History of the Old Course

The game of golf is played by 2 billion people across the world with global TV coverage making the most famous tournaments accessible to billions more.

Six Centuries of Golf

Golf has been played on the Links at St Andrews since around 1400 AD and the Old Course is renowned throughout the world as the Home of Golf. The game grew in popularity and by the 19th century it was part of the way of life for many local people, whether as players, caddies, ball makers or club makers. Golf still plays a major part in the culture and economy of St Andrews today. As the 600 year history of the Links has unfolded, one simple track hacked through the gorse and heather has developed into seven public golf courses, attracting hundreds of thousands of golfing pilgrims from around the globe. St Andrews Links is the largest golfing complex in Europe and all six 18 hole courses can be booked in advance.

Golf Banned

Golf was clearly becoming too popular in the middle ages as the game was banned in 1457 by King James II of Scotland, who felt it was distracting young men from archery practice. This ban was repeated by succeeding monarchs until James IV threw in the towel and in 1502 became a golfer himself.

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club

In 1754, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club was founded under its original name of the Society of St Andrews Golfers. This club, which originally composed of 22 noblemen, professors and landowners, now governs the rules of golf everywhere except the USA. The club also runs the Open Championship and important amateur championships. The New Course was built by the R&A in 1895.

From 22 to 18 Holes

The Old Course originally consisted of twenty-two holes, eleven out and eleven back. On completing a hole, the player teed up his ball within two club lengths of the previous hole, using a handful of sand scooped out from the hole to form a tee. In 1764, the Society of St Andrews Golfers, which later became the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, decided that some holes were too short and combined them. This reduced the course to eighteen holes and created what became the standard round of golf throughout the world.

Direction of Play

When Old Tom Morris created a separate green for the first hole, it became possible to play the course in an anti-clockwise direction, rather than clockwise which had previously been the norm. For many years, the course was played clockwise and anti-clockwise on alternate weeks, but now the anti-clockwise, or right-hand circuit has become the accepted direction. Many of the course's 112 bunkers, however, are clearly designed to catch the wayward shots of golfers playing the course on the left-hand circuit.

Double Greens

The track through the whin bushes on which the Old Course evolved was so narrow that golfers played to the same holes going out and coming in. As the game became increasingly popular in the nineteenth century, golfers in different matches would find themselves playing to the same hole, but from opposite directions. To relieve the congestion, two holes were cut on each green; those for the first nine were equipped with a white flag and those for the second nine with a red flag. This continues to this day, except on the 18th where a white flag is in use.

Rabbit Wars

In 1797, due to 'temporary impecuniosity,' that is to say bankruptcy, St Andrews Town Council lost total control of the Links, allowing rabbit farming to challenge golf for pre-eminence. Twenty years of legal and physical war between golfers and the rabbit farmers concluded in 1821 when James Cheape of Strathtyrum, a local landowner and keen golfer, bought the land and, in his own estimation, 'saved the Links for golf.'

A Championship Course

The Open Championship was first played on the Old Course at St Andrews in 1873. With the 29th staging of the world's premier golf event taking place again on the Old Course in 2015, St Andrews has held the event more often than anywhere else. In modern times, the Dunhill Cup and the subsequent Dunhill Links Championship have been played at St Andrews since 1985, while the Walker Cup, the Amateur Championship and a host of other professional and amateur competitions for men and women have been held over the fabled links at the Home of Golf.

The First Links Act

St Andrews Town Council re-acquired the Links in 1894 following the passing of the first Links Act by Parliament, thus safeguarding public access to the Links for locals and visitors alike. The Council built the Jubilee Course in 1897 and the Eden course in 1914.

St Andrews Links Trust

In 1974, with the demise of the Town Council following local government reform, St Andrews Links Trust was created by another Act of Parliament to continue running the Links as public golf courses open to anyone. With the opening of the Strathtyrum Course in 1993, the total number of 18-hole courses was brought to five along with one 9 hole course, the Balgove. An extensive Golf Practice Centre was opened in 1993. In 1995, the first Clubhouse in St Andrews freely available to visitors was opened - the Links Clubhouse by the Old, New and Jubilee Courses. This was followed in 2000 by a second clubhouse, the Eden Clubhouse, for golfers on the Eden, Strathtyrum and Balgove Courses, creating the largest public golf complex in the world. With demand to play on the Links continuing to rise, the seventh course The Castle Course opened in 2008.