St Andrews Old Course Is Still the Perfect Test
“The Old Course is the model for every great course because it follows a basic principle: the closer you are to the out-of-bounds or a hazard, the easier your next shot is going to be. And just about every hole has OB on the right. The farther you are from the trouble, the harder your next shot is going to be.
So it is easy for a pro to make 18 pars and shoot 72. He can play away from all the trouble, but never really get close to the hole with his approaches. So he can have fun making pars forever. On the other hand, as soon as that same guy starts to try and shoot under par, he starts to make mistakes. Those hazards and the OB are more and more in play. That’s St Andrews. And the Old Course does that better than anywhere. It perfectly defines basic strategy in golf. On almost every hole.
The great thing is those principles apply no matter where the wind is blowing. One day you wonder why that bunker is where it is. Then the next day, in a different wind, you realise why it is there. It is right where you want to hit it. It is genius really. It exponentially punishes wrong decisions and wrong shots. Five or six of the best holes in golf can be found on the back-nine at the Old Course. The 16th is just about the perfect hole for explaining strategy. There’s that narrow slice of fairway to the right, just inside the OB fence. There are bunkers in the middle, where you want to go. Then there are acres of room to the left. But if you hit it safely over there, your next shot has to be played towards the OB, which is tricky.
You can make par on 16 most of the time if that is what you want to do. But if you want to make a three – or have a chance to do so – you have to hit near the bunkers or the OB. Then you might make a double-bogey. It’s that simple. And if you don’t understand that, you’re never going to ‘get’ golf.
I understand why some people don’t love the Old Course, but they are ‘conditioning’ guys. It isn’t green and the sand is not nice and white. So it’s not ticking the boxes he wants to tick. And then there are those who bemoan that it’s unfair. There are pros who want predictability, the good ball-strikers who want to be rewarded for their skills. They see the Old Course as diminishing that. Especially when they hit a ‘great’ shot and get shafted, just as another guy hits a sh*t shot and gets a good bounce. That only cements their view that the course is ridiculous. “That never happens at Sunningdale,” they cry.
That unfairness is, ironically, what makes it fair. You can’t have good bounces without bad ones. And a good bounce is one of the best things about playing links golf. They make you happy. But, at the same time, you have to accept the bad ones too. And that’s why St Andrews’ Old Course remains the perfect model for every great golf course.”