Tips and tricks on how to play the Old Course at St Andrews

3rd September 2018

Old Course - Swilcan Bridge.jpg

The Old Course at St Andrews is one of the most iconic in all of golf, earning it the nickname “The Home of Golf”  and for good reason too! St Andrews last held The Open in 2015. These tips and tricks can help get you through in one piece or at least without losing an entire bag full of balls.

 Avoid the rough!

At first glance, the Old Course at St Andrews might look pretty simple. It has nice and wide fairways, so your tee shots will avoid the rough, right? As long as you can master the tricky wind conditions, you should be able to find the fairway. The famous Swilken bridge has been graced by many of the finest golfers the world has ever seen in its estimated 500 year existence, so in no way should you take things easy while you're playing here. If distance isn’t your best asset from the tee, concentrate on a safety first approach. The course is relatively short by modern standards, so your main focus should be precision rather than power. Keeping your shots within the safety of the fairway will be vital to keeping your score low.

Understand the wind

The first thing to understand about the wind that swirls around St Andrews is that it is ever-changing. You might be lucky enough to be hitting downwind on your first tee shot, but that can all change in the space of a few minutes. However, that’s what makes this course both a challenge and a lot of fun. 

Those tour professionals who have picked up the coveted Claret Jug while playing at the home of golf have all had to battle the wind and were often lucky enough to have it blowing in their favour. Aim to keep your shots lower to the ground to reduce the effects the wind will have on the ball. American legend Tom Watson was a serial winner in the UK thanks to his understanding of how to play in windy conditions. He said his approach to playing in blustery conditions was to approach his shots more like long chips, swinging the club less and reducing spin. This helps to prevent the ball going too high and keeps it under better control by bumping it along the fairways, much like Tiger’s famous stinger shots.

 1st hole at the Old Course

1st tee

You’re teeing off at one of the most famous courses in the world, so a few nerves are to be expected. Try to relax and focus on keeping the ball low and central; you actually don't want to get too close to the green with your first shot. The Old Course will try to lull you into a false sense of security with its seemingly straightforward first hole. The fairway is wide but if you're downwind you’ll end up too close to the green from your first shot, leaving a tricky second shot before you're even warmed up. The Swilken Burn is waiting to steal your ball if you misjudge the shot, so give yourself room for maneuver and leave your ball in the widest part of the fairway. You’ll thank us for this later!

The 17th, “Road Hole”

The 17th on the Old Course is considered to be one of the most difficult holes in all of golf. On a course labelled the “Home of Golf” there are always going to be tests that push your golfing ability to the limit. The Road Hole is for sure the toughest test. You’ll start by standing over your tee shot, tasked with hitting your ball over The Old Course Hotel as it sits between you and the flag. Most people’s shots either end up in the bunker or rough to the left, or on the road to the right and they each pose two very different challenges.

Go left from your tee shot, and you’ll have the unnerving task of trying to carry the ball over a long stretch of unforgiving rough. Your best bet if you go too far left is to hit it back to the fairway, even though that means you’ll be aiming away from the pin. 

Go too far right over the hotel, and you’ll end up playing from the road, or worse, against a wall. The safest option is to play a chip and run shot from here, but be wary of the bounce because if you run too long, you’re going to end up in the rough next to the green.

The fairway is incredibly narrow, a stark change to the majority of the rest of the course. Your best chance to have a successful tee shot here is to focus on a very specific target and concentrate on nothing else but aiming for that spot. A bogey is a decent score on this incredibly tough hole.


Hell Bunker at the Old Course

Special mention - Hell Bunker

On the 14th hole is the devilishly difficult Hell Bunker. It lies around 100 yards from the green and causes golfers all kinds of problems. The 14th is a long par 5, and if the wind is at your face, it can be an intimidating tee shot. If you can carry the ball over the huge bunker with your second shot, then try it, but be aware that getting stuck in Hell Bunker could be the end of your good round. Jack Nicklaus took four shots to get out in the 1995 Open, taking a ten thanks to this incredibly intimidating and devastating bunker.

Bring your putting A-game

You can expect to have several putts on each hole. The greens are massive and full of twists and turns that take an expert eye to navigate. Several of the putts you'll face will be nearing 100 ft, so before you head to the Old Course, you’ll want to practise your lagging technique. You can't expect to drain many monster putts, so giving yourself an easy as possible second putt is key to shooting a respectable score around the course. Too short with your first putt? You’ll probably be taking a three putt, so learning to judge these lag putts is vital to keeping your score low.