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Flawed or fabulous - the Old Lady has unique charm

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Rob Hodgetts | 17:36 UK time, Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Some call it a piece of genius, some confess to a love affair and others claim that it was designed by mad men. Peter Alliss says you wouldn't get paid for building a course like it these days. A few hate it.

The Old Course at St Andrews is certainly an enigma. Tiger Woods insists it's his favourite course in the world, while Phil Mickelson said he'd hold the Open here every year if it were up to him. He quickly retracted this when he realised the press were sniffing a story, but the sentiment was already out there. On the other hand, Lee Westwood once claimed it was not among the 100 best courses in Fife.

St Andrews certainly has an aura as you drive over the hill on a sunny day and see the great links - the thin, hook-like shape of the Old Course nestled in there somewhere among the dunes along with five other courses - bounded by the Eden Estuary to the north and the Bay, with the West Sands of Chariots of Fire fame to the east. Guarding over the greensward is the unmistakeable skyline of spires, towers and roofs of the Auld Grey Toon.

"I get a good feeling in my bones when I come here," says Justin Rose. "That's half the battle."

Golf, in one form or another, has been played over these links since probably as early as the 12th century and officially from 1552. Originally there were 22 holes, but this was reduced to the recognised 18 in 1764. At first it was played in both directions, eventually leading to the double greens on 14 of the 18 holes.

course595.jpgWoods get to grips again with the unique St Andrews course

"It's just a fantastic golf course," says Woods, who is going for a third straight Open win on the Old Course this week. "What genius it took to lay it out that way."

"It's a spiritual place as well as a wonderful course," adds Mickelson. "You can't help but feel emotion come over you as you play, knowing that this is where the game began. [Jack] Nicklaus said that a career doesn't feel complete unless you've won here. I think all the players feel the same."

Most critics, and there are some, say the Old Lady relies solely on the wind to protect her modesty. Wind is key and can change the strategy from day to day, even in the space of a couple of hours, but there are 112 deep pot bunkers, vast, undulating double greens - Mickelson jokes of 150ft lag putts - and tricky pin positions to contend with.

"I think it's the angles [of shots] and the wind," says Woods. "People say hit
miles left, but if you hit miles left you have no angle. On a calm day you feel like you can shoot 65 every round. You get a windy day like Sunday, the leader might be 80. It's just amazing what the wind can do.

US Open champion Graeme McDowell practises at the 17th hole at St Andrews The revamped 17th is likely to claim a few victims during the Championship. Photo: AP

"You're going to have to hit some real long putts here, too, and you just have to get down in two. You can hit 18 greens and still shoot a high number.

"That's the brilliance of how this golf course was designed, that it's still able to withstand the test of time. Players have gotten longer, equipment has changed but this golf course is still very relevant and it can still be very difficult."

There's a famous quote that does the rounds from legendary golfer Bobby Jones, who also designed Augusta National, about how the more he studied the Old Course, the more he loved it, and the more he loved it, the more he studied it.

BBC commentator Ken Brown agrees that it takes time to get acquainted with the nuances.

"The first time you play here you'll find it hard to understand it. And you'll probably hate it," he says. "The first fairway is 130 yards wide and it looks simple.

"Standing on the second tee without someone who knows where they are going you wouldn't have a clue, a wondrous clue, and that's when the magical mystery tour starts."

As is the way with modern golf, the bigger hitter generally has an advantage, but St Andrews is not necessarily all about power.

"This golf course requires placement," says Woods. "Just because it's wide off the tee doesn't mean you can blow it all over the place."

Mickelson sounds more more gung-ho, but you know he's not really advocating just using brute force to subdue the Old Girl. "You can hit driver on just about every hole and there's plenty of room on a number of holes. I don't feel restrained on the tee at all.

"I feel like it gives you a much bigger option off the tee, and it's a great second-shot golf course.

"You have so many different shots you can take off the tee but also into the green. You can take a two iron and just chase it along the ground for 180 yards and the ball will feed and filter down on to the green if you avoid the right bunkers. Or you can try to fly a set of bunkers and run it up 60 yards or you can fly it the whole way on.

"I just love the course management and strategy that's involved playing this course.

"And the great thing about St Andrews is it doesn't limit you as a player on ways you can win. All players can win. But I do think there are distinct advantages to length out here."

Ernie Els is another disciple. "Some flag positions just change the hole so dramatically, it's crazy. Some of the short par fours where you can almost drive the green - if they put the flag in a certain position you can be 15, 20 yards away and you might not get the ball up and down for birdie. It's just an amazing golf course."

But as with all things at St Andrews, it's not quite as straightforward as just having some wind to test the players. Varying wind speed and direction throughout the day can sometimes make the draw a bit of a lottery.

"A steady 10-15mph from one direction is no good, they get used to it," says Alliss.
"Ideally you want a different wind direction every day, blowing from 7am to 8pm."

Alliss is all too aware that the Old Course is not perfect, but reckons that's part of her unique charm, along with the fact that as public land anyone, from dog walkers to romancing students, can wander over the hallowed turf.

"It's never had severe rough and relies on the wind, bunkers and greens," he says. "It's not a great viewing course and it's a slow course to get around with the double greens. It has its drawbacks but that's all part of it."

Westwood these days has also tweaked his opinion. "I didn't think it's that poor a course. My frustration lay in the fact I couldn't see how to shoot a low score. I could see the birdies but I would play so aggressively that I would run up bogeys as well."

Despite his reservations, Alliss certainly wouldn't advocate making any more changes.
"I'm not sure the 17th required it, but as long as no-one suggests putting a lake in the Valley of Sin. That would be the end of the world," he says.

"St Andrews should be more or less left alone."

General consensus this week is that the Old Course is in great shape - "pristine" according to Mickelson, while the greens are "the best they have ever been" (Els). Woods says they are playing slower than normal. "For now," he adds.

The players are braced for rain for the first two days of competition with winds building to as much as 35mph by Friday.

The Old Lady is likely to show her capricious nature and will certainly play hard to get. And that will make winning the 150th anniversary Open all the sweeter.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Hope the weather's gonna get tough. Otherwise the course is too easy.

  • Comment number 2.

    I cannot wait, four years at University in St Andrews only wets the appetite more. I hope the wind really blows for a couple of the days (preferably Friday and Saturday) and we get an absolute classic!

    17 will be interesting to watch, it was one heck of a tough hole before! Here's hoping the changes add and don't detract from a wonderful golf hole!

  • Comment number 3.

    Ahhh, just when I thought post WC depression was about to set in - The Open comes along and lifts the spirits!

    I thought the BBC's coverage of last years Open was 2nd to none! Some of those ultra slo-mo HD shots were breathtaking.

    Would love to see a European win it this year - or even British but Im not getting my hopes up!

    1st comment?

  • Comment number 4.

    Doh! 3rd - oh well still a podium place!

  • Comment number 5.

    Just a fabulous course which is a real test of skill and patience. If the weather decides to dish it up it should be a great tournament.

    Wouldn't like to pick the winner but Els could do it, he seems so relaxed this year.

  • Comment number 6.

    @ 5

    I dont follow Golf too much but I do like Ernie. Seems pretty un-flappable.

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 8.

    Here we go. Best week of the year..and at St Andrews. Magic. Would love to see young Rory do it or maybe old Tom..

  • Comment number 9.

    I just hope that Lineker bloke is not there attempting to act like he's bright and knows something the game of gold. Please ask him to stick to commenting on those kids booting a bag of air about.

  • Comment number 10.

    The prize money given to these golf events are obscene. The sponsors should be ashamed of themselves. They should play the Majors for the glory only if they mean that much.

  • Comment number 11.

    At present the rain is coming in horizontally thanks to the wind, making it very unpleasant out there. The Champions challenge will be rather wet!

  • Comment number 12.

    The weather will be what the weather will be, if it is sunny and calm (which it won't be) then we get a great example of attacking golf from the best players in the world, in the wind and rain, then it is more interesting from an armchair spectator to see the pro's struggle like we do every weekend in the East of Scotland conditions, but not great for the thousands of paying spectators. I am sitting in Edinburgh typing this and it is horrible outside - what a shame for practice day when we have a chance to see the players close up. May the best man win, and hopefully it'll be a Brit - each-way on Stephen Gallacher may be a shrewd fiver !

    Had the priveledge of playing the Old Course backwards last year, now that was really fascinating - 1st tee to 17th green and so on - how it used to be - magnificent course, beautiful town and the place to be this week for great golf, but an even better atmosphere in the pubs and restaurants.

  • Comment number 13.

    Anyone got an update on the weather for this afternoon.

  • Comment number 14.

    ZiggyBoy - It's currently blowing strongly, roughly from behind and slightly across going out. Dry, but very cloudy. Forecast for later is further patchy rain but also drier spells. Gusts decreasing in afternoon to 15-20 knots before increasing later. In a word - unpleasant.

  • Comment number 15.

    One might have hoped that "after four years at university in St Andrews" neilly_rob would have known the difference between "wet" and "whet".

  • Comment number 16.

    I'm going on Friday to what will be my first professional tournament. Really looking forward to it and pleased to see the wind will be up.

    Hoping the Welsh lads do well but if the wind stays strong I think McDowell might go close.

  • Comment number 17.

    The players might love it but its an awful course to watch on. Can't line the fairways all the way round like the better links courses on the rota. And for a championship course it haas the easiest tee shots in golf on the first and last holes. Roll on next years tournament !

  • Comment number 18.

    I studied at St Andrews and worked there during one summer around the golf course area, working at the museum there (BGM). Absolutely loved it. Happened to have seen Michael Douglas that year getting an honorary degree, and I saw Tiger Woods too - the guy's small. Montgomery by comparison is a giant! Also saw Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Cruise, and many others. It's wierd seeing such people in what to me at the time was a small, unassuming town (before finding out the significance it holds to the history of golf!). Good times.

    For a couple of years my dorm was at New Hall, not too far away from the courses! But I liked DRH better (the old one before it got knocked down).

    I look forward to watching the Open - not because of the golf, but because of my love for St Andrews. 2001-2006: thanks for the memories.

  • Comment number 19.

    Thanks Rob BBC Sport for the news on the weather. Might venture up to St Andrews this afternoon.

  • Comment number 20.

    neilly_rob, do you start this coming September? Trust me, it'd be the best four years of your life.

    I absolutely love St Andrews. Met my best friend there, and she has travelled all around the world, and she considered St Andrews one of the best. If you go past the Old Course in the direction of the West sands, there's a pretty good beach there too. Not like you'll spend too much time there because of the weather :p

    Enjoy the annual Raison Mondays at the Quad, it's the best time when you can let loose and act like a nutter when getting in the foam fights!

  • Comment number 21.

    OK BBC The most important Golf Competition in the world. Lets see if you can make a better fist of things than that total horlicks you made of the PGA at Wentworth this year. A few pointers:

    1) There will be circa 150 players in the field. Lets see how many you can show us. maybe then we will see the eventual champion hit a few shots before the last half hour on sunday. I don't want 6 hours of Tiger Woods.

    2) Twenty minutes of cosy chat from the presenters at the start of the broadcast is completely unnecessary. A simple "Hello my name is ... and welcome to the golf" is all that is required. This would also help to achieve item 1.

    3) At St Andrews the distances from green to tee are, in the main, mercifully short. I still don't want to see players making this walk. Show me some one hitting a ball instead.

    4) After round interviews. Try and keep this to a minimum. Golfers are after all sportsmen and from an evolutionary perspective not much further advanced than your average premier league footballer so rarely have anything usefull to say. Keep it brief, show us golf.

    5) As for your team the camera work has actually been pretty good for the past couple of years. Pass marks also for Aliss, Brown and Irvine. The rest would only need a Bonsai bushel under which to hide their light. And I don't think you have had a director who understands the game since the mid eighties.

    Now that I've got that off my chest I'll sit down and watch - hopefully for longer than the couple of hours I managed of the PGA.

  • Comment number 22.

    "3. At 08:48am on 14 Jul 2010, AScottishGooner wrote:
    Ahhh, just when I thought post WC depression was about to set in - The Open comes along and lifts the spirits!

    I thought the BBC's coverage of last years Open was 2nd to none! Some of those ultra slo-mo HD shots were breathtaking."

    Not sure where you saw it in HD last year but the BBC, in its wisdom, didn't see fit to show it in HD last year. I had many an-email argument with them about it.

    This year, however, should be good.

  • Comment number 23.

    I agree with the post no 21

    But one major flaw was left out

    When BBC sports coverage changes channels the viewers are treated to 10 minutes of catch up. Most of us have been watching for quite a while and we just want the live action

  • Comment number 24.

    "I just hope that Lineker bloke is not there attempting to act like he's bright and knows something the game of gold. Please ask him to stick to commenting on those kids booting a bag of air about."
    Presume you mean game of golf?
    A very snobby comment (maybe just the sort of comment made by an old school golf club member?) over somebody who has become a decent front man for sports events. Nice to have a non golfing experts perspective (although I believe he is a half decent golfer who presumably knows about the game and alot of the players?) as well as the professional opinion ably provided by Alliss, Brown etc.

  • Comment number 25.

    Looking forward to it ... The big debate seems to be about the 17th. During the BMW at Wentworth the 18th was also changed.. and seemed to provide added drama there on the final day... I only hope that the classic hole 17th is not ruined by the changes....

    Here's to a great championship

  • Comment number 26.

    "
    23. At 1:22pm on 14 Jul 2010, Doug wrote:
    I agree with the post no 21

    But one major flaw was left out

    When BBC sports coverage changes channels the viewers are treated to 10 minutes of catch up. Most of us have been watching for quite a while and we just want the live action"


    I agree with 21 too.

    Also, one of the BBC's worst aspects is changing channels between BBC1 and 2 and assuming that there are people who weren't watching it on the first channel, so giving us an unnecessary round-up. Why the need to change channels? Leave it on one channel!

  • Comment number 27.

    I agree with Admirals Leap about not wanting 6 hours of gushing coverage of Tiger Woods, lets focus more for the first few days on all our talent. Not sure I agree much with him about anything else though, sounds a typical golf club snob. Maybe he would prefer the Open on SKy Sports, all those snazzy camera angles, statistics, ex pros in suits and masses of adverts?? God forbid it ever happens!

  • Comment number 28.

    And another thing - Wayne Grady? Why? He is truly dreadful.

  • Comment number 29.

    "27. At 1:29pm on 14 Jul 2010, mjfjo wrote:
    I agree with Admirals Leap about not wanting 6 hours of gushing coverage of Tiger Woods, lets focus more for the first few days on all our talent. Not sure I agree much with him about anything else though, sounds a typical golf club snob. Maybe he would prefer the Open on SKy Sports, all those snazzy camera angles, statistics, ex pros in suits and masses of adverts?? God forbid it ever happens!"

    That's a strange interpretation of what I thought was very clear post - show us more golf shots and of more players. Simples.

  • Comment number 30.

    "27. At 1:29pm on 14 Jul 2010, mjfjo wrote:
    I agree with Admirals Leap about not wanting 6 hours of gushing coverage of Tiger Woods, lets focus more for the first few days on all our talent. Not sure I agree much with him about anything else though, sounds a typical golf club snob. Maybe he would prefer the Open on SKy Sports, all those snazzy camera angles, statistics, ex pros in suits and masses of adverts?? God forbid it ever happens!"

    That's a strange interpretation of what I thought was very clear post - show us more golf shots and of more players. Simples."

    I love the Open, like the way the BBC approach it in an almost "old fashioned" way at times, but look at it as very much a four day event and want to know about the personalities, Ken Brown and his course insights, even what some of the players have to say (but please steer away from people like Tiger Woods if they cannot be bothered to enter into a conversation, rather than a terse recycling of cliches). And so in four days I think I am going to see plenty of golf shots, and alright I might have to swop channels a couple of times but anything rather than having to suffer my favourite sporting week of the year on commercial TV.
    Immerse yourself in the whole thing, a succession of golf shots with nothing else would (I think) be quite tedious. I also believe you will be able to watch on the Red Button which presumably will give you hours of watching some of the lesser lights?

  • Comment number 31.

    "Immerse yourself in the whole thing, a succession of golf shots with nothing else would (I think) be quite tedious. I also believe you will be able to watch on the Red Button which presumably will give you hours of watching some of the lesser lights?"

    Unfortunately I shall be at work on Thursday/Friday so won't be able to see too much of the "immersion" which tends to happen more on those days. The Red button isn't in HD so it's a poorer viewing experience. I don't want a succession of golf shots with nothing else but the balance has to be right. Lengthy interviews with players don't, I feel, get the balance right. I like the Ken Brown course insights, and Peter Alliss is a legend but all too often the coverage is ruined for me by other "features".

  • Comment number 32.

    "Immerse yourself in the whole thing, a succession of golf shots with nothing else would (I think) be quite tedious. I also believe you will be able to watch on the Red Button which presumably will give you hours of watching some of the lesser lights?"

    Unfortunately I shall be at work on Thursday/Friday so won't be able to see too much of the "immersion" which tends to happen more on those days. The Red button isn't in HD so it's a poorer viewing experience. I don't want a succession of golf shots with nothing else but the balance has to be right. Lengthy interviews with players don't, I feel, get the balance right. I like the Ken Brown course insights, and Peter Alliss is a legend but all too often the coverage is ruined for me by other "features".
    Impossible I am sure to please all, but from what I have seen this morning HD will not make a huge difference if the weather is like this later in the week! I too like Peter Alliss as much for his lack of (misplaced) reverence for some new "star" with a large ego, but also I like other stuff. But then I once spent most a one day at the Open watching Olazabal when he was a teenager, along with about a dozen other people, rather than herd round watching the top names in action! As I say I think they have an impossible task which generally I can accept, but if we get "Colonel Blimp" on here questioning somebodies right to be on or input to the programme just because they might once have played a different sport I find that hard to let pass?!

  • Comment number 33.

    Hi Rob at the BBC. Leaving for St Andrews in 15 minutes can you chase the monsoon please. It's absolutely bucketing here (10 miles away) how's St Andrews now?

  • Comment number 34.

    At comment 9 (I just hope that Lineker bloke is not there attempting to act like he's bright and knows something the game of gold). Linekar was playing off 4 last time I checked, which I think speaks for itself.

  • Comment number 35.

    I'm looking forward to the best show ever, and thank you BBC for signing a 6 year contract in HD.........Brill. Next, I would like a Camera at address, so we can see where the ball is in the stance and distance and club, would benefit us keen club players. Good luke Tom.

  • Comment number 36.

    I'm no expert on the Old Course having only played it once on a calm day, but the history of the place overrides it's so called defects. For some they are defects, for others they are charm.

    What I love about STA is that it is so different from any other modern day course and really makes the pro's think and formulate strategies. If the weather is unkind it remains a good test of golf and let's face, how often is the weather good at STA.

    It's a treat that comes around every 5 years, I'd have it over 10 world cups of football any day and I really miss the Dunhill Cup. It was better than the current golf world cup by far.

  • Comment number 37.

    I got to St. Andrews University and I'm surprised to read one 'whets' their appetite, I didn't know it wasn't 'wet'
    But I do a Science degree and so probably does neilly_rob so I don't see how being at university is relevant...

    If anyone didn't see Ballesteros' interview tonight on the bbc preview programme, they really should. An emotional and brilliant bit of tv imo

  • Comment number 38.

    Aihara, I agree that having been to university is not relevant to contributing to a golf thread, which is why I was poking gentle fun at neilly-rob. I disagree, however, with your implication that it is OK for scientists to be sub-literate.
    To whet is to sharpen, as in whetstone; to whet ones appetite is to sharpen it, which is the point of the metaphor, while to wet ones appetite means nothing. Surely it is at least as important for scientists to be able to communicate clearly as it is for everyone else.

  • Comment number 39.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 40.

    What has happened to the 1 iron?

  • Comment number 41.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

 

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