Any talk of St Andrews should always include a photo of Old Tom Morris up front and (nearly) centre.
I think it had been 20 years since my last go at TOC. Less hair, more pounds and fair bit less than 20 years wiser, I was back. Since that summer day in 1991 I have almost religiously considered TOC among the best courses I played, in the main because of the back nine and the TRULY unique elements which make the course what it is. There can be no denying that TOC is at the same time great and puzzling. As Patric Dickinson decisively wrote more than 60 years ago, "St Andrews will employ every means to deceive, flatter, cajole, or dragoon you into loving it, and into admitting its mastery of you."
An old card of the course reveals that the course is very similar to the current daily set-up.
The long and short of this preamble is after 28 (woeful putting) points on The Castle Course and 33 on The New I was six back for a chance to win the prized Price-Evans Cup. I found myself in the middle of the pack and without much hope. I did, however, have one thing in my favour; two of the leaders were in my group. The last day.....
BURN (1): Named for the Swilcan Burn which famously snakes through the 1st and 18th fairways. The previous nightís drinking was fairly light after Friday and Saturday, but more than a few of us looked physically and mentally broken. Still, after watching a creaking swing or two it was my turn to give it a bash at the most intimidating easy shot in golf; straight down the pipe, perhaps a tad too far right for my comfort zone. I wasnít at all nervous and that extra rush probably explained why I hit my drive so far. I had about 90 yards to the flag Ė dead between wedge and sand wedge distance. Predictably, one squirreled wedge, one chip from the rear rough and a missed five footer found me marking down a 5 for 2 points.
DYKE (2): the stone boundary wall between the Old Course Hotel and the 17th fairway. I pulled my drive to the left of the fairway not far beyond Cheapeís. The hole was cut front right leaving me a poor angle. My wedge was pulled left and long into three-putt country. I proceeded to whack my putt some 10 feet past the hole and indeed wondered if I would remain on the green. I already failed to hole a fairly simple putt on the first, but my blade was up to the task; 4 for 3 points. Critically, Paulie missed his birdie putt and Kosmo Kev was out to lunch.
CARTGATE (out) (3): presumably a track of some sort was near this area. The drive is between two patches of gorse. There are several bunkers left and right which will endanger a poor strike, but the main hazard is the greenside Cartgate Bunker to the left. I hit a high plains drifter to the right off the tee, but luckily only found light rough AND a good angle of approach. A third consecutive wedge left me nowhere near the hole. Two straight forward putts later saw me earn a 4 for 2 points.
A bunker on Cartgate Out in 1852.
GINGER BEER (4): Daw Anderson used to park his refreshment cart here in the 19th century. From the tee this is a daunting shot with high mounds on the left and gorse down the right. While not immediately apparent, the safe play is left, but Sutherland and the sinewy Cottage Bunkers are lurking in that direction. Perhaps the most important element for the approach is a large mound which the hole will often be cut behind. A less than honest swipe off the tee left me about 180 yards to the flag. I hit a 6 iron directly over the hole and through the green. My return putt was far from a dawdle; uphill and swinging well to the left, I was a bit wanting. I did however make the four foot par putt for 3 points.
A look at the green with the 14th in the background.
HOLE O'CROSS (out) (5): Presumably the name refers to the large swale shy of the green. At stroke index 2 it is essential to take advantage and have a decent go at birdie. Playing with a quartering wind off the left (same basic wind for the opening six holes) this par 5 is very reachable in two. My memory served me well as this is the only double green which is kind of back to back rather than side by side. I knew there was plenty of room to play long and avoid trifling with the O'Cross. With every intention of hitting at the left Spectacle I instead hit a wounded duck out right and figured I was in one of The Seven Sisters (and none of them are ladies- yuck yuck). As luck would have it I was just past the women and with a decent lie in the rough. With about 195 left I didn't even contemplate hitting an iron; 7 wood directly over the flag and onto the 13th green. The putt coming back was quite long, but essentially flat. I left the first into a strengthening breeze well short, but holed the second for a birdie and 4 points. A closer look at the O'Cross.
HEATHERY OUT (6): Originally the green was made of heather and sea shells. There is a marker post to the left and and some sort of industrial tower in the distance which doubles as a guide for the blind tee shot. About ten bunkers are hidden left and right, but for many these will not be in play. The safe play is to the left away from a huge bank of gorse, but this invariably leads to a tougher second. I did not remember this hole at all and so didn't realize there was a large swale shy of the green. I missed another fairway left (who said these were the widest fairways on earth?), but only had a wedge in. A not very convincing approach (probably hung up in the swale) left me well short of the flag; another longish two putt was required and achieved. 4 for 2 points. The green.
HIGH OUT (7): Named for the position of the green overlooking the Eden Estuary. I didn't remember this hole very well which is surprising as it may be the best on the front nine. A well struck drive leaked a bit right - Kosmo Kevin thought it was in the gorse bushes protecting the right side of the fairway (most have which have been removed since). I was convinced it hadn't been far enough right, but after a few minutes of searching the ball was not to be found. I marched on sullenly when Kosmo shouted that there was a Precept just shy of the very large and gathering Shell Bunker. This is a great working bunker because it does double duty menacing the drive and approach. How I didn't drift the extra two feet into the bunker is a miracle. Only 60 yards short of the hole, my downhill lie was on the hard pan. A very delicate pitch over Shell and a secondary pot saw me just off the green right - 14 feet from the hole. I thought my putt went down, but I couldn't begrudge a 4 for 3 points after thinking an egg was on the card.
The view of the green from just left of the gorse.
My pitch shot.
The hole was about as far right and forward as it could possibly be.
We now come to an oddly famous area of the course named The Loop. #s 8 through 11 turn continuously right until coming back on itself, rather like Spaghetti Junction. This is the section of TOC which will often see incredible scoring during The Open. In fact, the handicap player will likely never have a better opportunity to score four consecutive 3s on a championship links. In truth, the holes as a set are mixed bag of quality, but the excitement of having so many birdie opportunities is welcome relief for anybody who knows how tough the final seven holes can be.
: 8 iron over the flag; missed the 10 footer for birdie. It wasn't Kosmo's day. It seemed every bunker he found resulted in pitching out sideways or to the rear.
END (9): A bland hole which only the most fervent TOC supporters could love. It was clear the time was ripe to regrip a few spanners after hitting a drive through the bunkers on the right while my club flew out of my hands left. I saw many pitches hit previous greens and come to a fairly quick stop so I decided to hit a running 6 iron for the remaining 60 yards to the flag. It worked a treat, but my putter didn't. 4 for 2 points.
36 out for 23 points. I figured I made up all the lost ground from the previous two days on Paulie and that Kosmo was just about done and dusted.
BOBBY JONES (10): The previous name for this hole was simply The Tenth. In 1972 the name of the hole was changed to honour Bobby Jones. Below is a photo of the dedication.
A few bunkers down the right protect the best angle of approach, but as on several previous holes, ground features are the real worry. Just shy of the green is a swale which leaves the golfer with the option of a pitch or a runner. I hit a good drive up the middle, mucked up the pitch a bit and went 45 feet past the hole. A great first putt saved my bacon. 4 for 2 points.
HIGH (in) (11): One of the signature holes of The Old Course, High (in) crosses the 7th and is nothing short of brilliant. Strath Bunker and the slope of the back to front green are all it takes to terrorize most any golfer. However, with prevailing wind off the left Hill too plays its role. A 6 iron left and long left a very dicey 35 footer downhiller moving to the right. I hit a great putt and walked away a happy man. 3 for 3 points.
By now I thought a very good score was a possibility and nicking the Cup was an even more likely outcome. BUT, a lot of tough holes more or less back into the wind had to be played.
HEATHERY (in) (12): Stroke and a few other blind bunkers essentially block the fairway up to about 210 yards. This may not seem a long way, but the wind has a way of taming cannon-like driving. I had a good memory of this hole and knew the approach is very difficult. I wanted to get as far up the fairway as I could, but wasn't sure I could make the carry. Taking a chance I aimed for the gorse down the left. The gamble paid off for I was in the rough - this would kill any spin generated and make it easier to fly and hold the raised middle section of the green. I hit a great wedge to 20 feet, but hit an indifferent putt. 4 for 3 points. My approach.
HOLE O'CROSS (in) (13): Coffins and Nick's Bunkers are dead middle of the fairway, although the left side of the short grass can't be seen from the tee. If one goes over the top of the bunkers Cat's Trap Bunker is waiting at about 270 yards out. Further right is an odd butte like dune hemming the fairway in. After watching Kosmo fail to make the carry, I decided to risk all and hit a beautiful drive next to Cat's Trap. A half 8 iron over Lion's Mouth to 25 feet long and left gave me a reasonable chance at birdie. The putt fooled me (again) as it went right when I thought the opposite was the case. 4 for 2 points. There was heartening news on the Paulie front as he had just three putted from an immense distance and took a five on the previous hole. This is what the approach looks like not more than ten yards right of my drive; quite troublesome.
A closer look at the 13th.
LONG (14): I wanted nothing to do with OOB so aimed just right of the Beardies and I ended up in the Elysian Fields. From here I didn't have a clue as to where I needed or wanted to hit my second. I recalled the church steeple was a safe line (and assumed this meant the furthest right steeple), but I didn't know the distance. It turned out I was lucky as I pushed my 2 hybrid directly over Hell. With only 40 or 50 yards to the flag I was more perplexed than ever. Knowing there was a certain bogey hole on 17, greed got hold of me. I wanted a birdie and risked bouncing one over the high humps protecting a right hand hole location. No go! My weak pitch left the well deserved result in no doubt. Trying to putt over the large step-up was never going to work. Heavy sigh; my greed was costly. 6 for 2 points. Maybe one just needs to head for the rear of the green in three and hope for a two putt. I didn't recall the break in the fairway for Hell.
CARTGATE (in) (15): Drive near Miss Granger's Bosom's; approach with a five iron 30 feet beyond the flag. A bit of a loose approach putt some 7 feet beyond the hole left me with a slippery downhiller to save par. The putt wasn't positive, but it did drop. 4 for 3 points. A look at the green - yet another with tremendous interest.
CORNER OF THE DYKE (16): I was never going for the "strictly for amateurs" route down the right. I hit one of my best drives all day; just left of Principal's Nose and Deacon Sime. Feeling pretty cocky walking up the fairway, my heart sank when I realized there was no fairway left of P's N. When did this happen? I guess its up to the caretakers of Woking to carry the torch; the folks at St Andrews are too worried about protecting par. A claggy lie was staring back at me so I decided to take an extra club to ensure carrying Grant's Bunker, Wig Bunker and the bank. I hoicked the 9 iron straight into the rear bunker. No worries, up and out to five feet....missed the bloody putt for par. 5 for 1 point.
ROAD (17): I can't say its a pretty hole, but looks aren't everything. The word is that one must hit over the one of the "o"s on the side of the shack, lord knows if I know which one. I tried to hit a power fade into prime position down the right and double crossed myself. Left with about 215 yards to the flag directly over Scholar's and Progressing Bunkers...with the road just beyond, the green wasn't an enticing prospect. I half heartedly went for it with a 2 hybrid from a sketchy lie and only managed to squirt my ball to the sloppy rough down the right 40 yards short of the green. The hole was short of the Road Bunker, so the running 8 iron had to be precise; it barely climbed the bank and just about stayed on the green and safely from the Road Bunker. I missed the 15 foot par putt, but felt fortunate to grab 2 points as I didn't hit a good shot in five.
In my quest to shoot par I took my eyes off the prize. Paulie's canny lay-up (I assume it was a lay-up because he hit an iron for his second) signaled to me that he thought the Cup was still up for grabs.
The festive atmosphere the previous evening before drinks was quite enjoyable.
TOM MORRIS (18): It is now that the golfer notices there are no bunkers littering the landscape of 1 and 18. The Swilcan Burn and Valley of Sin provide all the interest the golfer could need. Unless the hole is over The Valley of Sin, I think driving at the R&A where the fairway is flat makes most sense. I hit a corker dead on line some twenty yards past Granny Clark's Wynd. A straight forward wedge left a two inch birdie putt - 3 points to finish and the Price-Evans Cup!
OUT: 36 for 23 points
IN: 38 for 21 points
TOTAL 74 for 44 points