R’s second guest post– you don’t even know how glad I am he’s finally golfed The Old Course at St. Andrews. He’s been talking about wanting to do it forever and he can now check this one off his list.
My fourth round of the trip took me to Carnoustie, widely considered the toughest test golf has to offer! Host of 8 Open Championships, 1 Women’s British Open, and 2 Senior British Opens, the golf course comes with a pretty serious pedigree. I got lucky today with the weather, it was sunny throughout my entire round, and excluding the wind which picked up for the last 3 holes, I got to play the course in ideal conditions (well, ideal for Scotland). You’re greeted very warmly when you arrive at the clubhouse with someone coming to meet you at the front door, and to take your clubs to their indoor warm up facility. The clubhouse offers 12 indoor driving range bays and someone from the pro shop is always on hand to chat with you a little bit about the course, its history, but also about you and what’s brought you to Carnoustie. I was worried I would be coming into a stuffy atmosphere like most of the private courses I’ve encountered in Canada and the United States but they make you feel like a member here, no matter your handicap or background. The course itself was in fantastic shape, especially for the time of year. Fairways were firm and fast, and lucky for me the rough was still relatively short. The greens were the quickest I’ve encountered to this point as well. It’s a fairly pedestrian start with a decently easy par-4 that features the only blind shot on the course. But don’t let yourself get too comfortable because she’ll show her teeth hard, and fast. The closing 4 holes are considered the toughest in golf with a long, and dangerous par-4, and the very long par-3 16th (245 yards, dead into the wind that day), and finally 17 and 18 with the Barry Burn snaking through both ready to ruin an otherwise strong round. Honestly the only “weak” hole I can think of the is the par-3 9th, and really that holes not all that easy, but it just kind of feels like they ran out of room and needed squeeze in another hole to make it 18. My favourite hole by-far was the par-4 6th known as Hogan’s Alley. You’re forced to fit a drive in to a roughly 150-yard-long, but 30-yard-wide landing zone with out of bounds literally bordering the fairway on the left, and two suicidal bunkers short-right, and two more long-right, and then just to top it off, a ditch runs into the fairway at the end of your landing zone. I dare any amateur golfer to stand on that tee and not get a little weak in the knees. It’s tough to describe how neat it feels to walk down the same fairways, and put out on the same greens as the world’s best were just 8 months ago. But really that’s what I love about golf. The Monday morning quarterbacks out there tearing down NHLers, NFLers, etc.. thinking they could do better will never be able to even try. But with golf you can. Think you could beat Tommy Fleetwood’s course record 63? There’s the course, it’s open 7 days a week and as long as you’ve got a registered handicap you’re free to try. Lucky for me I can hold my par on 18 over Jean van de Velde’s head until the next time I get the chance to play.
The Old Course at St. Andrews
Day 6 finally brought me to the Old Course at St. Andrews… the ‘home of golf,’ 29-time host of The Open, this place really needs no introduction. It’s next to impossible to book a tee time here in the traditional sense but that shouldn’t stop anyone from coming here. If you’re in the area you can enter the ballot 2 days before you want to play for a chance at getting on the course, and if that doesn’t work well then there’s always the singles queue. With it being March I was lucky and only had to line up at 6am to get on the course, but I’ve heard a story of an Australian guy lining up at 7:30pm… the DAY BEFORE…just to be sure he would get on. I’ve always felt like this was the one golf course I needed to play in my life, but it didn’t really hit me until I got into the parking lot at 5:45am that I would be getting on here. My face hurt by the 18th because I never stopped smiling. Not even when I took a 7 on the par-4 12th after getting into a wrestling match with a gorse bush. I got paired with a young caddy from Philadelphia, a guy from St. Louis who just happened to be in the area and decided he may as well try his luck, and a guy from Toronto whose dad asked him to spread his ashes on the old course as his dying wish. That’s the kind of emotional connection people have to this course.
It’s a place of pilgrimage for 99% of golfers. This course has no weak holes. Call me biased because I’ve watched the course guide video’s probably 25 times, and pretty much exclusively played this place on my x-box with Tiger Woods, but every golf hole is a challenge/treat. It’s beautiful chaos, but playable for everyone. If you’re a high handicapper you’ll love the fact that the first fairway is 126 yards wide, and that half the holes on the course are double fairways. If you’re a low handicapper you’re basically playing a chess match trying to plot your way around to have any hope at shooting a decent number. I would not hesitate to bring my girlfriend here because I know she’d be fine playing it, but at the same time it’s a challenge for me. You don’t see this in North America. Golf courses are either one or the other. Friendly or challenging, but never both. Marshall’s are quick to help throughout with someone it seemed always on hand to offer the correct driving line on a blind tee shot, or some sound advice about where to land your approach shot to make sure you had any hope of scoring on a particular hole. There’s a point where the 7th, 8th, 11th and 12th holes are all within spitting distance of each other and you can have as many as 32 people golfing in the same 100-yard radius. It’s beautiful chaos. Once you hit 12 you’re turning back towards the town of St. Andrews and it’s really wild choosing church steeples in the distance to aim your drive at. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a swell of emotion at that point.
Hole 17, the Road Hole, is the greatest hole in golf. Period. You’re forced to hit your tee shot over the old railway shed, and you’re essentially picking a line based on the “Old Course Hotel” sign painted onto this shed. They say aim for the “O’s” depending on how aggressive you want to get, with the shot getting more difficult from left to right. I chose the ‘O’ in hotel and got rewarded for a well hit drive. Once you’ve maneuvered the shed, and the hotel, you still have the road, and the road bunker to contend with. I was both thrilled, and terrified to see they had the Sunday pin placement right behind the bunker. Consider yourself lucky to get out of there with a par (I did not). The walk up 18 is surreal and after you get the necessary photo of yourself on the Swilcan Bridge, I can only suggest taking your sweet time walking up to the green and soaking in everything around you. This course will always hold a special place in my heart and if my trip ended tomorrow I would still be beyond satisfied.
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