A Perfect Visit to the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland

by Brad Beutler

Brad poses in front of one of many pot bunkers in the Road Hole
Brad poses in front of one of many pot bunkers in the Road Hole

The “perfect” day began in the small port city of South Queensferry, Scotland (named for Queen Margaret), on board Crown Princess.  

The cruise ship dropped anchor near the Forth Rail Bridge completed in 1890. We tendered under the massive bridge to this quaint gateway to Edinburgh featured in the Robert Louis Stevenson classic, “Kidnapped.”  We explored High Street including the famous Tolbooth tower built 1720.  We found the shops and pubs to be delightfully Scottish.

From here, most people head to Edinburgh — however it was not our destination of choice on this day because earlier on our Europe cruise we had been fortunate enough to travel from Greenock, Scotland to see the famous Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle.

Instead, we came to South Queensferry to visit the cradle of golf, the Old Course at St. Andrews and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club.  The British Open had been played on the Old Course just a few weeks before we arrived.  The weather for “The Open Championship” had been typically cold, windy and rainy for the tournament.  The players as well as the spectators were dressed for winter!

The weather for our day at St. Andrews would turn out to be amazingly different.  Our journey to St. Andrews by motor coach began by crossing the Forth Road Bridge completed in 1964 and massive sister to the Forth Rail Bridge.  The Scottish countryside was dotted with farmlands.  Along the way we were treated with a glimpse of the solitary Loch Leven Castle where Mary, Queen of Scots, was imprisoned.

Our first stop in the city of St. Andrews was the cemetery to see the grave site of Old Tom Morris who was a pioneer of professional golf. He won the British Open Championship four times between 1861 and 1867.

We arrived at the Old Course under blue skies and temperatures in the 70′s with NO wind.  The golf course turned out to be nothing like I had imagined from watching television broadcasts of the British Open.  The fairways were mowed short and deep green in color.  The famous pot bunkers were trimmed to perfection, and the greens were smooth and fast.  The famous rough was knee-deep.  It was all there in front of me including the famous double greens with two flag sticks used for two different holes.

The bleachers for the tournament still lined the famous Road Hole, #17.  This Road Hole is one of the most famous golf holes in the world and ranks up there with the 12th and 16th at Augusta National and the 18th at Pebble Beach as my favorites.  The Road Hole requires the professional to hit the tee-shot over the Old Course Hotel. (We had a good laugh at the many ball marks that dotted the building.)

Even the best of tee shots on the 17th is rewarded with one of the most difficult second shots in the world to a narrow green protected by a large pot bunker.  Avid British Open watchers will remember Miguel Angel Jimenez hitting his second shot over the green and the “Road”.  His third shot was one of the most remarkable shots in British Open history.  This unbelievable backward shot was played in the opposite direction from the green.  It ricocheted off the rock wall, flew over the cart path and came to rest on the green some 15 feet from the hole!

For me, the highlight of the day (and this remarkable British Isles Cruise) was standing on the 18th hole Swilken Bridge where so many of the greats of golf have stood.

As a former club professional, golfer for more than 50 years and historian of the game, this visit to the Old Course at St. Andrews and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club was the trip of a lifetime!