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The Open For The Ages

The Old Course


Features and Evolution at The Home of Golf

Louis Oosthuizen poses with the Claret Jug on the famous Swilcan Bridge.

For nearly 600 years, golf has been played across the Old Course in St Andrews. From its earliest known beginnings in the 15th Century until today, the famed links has stood the test of time as the home of golf.

But what has changed in all those hundreds of years, and what features remain the same? In the video below, The Open presenter Iona Stephen takes a look at the iconic features that help make St Andrews so special.

Widest Fairway in Golf

When arriving to play St Andrews for the very first time, golfers, both professional and amateur alike, can take comfort from the size of the opening fairway, the widest in the game.

Combining the first and 18th holes of the Old Course, the fairway is a remarkable 129 yards wide, and is as awe-inspiring as the aura felt on the first tee.

Once the magnitude and occasion has sunk in, however, many golfer's minds will turn to Ian Baker-Finch, the Champion Golfer who infamously hooked his first tee shot in 1990 out of bounds left. Although the target remains wide, concentration is required to hit the first tee shot straight.

"If you're not a golfer, however, and you still want to come down and enjoy these beautiful surroundings, you can, because on a Sunday the course is open to everyone except golfers," explains Stephen. "Not often known, but you can come down and have a stroll on the links."


One of the most fascinating features of the Old Course concerns its fairways and greens. The course is unique in that a number of holes on the front nine and the back nine share many of the same features as their neighbours.

There are seven double-greens on the Old Course, beginning with the second and the 16th holes, due to not only space restrictions, but logistical reasons in the early days too.

Stephen explains: “The original path that cut through the gorse bushes from which the Old Course evolved, was so narrow that golfers used to play to the same holes going out as they did coming back in.

“In the 19th Century, when golf had a boom, golfers would find themselves sometimes playing to the same hole, but from different directions.

“Thus the idea was born to place two cups on the same green, the ones going out identified by a white flag, and the ones coming back in identified by a red flag. That still exists to this day, except on the 18th green, which has a white flag so you can see it in front of the red Hamilton Grand building."

While the Old Course has 9 separate outward and inward holes today, the green complexes are still some of the biggest, and most unique, in the world.

Road Hole

One hole that does not possess a double-green or double-fairway is the 17th, a brilliantly difficult par 4. One of the toughest holes in golf, Road requires four perfectly executed shots to make a coveted par.

The tee shot alone is the source of much debate, with players required to hit a tee shot close to the left edge of The Old Course Hotel. Many pundits even suggest hitting over certain letters of the hotel sign, a prospect terrifying to the amateur slicer.

The hotel, however, has changed so much over the last 50 years, that it becomes quite a difficult job to find the right line to play your tee shot on the Road Hole.

“Trust the local knowledge and hit your ball over the peak of the railway shed," Stephen said, "and you should find yourself in a pretty good spot when you head onto the fairway.”

Alongside the Road Hole is the Jigger Inn, which has not changed in all the years that the hotel around it has.

“The Jigger Inn used to be the old station keeper's cottage back when there was a freight railway station here," Stephen said. "Now, it's a really good pub, popular with players and spectators.”

Louis Oosthuizen showcased just that in 2010, as he had the entire pub booked out to celebrate his success at The Open. Navigating the infamous Road Hole Bunker and the wall over the road alone is cause for celebration for the amateur player, and certainly deserves a pint at the famed public house.

Swilcan Bridge

No round at the Old Course is complete without a trip over the Swilcan Bridge.

"Undoubtedly one of the most famous bridges in the world of golf," said Stephen. "Built over 700 years ago, it was originally to help farmers get their livestock from one side of the burn to the other."

While sheep and cattle have crossed the bridge in times gone by, the Swilcan Bridge is known for the golfers who have tread its path. Every amateur golfer fortunate enough to play the Old Course gets the chance to follow in the footsteps of legends.

"This bridge has carried the footsteps of the most famous golfers past and present, and has witnessed some very emotional farewells," Stephen added.