Nowhere in golf stirs the imagination quite like St Andrews – the Home of golf and the Old Course – God’s original layout in Scotland’s eastern Kingdom of Fife.
- How to get a tee-time at golf’s most famous links
- Putts of over 100-yards and the approach to the Road Hole
- New courses – m0re choice at the Home of Golf
- Scotland’s finest fish and chips
- World War Two rangefinders at Elie Golf Club
Driving along the A91 into St Andrews is hazardous.
As the Old course finally appears, nestled under the watchful eye of the Royal and Ancient Clubhouse, you feel your heart could burst and the car career from the road.
Teeing off in front of the Royal and Ancient clubhouse, to the world’s widest fairway, is golf’s greatest pilgrimage.
While the Old Course has changed little since its natural creation – shaped by winds from the sea and sheep huddling for shelter in the nooks and crannies of harsh links land – the surrounding area and coastline has changed dramatically.
New golfing developments now pepper the Fife Coast and the Old Course is no longer the only show in town.
Changing face of golf in St Andrews
Most noteable among the new courses is The Castle Course – the seventh course built by the St Andrews Links Trust, Kingsbarns Golf Links and the Torrance and Kittock’s courses at The Fairmont St Andrews Bay resort.
All this choice now means visitors face a tough decision over where to play in the “home of golf.”
The Old Course, with its status as the historical and spiritual home of golf, remains the Kingdom’s marquee attraction.
The St Andrews Links Trust maintains seven public courses in the town, The Old, The New, The Jubilee, The Eden, The Balgove, The Strathtyrum – and now The Castle Course set on the high cliffs overlooking St Andrews from its Eastern approach.
Braving the ballot
Golfers enter a ballot, a type of lottery, to gain a tee-time on the Old Course.
You can enter the ballot over the telephone or in person at the St Andrews Links Clubhouse next to the New Course.
The St Andrews Links Trust changed its policy about the ballot in 2011 at the request of many of the hoteliers and tour operators who bring international golfers to the town.
You can now ballot 48 hours in advance giving you a greater chance of landing arguably the most famous tee-time in golf – and avoiding the crushing disappointment of making the journey only to be ballotted out.
The draw for the next day’s play is displayed by the Old Course starter’s hut and Caddie’s pavillion in the shadow of the Royal & Ancient Clubhouse, home of the governing body of golf worldwide – with the exception of the U.S.A.
If you aren’t lucky enough to land a tee-time on The Old, the other courses all provide a memorable golfing challenge of varying degrees of difficulty making it ideal for a week long golf break.
Playing the Old Course is possibly the most fun you can have on a golf course.
Golfers remember their play at the 461-yard “Road Hole” – the toughest par-four in golf, with the notorious bunker which shares it name.
Yet, putting on double greens like that at the 5th and 13th, measuring fully 100-yards, or avoiding the terrifying riveted bunkers like “Strath” at the par-three 11th or “Coffins” left of the 13th fairway, is fuel for lifelong recollections at the 19th hole.
Playing the closing four-holes, with the romantic silhouette of the “auld grey toon” creeping into view – and shadows cast across the links hummocks late in the day – you feel closest to the true spirit of the game.
The perfect end to the golfing day is a trip to the nearby Dunvegan Hotel at the corner of Golf Place and North Street.
If a pub could embody the spirit of golf, this is it.
The walls are adorned with signed photographs of famous golfing patrons and Arnold Palmer’s old caddie Tip Anderson has his own seat marked out with a gold plaque.
Sit in it at your peril. Try a pint of 80 schilling, the smooth light ale, brewed in Scotland or Belhaven Best, and finish with a “wee dram” of Malt Whisky.
Another great watering golfing watering hole is the Jigger Inn just off the 17th fairway at the Old Course Hotel.
There is a challenge popular with St Andrews students which involves stopping play after the drive at 17, going to the Jigger Inn for drinks, and trying to play the 18th hole in fewer shots than you had drinks.
From the Old to the New: Kingsbarns Golf Links
From the oldest, take the 5-mile drive along the A917, to one of the newest and best courses.
Kingsbarns Golf Links, designed by American Kyle Phillips, is the ideal of Links golf played within sight and sound of the sea.
Every hole on this stretch of coast, formerly an RAF training ground, plays with a sea view, and the sound of waves crashing onto rocky shore intensifies the links experience.
Opened in 2000, it is already being talked about as a possible Open Championship course.
At 7126 yards Kingsbarns is long but more a test of strategy than muscle.
The 15th, a 212-yard short hole is Kingsbarns’ sternest test.
A spectacular ocean-hole, the tee is shielded from the wind by a wood, while the ball must carry 200-yards across rocks and surf to find the sanctuary of the green.
Scotland’s best Fish and Chips
Just along the coast, at Anstruther, is Scotland’s best fish bar, where queues can be an hour long at weekends.
It’s worth the wait for fish that melts like butter on the pallet, and is best eaten overlooking the harbour.
Two courses that fit the property mantra, “location, location, location” are the Duke’s Course, owned by the Old Course Hotel and the Fairmont St Andrews Bay Hotel Resort and Spa, built by American pharmaceutical tycoon Don Panoz.
The Duke’s to the west of St Andrews, is a 7,000 yard monster designed by five-time Open champion Peter Thomson.
It plays like an extended Wentworth, with tree-lined fairways and impenetrable swathes of gorse, but also has breathtaking views down over St Andrews Bay.
At the Fairmont St Andrews Bay resort you can play the Kittock’s and the Torrance courses.
The Kittock’s is considered the better course as each hole plays untouched by other golf traffic, often along dramatic clifftops with views of St Andrews.
The Torrance holes tend to run alongside each other – out and back to the hotel – making it less inspiring but still a good test.
Fife has great new golf on offer, but it is hard to beat the numerous established links that have served as Open Championship qualifying venues.
Fife’s Open Qualifying courses
Lundin Links and Leven overlooking Largo bay wind through sandhills and bents.
They are separated from each other by only a drystone wall which was erected in 1868 when the land was split and two clubs were formed.
Once a year, the wall comes down and a competition is played by the members over the original 18holes.
World War Two rangefinders at Elie Golf Club
At Elie, a sedate fishing village, between St Monans and Earlsferry, you will find a windswept links favoured by holidaying members of the R&A.
The blind opening tee-shot also requires the player to stare into a World War Two periscope taken from a German U-boat, to view the fairway.
In Elie’s smoking room, you will find golf hospitality from a bygone day, and I heartily recommend the “Golfer’s grill.”
Whether you choose the Old or the new in Fife, you will not be disappointed, for it is Scotland’s golfing heartland.
Want to experience more of the romance of St Andrews? – check out this video from our friends at GoGolfTV – David and Susie Whyte are experts on Scotland’s golf courses and have filmed some of the finest courses in the Home of Golf.