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Author: Ruben van der Zaag

The Open Championship: St Andrews, The Old Course

14 July 2022
7 min. read
Ruben van der Zaag
The excitement grows as the 150th Open Championship is to start Thursday July 14th very early in the morning. This very special edition will take place at an even more special course, The Old Course at St Andrews.
Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Georgia Hall walk on the first hole during the Celebration of Champions prior to The 150th Open at the Old Course at St Andrews, Scotland. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/R&A/R&A via Getty Images, courtesy of R&A)

History of The Old Course at St Andrews

St Andrews has such a long and rich history, that it is rightfully called "The Home of Golf". People already played golf on the land in St Andrews throughout the 1400s. But it was in 1552 - when Archbishop John Hamilton signed an official charter recognising the right of the people of St Andrews to play golf on the Links - when golf really took a flight in the Scottish town. In 1754, 22 noblemen, professors, and landowners founded the Society of St Andrews Golfers. This society would eventually become the precursor to The R&A which is the governing body for golf.

A mere 300 years later a keeper of the green by the name Tom Morris made a real mark on the land and built the first version of what is today known as The Old Course. Old Tom - 44 years of age at the time - returned to St Andrews (he was born there) in 1865 after having worked at Prestwick for 14 years.

Old Tom Morris. (Photo: Sean Arble via Wikimedia Commons)

At the time St Andrews was in very poor condition, and it was Morris' task to make major improvements. He did so by widening fairways and making greens bigger. He applied techniques he had developed during his time at Prestwick and also built new greens for the first and eighteenth holes. Inevitably there was also a lot of work involved in "managing" the hazards.

The Open Championship

It's fair to say that Old Tom did a decent job of improving the course as The Old Course was soon recognised as one of the best golf courses in the world and it would attract wealthy golfers from all over the world soon after. In 1873, the Old Course was the first golf course after Prestwick to host the Open Championship, the oldest golf tournament in the world and one of the most prestigious.  

The Old Course has hosted this major 29 times since 1873, most recently in 2015. The 29 Open Championships that the Old Course has hosted is more than any other course, and The Open is currently played there every five years. Amongst the most famous winners of the Open Championship at St Andrews are James Braid, Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Bobby Locke, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods.

The Claret Jug sits on the 18th green at St Andrews Old Course. The 150th Open Championship will take place on The Old Course at St Andrews between the 14th and 17th July. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/R&A/R&A via Getty Images, courtesy of R&A)

Famous landmarks on The Old Course

The Old Course is full of historic landmarks that have become famous over the years. below a list of some of these famous landmarks.

Swilcan Burn & Swilcan bridge (holes 1 & 18)

The Swilcan Burn is a waterway that flows from St Andrews into St Andrews Bay across the Old Course. It meanders over the fairways of the 1st and 18th holes. The Swilcan Bridge is a small stone bridge spanning the Swilcan Burn. Although it spans no more than 9 meters/10 yards, it's by far the most famous bridge in golf. Many golfers have their picture taken on the bridge every day and even the greats of the game always pay their respect to the bridge when crossing it. 

Our Swedish ambassador Martin Hardenberger is one of the thousands that had his picture taken on the most famous bridge in golf, the Swilcan Bridge. (Photo: User MartinHardenberger)

Hell bunker (hole 14)

The course guide of the Old Course says about the 14th hole: "With an out-of-bounds wall on the right, most players should aim for the landing area known as the Elysian Fields. The second shot should try to avoid Hell Bunker, one of the largest and most infamous on the Links."

The Hell Bunker covers an area of 250 m2 and it is between 2.1 m and 3.0 m deep. Many golfers have found their Waterloo in Hell Bunker. Including Jack Nicklaus, who needed 4 shots to get out of the bunker in the '95 Open Championship. He carded a 10 on the 14th that round.

Hell Bunker might be shaped like a heart, there's not much to love when you're in it. (Photo: User Julien Tizot)

The Road Hole (bunker) (hole 17)

The Road Hole is one of the most iconic holes in golf. It's iconic for several reasons. For starters the two options you have when you're teeing off. Do you take the safe route via the left fairway which leaves you a very (very!) difficult second shot. Or are you brave enought to fly the ball over the Old Course Hotel onto a very narrow fairway with o.b. on the right, but potentially a much better angle of attack into the green?

Around the green it doesn't get any easier. The famous Road Hole bunker is a hazard you better miss. With a steep wall of more than 2 meters high and the danger of the road behind the green if your shot is too long, it's best to stay on the safe side. As Matt Fitzpatrick said: “Everyone knows left in the bunker is dead. Missing the green right is dead. Short is the safest bet, but it’s not easy from there. It’s just a tough hole.”

The Road Hole bunker looks impressive, doesn't it? Bear in mind that this image only shows half (!) of the wall you need to get over. (Photo: User Eimelb)

Valley of Sin (hole 18)

The Valley of Sin is a 2.4 m deep depression along the front before the 18th green. (Pro) Golfers have two options off the tee, drive the green, or keep it short of the Valley of Sin. Many shots during previous Opens have ended up on the green, but rolled back into the Valley of Sin. And from there it's definitely 3-putt territory. 

Most famous moment in the Valley of Sin is when Italian Costantino Rocca chunked his chip into the Valley of Sin in the final round of the '95 Open. Rocca was only one shot back of John Daly when entering the last hole and he needed to make birdie to get into a play-off. After the chunked chip, Rocca miraculously holed his putt and fell down on his knees in disbelieve. He got into the play-off, but it was Daly that took home the Claret Jug that year. 

Tiger Woods tees off on the 18th hole of the Old Course at St Andrews. Will his ball stay out of the Valley of Sin? (Photo by Stuart Franklin/R&A/R&A via Getty Images, courtesy of R&A)

Follow all the action of the open via the website of the Open Championship.

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