Thursday, May 25, 2006

A Philosophical Look at St. Andrew’s

St. Andrew's, the home of great architecture

St. Andrew’s does not conform to any set of rules. In fact it seems to contradict al the modern “rules” of design, like no blind shots, no crossovers, no featureless holes, only two par threes and par fives, a short easy finish, bunkers in the middle of the ideal line, penal hazards, houses in play etc.

Yet when you break down the course the strategies exceed almost any modern design by a great margin. Some lessons are subtle, like the value of ground contours and the idea of discovering ways to play the course. Others are clearer like the amazing mixture of lengths, the variety in size and difficulty of the hazards, the optional routes depending on pin, and the value of green contours.

I still get amazed when many of the leading architects and players dismiss the course as overrated. They talk weak holes such as 9 and 10, the blind tee shots, the poor definition, the ability “to hit it anywhere”. The funny part is often these comments are made on the first visit when the player or architect has not taken the time to really get to know the Old Course. The architects also try to justify their view when they talk about the criticism they would receive if they built holes like St. Andrew’s. I still think, in many cases, they are really trying to justify to themselves why there work is not held in higher regard when placed in comparison to this “cow pasture”.

So let’s look at what works well and see what we can draw from St. Andrew’s

1. Anyone can play this course, the wide fairways and large greens make this a course for all. This is a course that works as well for the dub as it does for the elite player. Sure they can go low without wind, but so what, how many days there don’t have wind. The weaker player can play safe towards the middle all day and likely not lose a ball. This makes the game fun for all.

2. The native ground contours dictate much of the strategy and influence almost all of the play. The golf course was found more than it was built. The uneven lies and wicked rolls and humps on the fairways and around the greens require creativity and imagination to solve St. Andrew’s. To play well means a mastery of the contours of the land and those wonderful rolls in the green. The green contours at St. Andrew’s defend the course from the great player; they require careful approaches to find the pin positions and a deft touch with the putter to score. The average player, in turn, enjoys the large greens and short grass beyond to get around in comfort.

Bobby Jones did not like the course at first, but it became his favourite in time.

3. The course does not rely on deep rough as its primary defense. The modern courses seems to be a series of targets surrounded by deep rough that is placed there as punishment for missing a single shot. It provides one look and one recovery option and removes much of the creativity. At St. Andrew’s the absence of rough provides an infinite amount of recovery options around the greens. It also allows the player to gamble and get themselves into much deeper or to make a miraculous shot to save a shot. Once again this adds more fun to the game.

4. The greens can be approached in any manner, whether up high or along the ground very few course give the player this many options when considering the type of approach and the conditions in which you are asked to hit the shot.

5. The golf course allows for the wind to be part of the game. The width of the fairways keeps the course playable in high winds and the style of the course allows for different shots depending on wind direction and severity.

6. The golf course requires far more imagination than it does courage. You are encouraged to try shots, invent approaches and think your way around. The route is there for you to choose and the challenge you want to take on is up to you. The modern course and designer would rather tell you what to do. So how is that fun in comparison to a round at the Old Course?

The Old Course is what golf is all about……fun


Patrick said...


Presumably there are plenty of architects who agree with your thoughts, and plenty of golfers (including those with bank accounts deep enough to finance new courses) who would enjoy playing such a course.

So when are we going to see the first Old Course inspired project in the New World?!


Ian Andrew said...


Rustic Canyon is a good example, and there have been others that draw from the idea. Some borrows are better than others.

Remeber Augusta at one time was borrowing the spirit of St. Andrew's before Clifford Roberts and Hootie Johnson hijacked the architecture.