THIS month sees the July 16-19 staging of the 144th edition of the Open Championship, and the 29th to be held on the famous Old Course at St Andrews. Our own Louis Oosthuizen won the last time The Open was at St Andrews, in 2010, with a 16-under-par return of 272. This was the second lowest total ever recorded on the Old Course in an Open, with Tiger Woods’s 269 in 2005 the lowest.
Oosthuizen won by seven shots in 2010 (with Lee Westwood second) and, clearly, will be hoping he can again mount a challenge this year alongside the other South Africans in the line-up which at the time of going to print consisted of 2012 Open champion Ernie Els, Branden Grace, Charl Schwartzel, George Coetzee, Thomas Aiken, Tim Clark, Retief Goosen and Jaco van Zyl.
Tackling the Old Course – founded in the 15th century and unconventional by modern standards – for the first time can be both daunting and confusing.
So here are a few words of advice (not to be taken too seriously!) in the form of “Definite Don’ts” for St Andrews newcomers in this month’s Open. Don’t fall in the Burn! This is no joke. It can happen. When surveying a putt on the first green, which is hard up against the Swilken Burn, be careful not to take one too many steps backwards because you might find yourself toppling into the water, as has happened before.
In a British Open in the 1920s an over-zealous marshal using a rope to control a line of spectators managed to sweep all of them into the burn.
Avoid the bunkers! There are evil 112 bunkers on the Old Course, like the aptly-named Grave, Coffins and Hell – the latter a huge, 600 square-metre 3m deep gaping cavern (at the par-5 14th) where many a potentially good round has come to grief. And these bunkers can be in the oddest of places, like bang in the middle of the fairway at the par-4 12th hole and completely hidden from view from the tee-box. The ideal drives on the Old Course are often well left rather than straight. So the key is to plot your way around carefully, as Tiger Woods did when winning the 2000 British Open. He didn’t go into a single bunker all week.
Know where the flag is! Some of the Old Course’s greens are extremely large, and simply finding the putting surface is no guarantee of a two-putt. The fifth and 13th holes share one of the biggest greens in the world, measuring 6500 square metres. It is big enough for a game of football. A greenkeeper cutting it with a pedestrian mower will walk 10km and take 90 minutes to complete the task.
Don’t get lost! The Old Course is right next to the New Course (not so new since it was founded in 1895), the Jubilee course and the Eden course.
If you’re unfamiliar with the territory you can easily lose your way as many
of the flattish holes, flanked by gorse and heather, have a similar look about them. A foursome of Americans once wandered onto the New Course and played a couple of holes before realising they were lost.
Stay on the straight and narrow! To the right of the 15th fairway are two evocative mounds known as Miss Granger’s bosoms. And fronting the green at the 18th is the depression known as the Valley of Sin. This is where male and female University of St Andrews students are said to get to know each other a little better once the sun has gone down. Keep away from these places; they can only get you into trouble.
Don’t get stuck at the 19th! If you’re thirsty after the golf it may be of comfort to know there are 35 pubs in St Andrews in a relatively small area – more per capita than any place in Britain. Ma Bells, just a three-iron away from the famous Royal & Ancient clubhouse, is where the St Andrews University students hang out. The atmosphere is terrific. If you’re a professional playing the Open you might be tempted to join in the fun, have one too many, wake up with a headache the next day and miss the cut. If you do have a drink, though, try the town’s own beer – the delicious Bellhaven St Andrews Ale.
Finally from golf to ghosts. If you’re on your way home at night after a few pints don’t blame the drink if you think you’re eyes are deceiving you because you’ve just seen a ghost. It could be the phantom coach of Archbishop Sharp that travels the road in silence, it could be the murdered Prior who, on a moonlit night, can be seen looking over the Tower of St Rule, and it could be the Monk trying to lure golfers into the forbidding tunnels and staircases under the ruins of the medieval cathedral.