Life beyond the Old Course at St Andrews
It all started in St. Andrews, where golf has been played for 600 years. The whole town has been immersed in a golfing atmosphere in every pub you enter. The links layout, the Swilcan Bridge on the 18th hole and the Royal & Ancient building have made playing golf on the Old Course an iconic experience.
Some set foot in the birthplace of golf for the first time and others return as pilgrims over the years, but playing golf on the Old Course is the desire of many when embarking on a trip to Scotland. However, all are still unaware of some of its history and its legacy in golf in the British Isles.
Scotland and the “islands of golf” hold secrets for everyone.
The Old Course at St Andrews as we know it today, 18 holes with wide fairways and double greens was not always like this. There was only one fairway that played in both directions but two golfing legends (Allan Robertson and the famous Old Tom Morris) got involved in changing the course. They designed changes to holes 1, 17 and 18, and widened greens and fairways to provide enough space to manage the flow of players. Some of the most important elements in the history of golf were born and grew out of the Old Course. By travelling we can discover them first hand.
This same forerunner of the changes at St. Andrews (Allan Robertson) is considered to be the first golf course designer in history. Heading north (Aberdeenshire) he established 10 holes at Barry Angus which eventually became the Carnoustie we know today. Carnoustie has hosted 8 editions of The Open. It is where Sergio Garcia came closest to getting his claret jug in 2007 against Harrington, and where Francesco Molinari was declared Champion Golfer of the Year in 2018.
In the USA, the Golf Course is nicknamed “Car-nasty” in reference to its difficulty. Another one of the must-visit stops is nearby. Gleneagles offers to play with your friends a match where the European team won the Ryder Cup in 2014.
There is much more to discover than just golfing on the Old Course.
The East Lothian area also offers something for every type of golfer. Just 35 miles from Edinburgh Airport, North Berwick’s 18 holes feature the most creative design in Scotland. According to Golf Digest, it is the most underrated golf course in the world. Its small rock wall that meanders along several holes and huge depressions in the greens bring out the imagination of any golfer.
In fact, for golf course design connoisseurs, North Berwick also includes the original Redan, the most copied hole in golf. Its 190-yard 15th hole, with a green that drops from right to left and wraps around a deep bunker on the front left side, has been replicated on dozens of golf courses in the USA. Four miles from the latter, Muirfield has hosted 16 editions of what was once known as the British Open with winners including Phil Mickelson, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Nick Faldo. Nicklaus has so much respect for the course where he won his first Claret Jug that he named the Muirfield Village Golf Course in Ohio in his honour. The latter is where the PGA Tour’s Memorial Tournament is held every year, where Jon Rahm won in 2020.
By the way, haven’t you ever wondered how The Open came about?
The aforementioned Allan Robertson was considered by his fellow professionals to be the greatest golfer who had ever lived until his death in 1859. Such was his standard that a year after his death, they gathered at Prestwick GC to decide who would follow in Robertson’s footsteps under the name of Champion Golfer of the Year. Thus was born the first edition of The Open in 1860.
Such is the importance of Prestwick GC that it is the course where most editions of The Open have been played (24), second only to the Old Course (29). Moreover, it is not an isolated gem as it lies within 25 miles of the two Open venues (Royal Troon and Turnberry) and 40 minutes from Glasgow.
The Open Venue Triangle
Scenarios such as this triangle of Open venues are repeated throughout the British Isles. Such is the case of Royal Liverpool, where the 151st edition will be played in 2023. Within a 25-mile radius are Royal Liverpool, Royal Birkdale and Royal Lytham & St. Ames. Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Ernie Els won here in their last editions and 30 other players in previous editions, a paradise of Open champions. The “islands of golf” provide such opportunities throughout their geography, with Royal St Georges (The Open 2021) and two former Open venues, Prince’s and Royal Cinque Ports, with 115 and 127 years of history respectively, located within a 2 mile radius of London.
What else has the Old Course left us?
All these gems of English golf are the legacy of the Old Course, where Allan Robertson trained his apprentice Old Tom Morris. The latter won The Open 4 times and is considered the father of modern greenkeeping. In fact, his house and grave at St. Andrews are places of worship. His greatest acclaim comes from his golf course design. Tom Morris is the father of the aforementioned Muirfield, but also of many gems on the island next door, the distinctive Ireland. For a start, Morris created Rory McIlroy’s favourite course, Royal County Down, but also the legendary Lahinch, whose dunes mark the recognisable Irish links style.
While the Scottish links are relatively flat, Ireland’s links design is much more involved with natural dunes. Here, golfers are plunged into a gorge of immense sand formations. But above all, they are a type of Golf Courses that are no longer designed today. This is what the world’s best golfers experienced at the only edition of The Open played in Ireland in 2019 at Royal Portrush Golf Club.
Ireland has its own essence and a unique style of golf courses. You can even discover settings for future exploits by playing Adare Manor if you want to escape the wind and rain of the coast for a few days. The spectacular castle (clubhouse and hotel) will serve as an epic backdrop for the 2026 Ryder Cup. In addition, Adare Manor is considered one of the most luxurious resorts in all of Ireland. As you can see the heritage of the Old Course has reached far beyond the East Lothian area. It has created stories and traditions that have shaped the sport. The ‘islands of golf’ hold secrets for every golfer, so don’t just play golf on the Old Course and set out to discover them.
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