 in peak season and cheaper in winter but if you’re just a single player you can turn up early and take your chances. There is a nice summary of how to do it here.

St.Andrews Old Course 18th hole – red lines indicate possible old cart path lines. (Photo: Matt Ginella Twitter)

6. Those ancient cart path lines
If you look carefully you can see two faint diagonal lines cutting across the 18th fairway. Most clearly seen when the sun is low, the exact origin of these faint lines isn’t exactly known – indeed many golf experts haven’t noticed them before. But the most likely theory is that they are very old cart paths from when locals used to collect seaweed from the beach.

These well-worn paths are still visible on The Old Course hundreds of years later.

7. The Old Course is designed to play backwards
Generally, The Old Course is played anti-clockwise with the first hole running down the seaward side of the 18th, but the golf course was designed to also be played anti-clockwise. And since 2008 on the Friday, Saturday and Monday of the first weekend in April the course is played backwards. On the reverse course, you tee off the 1st to the 17th green and finish from the 2nd tee to the 18th green.

8. There is no free relief from the road on the 18th hole
When we talk about the road that cuts across the 1st and 18th holes, we’re referring to Grannie Clark’s Wynd. That’s the name of it. And if your golf ball lands on it you must play it as it lies, or take relief under the penalty of one stroke. (Same goes for the road that runs alongside The Road Hole, 17th). Wynd is a common name for a narrow lane between houses in Scotland and Northern England. And they’re usually straight.

9. It was the first place they awarded The Claret Jug
Prior to 1873, the prize for winning the Open Championship was The Challenge Belt but after much discussion between the host golf courses at the time, a motion was passed to purchase a new trophy with Prestwick, the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers and The Royal and Ancient Golf Club each pitching in £10 for a new trophy.

The first time the Claret Jug was awarded was at The Open at St.Andrews in 1873 which Tom Kidd won. But the first winner engraved on the trophy is Young Tom Morris, as he won in 1872 when the new trophy was supposed to be awarded. But it wasn’t ready in time. More on this at The Open website.

10. There are skeletons under the 18th green
This is more myth than fact but you may not have known about the myth. Old Tom Morris designed the raised 18th green and HK Golfer noted that a burial ground is mentioned in that in Andrew Kirkaldy‘s book My fifty Years of Golf which reads:

“What is now the eighteenth green on the Old Course was built up from a rubbish heap that had also served as a burial ground.” A. W. Tillinghast concurred, saying Morris had told him it had been “built over the bones of dead men.

What lies beneath.

11. The Old Course was originally 22 holes
The Old Course was originally 22 holes. It played as 11 holes out and those same 11 holes were played back in – no doubt leading to some awkward situations as one foursome walked straight into the landing zone of the other. The double greens would have helped matters a little but for a long time, there was only one hole on each green with golfers on the back nine having right of way over those golfers heading out.

In 1764 it was decided to reduce the number of holes and the 18 holes we know today were first realised. In 1856, two holes were cut in the green, creating the double greens, and separate nines were established soon after.

12. The Old Course at St.Andrews is symmetrical
There is some nice symmetry about The Old Course. Holes 1, 9, 17 and 18 are the only holes that don’t have shared greens but the holes that do add up to 18; 2nd & 16th, 3rd & 15th, 4th & 14th, 5th & 13th, 6th & 12th, 7th & 11th and 8th and 10th.

Par is nice and symmetric too: 444 454 434 (36) going out, and 434 454 444 (36) coming in.

One thought on “12 things you may not know about The Old Course at St Andrews

  • I love the history of the old course. How old is the old course? I have read golf was being played there before Saint Andrews university was established in 1418. Yet the old course says it was established in 1552. I would think the university could shed some light on this.


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