I Played The Old Course At St. Andrews For The First Time And This Is What It Was Like
On April 4th I walked the grounds of Augusta National for the first time. It was a surreal, bucket list experience for me, and immediately afterwards I blogged what it was like. I creatively headlined it, “I Spent My First Day At Augusta National Today And This Is What It Was Like.”
About a week later, my disciple Octagon Bob went to some bucket list Star Wars thing and wrote, “I Spent My First Day At Star Wars Celebration Today And This Is What It Was Like.”
The premise for writing these is simple: the nature of our job affords us the opportunity to occasionally do some cool ass shit, and we want to relay — as best we can — what it’s like for normal dudes to experience incredible things.
On August 1st I booked flights to Edinburgh and a bed and breakfast about a 9-iron away from the first tee at St. Andrews’ Old Course. I had no plans for Labor Day Weekend and have no one to answer to, so I figured — sup Bob — why not?
On Saturday, September 2nd, I played the Old Course for the first time, and this is what it was like.
There are 3 different ways to get on the Old Course: 1) You can book a tee time a year in advance; 2) You can enter the ballot (essentially a lottery) 48 hours beforehand, which leaves you about a 20-30% chance; 3) You can wake up as early as you’re willing to and enter the “queue,” which is the singles line for open spots throughout the tee sheet. I obviously didn’t have a tee time, and didn’t get a time on the ballot, so myself and a Stoolie who was out there got in line around 4:15 AM. We were numbers 9 and 10 in line; the top 16 are guaranteed spots.
The queue is a pretty fun scene. Everybody’s giddy, chatting, huddling up to stay warm as the sun rises over the North Sea.
The starter shows up at 6:30, and you file into the little tee hut to get your time. Had an early morning tee time elsewhere, so were able to get a 2:50 PM at the Old Course. It was perfect. Played elsewhere in the morning, came back to St. Andrews, took a quick nap, grabbed my bag, walked to the first tee.
The first tee is a scene, as a golfer, that you’ve seen and thought about literally hundreds of times. Nerves run high.
That landscape where 1 tee and 18 green meet the town is an absolute SCENE. Crowds of people pass through, buses driving by, golfers hitting shots everywhere, and clueless folk CONSTANTLY waltzing across the middle of perhaps the most iconic fairway in all of golf (the co-fairway of 1 and 18).
It’s definitely not a driver on 1 until you realize how nervous you are, don’t want to top something, and decide to tee it as high as possible and swing the biggest clubface you’ve got. Here was my chaotically beautiful first tee experience — no one has ever yelled louder ever never than this lady yelled fore.
Tried for the tee grab but my brain was so disoriented from that deafening fore call that I panicked, abandoned the tee.
I (clearly) pushed it a bit right, but got lucky and ended up about 5 feet short of the burn. A wedge from there, a pathetic lag from 15-feet, a tap-in par, and we were off.
Probably the most common reaction to the front nine at the Old Course is that of disappointment. Disappointment might be a bit strong, but at least underwhelming. Many go in with expectations of something spectacular, and the front nine just isn’t. My college buddy, who’s played damn near every iconic course you can imagine — from Pebble to Augusta to Shinnecock to the Old Course — described it to me in a text before I got there: “I honestly think St. Andrews is coolest course in golf but at the same time is a complete dog track.”
It’s a perfect description. The first 10 holes or so, in their current condition, if they were somewhere mundane like Kansas, could serve as the most standard, forgettable muni you’ve ever played. I knew all of this going in; truthfully, I couldn’t have possibly enjoyed it more. It’s hitting golf shots on and through a museum. The contours along the 2nd fairway and 2nd green show how unique the place really is.
The weather was perfect. About 60 degrees, sunny, minimal wind (you can hear some wind in the video; according to the locals, this didn’t quality as “wind”; it qualified as a “breeze”).
The wind situation would change on the back nine.
For the front, I hit the ball pretty well save for a couple overly aggressive drives. You can literally hit the ball 150 yards left and be fine on nearly every hole; I hit a couple a few feet too far right and had to take two unplayables from the gorse bushes.
I carded a 40 and felt pretty good about it.
The back nine begins with a drivable par 4. I drove it into a swale just short and right of the green, skulled a chip over the green, and three-jacked from there for bogey. Then we came to 11.
The 11th is one of the most iconic and copied par 3s on earth. At this point, the wind had picked up substantially and the 11th was playing straight downwind. From 155, I hit a pitching wedge to about 6 feet and brushed it in for a deuce. To that point it was the highlight of my golfing career.
From the 12th in, the course played straight into the wind. There is nothing cooler in the world of golf than battling the wind down the back nine of the Old Course as the sun sets. It gives me chills just typing about it — the pinnacle of experiences for any golfer.
Unlike most the golf we play in the states, at the Old Course you can see everything that’s upcoming as you finish. The town is staring you in the face. The famous hotel you’re about to hit over is staring you in the face. The anticipation builds visually as the buildings get bigger, the holes become clearer, and you know you’re about to hit a couple of the most iconic, memorable shots you’ll ever hit. Not only do you know they’re coming, you can see them coming. It’s awesome.
Here’s the view as you turn towards the homestretch.
On the 15th, I yanked my drive into the left rough and had about 180 into the wind. I went with a 4-iron, puled a flier, and had what I guestimate to have been 150 feet for birdie. Actually stuck it to the wrong flag on a double green.
(notice how close the town looks at this point)
I would three putt. Here’s the view from the 16th tee.
I hit a solid drive into the left rough then a 9-iron to about 20 feet on 16. Again, three terrible putts from there and I was 8-over with two to play and 2DN to Stoolie Matty, who I was playing a good match with.
The 17th is a hole we all know well: the awkward tee shot over the hotel, the angled fairway, the road hole bunker with the actual road bordering the green. I found there to be a certain calming effect from the tee shot; you can’t see what the hell’s up there, so it’s almost comforting in a way. They tell you to aim over the word “course” so you hit it over the word course. What’s so hard about that?
I played 17 well, hitting one into the left rough — the go-to bailout — then ripping a 4-iron onto the front of the green.
Two putts from there and I was 1DN, needing birdie on 18 to break 80. The tees we played are actually deeper than the championship tees, and slightly more to the left. It’s obviously a pretty wide-open tee shot, but, considering the nerves and what it means to you at the time, I was pretty jacked up to hit the big dog as good as I can hit one on such an iconic hole.
Obligatory Swilken pic.
As I was doing the unforgettable walk up the 18th, I was pretty fucking stunned to hear from some dude walking up the street to the right, “Yo Riggs! What are Saturdays for?”
There are Stoolies EVERYWHERE.
From about 90 yards out, into the wind, I hit a holdy little wedge to 10 feet or so.
Matty hit his approach into the Valley of Sin (which I was a little jealous of) but locked up a solid par from there. I needed to bury my putt to halve the match and break 80.
…and the Stoolie from the fairway filmed the whole damn thing! Pretty surreal to have that moment on film forever. Might not mean much to basically any other person in the world, but means everything to me. I was nearly in tears afterward. Couldn’t believe they didn’t bring out the Claret Jug.
Shoutout to Lion (pronounced like Leon, but spelled like the king of the jungle) for being there.
Stoolies really are EVERYWHERE. That fact never ceases to amaze me.
The Old Course is far and away the most fun course I’ve ever played. You can blast it around off the tee, then bump and roll your rock around these crazy ass slopes around the greens. It’s very fun to play, and that’s before you factor in the historic ground you’re playing on or the views of St. Andrews playing in.
You also get those views if you turn around at any point on the front.
The unforgettable feeling of playing 1, 17, and 18 confirm any doubts you may have had about the Old Course’s standing as the most iconic golf course in the world. There’s nothing like playing it. It’s fucking awesome.
Home of golf indeed. I’ll be back.
PS — We did a detailed telling of my entire 4 days, 4 nights, 6 rounds in Scotland on Fore Play last week. I think Scotland is a must-do trip for any avid golfer. If you’ve read this far, you’ll love the final 75 minutes of this show.