There is only one course I have played that gives me goosebumps. No matter how well I’m scoring, standing on the 18th tee of the Old Course at St Andrews playing towards a town with such a rich golfing history sparks an emotional connection that no other venue can match. It is the greatest place to play golf in the world.
At St Andrews, you are walking in the footsteps of the greatest players in the game. They’ve all been there and they’ve all taken on its challenges. Best of all, just by being there yourself and plotting your own way around the Old Lady you feel as if you are somehow part of that history. The only venue that could challenge its status as a golfing Mecca is Augusta National, but for me the Old Course is head and shoulders above.
Augusta is manufactured, created, maintained to a standard of excellence that is beyond belief and that is what makes Augusta incredible. But when you play at St Andrews, you get the feeling that the course almost doesn’t need any maintenance. The greens always look in average condition, but putt beautifully. The Old Course wasn’t designed in the way that we have become accustomed to, but was shaped by time and God. The course emerged over time, slowly etched on the landscape through years of play.
When you play the Old Course on a calm day you think, ‘what’s all the fuss about, it’s really simple’. However, when you are subjected to the elements, the worst that nature can throw at you, then it becomes an absolute monster. This is the point with all links courses. They have been designed, or at least have evolved, with nature in mind. Anyone who has played St Andrews in a strong wind knows just how tough it can be. As a few players have shown, it is possible to shoot 62 when conditions are right, but you can also be happy to shoot 75. The character of the course literally changes with the tide and it is this that makes it a varied test that is still relevant to this day. At The Open this year, the Old Lady was criticised for not providing an exciting stage, but this way of thinking takes no account of the Oosthuizen factor. He simply blew the field away.
Top 100 Courses: 2010 Course Rankings
The beauty and joy of St Andrews is wrapped up in its history. For me, if you go there and don’t enjoy it you need to hit the history books and find out more about how the game evolved. But having said that, I guess it’s ok to have a love/hate relationship with a piece of genius. I’m always drawn to the story of the great Bobby Jones who got caught in a bunker the first time he played it, tore his card up and vowed never to return. When he did come back he fell in love with the place and in the end, it was his knowledge and appreciation of St Andrews that shaped a lot of what he did at Augusta, especially with the shaping of the greens.
The road hole has always been the most wonderful challenge. The problem was that technology overtook it. This is where I have to give credit to the R&A (something I don’t do very often) for their redesign of the hole, taking the tee back to where Henry Cotton said it should go in the 1960s, just to the right of the 16th green. Now they’ve made it a tough test. At this year’s Open Championship it was clear to see that it returned to how it was. What a magnificent hole!
Then there is the town. My wife, Julia, and I went on our honeymoon to St Andrews and even now if I’m looking for somewhere to go to relax, I’ll head for the Old Course Hotel. If you were to separate the two, both the town and the golf course would still offer a fantastic experience. But by combining them you are left with something truly special.