All over the planet St Andrews is renowned as the spiritual home of golf. For many golfers playing on St Andrews Old Course is a bucket-list ambition. But there is much more to St Andrews than just the Old Course and far more to this historic city than golf.
On a beautiful coastline of fast-draining fairways, sand dunes, wispy white grasses, hobby falcons hovering above clumps of Scottish thistle and yellow bursts of gorse, the Old Course is just one of 11 courses running along the shores of St Andrews Bay.
As the land on which St Andrews Old Course is publicly owned, men – with a handicap of 24 or lower – and women with 36 or lower – have an opportunity of playing this historic course – but demand is colossal, and players have to take their chances in the ballot. If you are hoping to play the Old Course remember to pack your handicap certificate.
If you are unlucky in the ballot you can taste golf as the professionals play it at the two courses within the 520 acres of the Fairmont St Andrews. Recently 11 holes from the Kittocks course and 7 from the Sam Torrance course have combined to create one of the final qualifiers for the British Open. In 2019, 80 golfers completed for just 3 places at Port Rush and in 2020 a further 80 will compete for places at the British Open Royal St George’s at Sandwich.
The Kittocks and the Sam Torrance course with their babbling brooks, impenetrable rough, double greens, stone walls and steep braes (Scottish/ Sassanach translation: hills) channel the spirit of the Old Course. With golfers often hitting blind from the tees, St Andrews’ cohort of professional caddies earn their haggis, tatties and neeps by showing visitors around the courses, telling them how to read lines on the emerald velvet greens.
At St Andrews golfers are not just playing against their opponents, they are also taking on the elements. If a gale blows in, it may be worthy of mentions on Radio 4’s shipping forecast. Since the days when shepherds first crafted a wooden club this has been a tough, capricious coastline for golf. Swirling winds make golf as much as a mental challenge as a physical test. In this ultimate golfing landscape this is a place to take a wee nip from the hip-flask and summon up the spirit of Braveheart before teeing off into the jaws of the wind.
Maybe Rabbie Burns, Scotland’s national poet, was thinking of golf when he wrote those famous lines, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley”. (Scottish: Sassenach translation: The best laid plans of mice and men can often go astray.)
No matter how much those golfers, competing for a place at the open planned and trained, the hand of fate can pull their ball into oblivion in the rough or into one of the timber-revetted bunkers. These are deep, deep bunkers, sometimes with wooden steps leading down into the golfing abyss. Or will fate carry your ball out towards a bobbing boat catching seafood for your supper.
Increasingly, golf and spas are going hand-in-hand. The Fairmont St Andrews has a physiotherapist and masseurs to soothe away the tightness of golf and travel. Golfers travel from the USA, Japan and sometimes beyond for a taste of golf in its ancient home.
Though there is far more to St Andrews than just golf. Scotland’s oldest university, over six centuries old, with its Oxford and Cambridge style quads, had brought fame and fortune to this coastal town. After all it is as one cafe’s slogan tells visitors, “Where Wills and Kate met (for coffee).” With such unofficial royal endorsements, it’s no surprise that St Andrews is blessed with more than its fair share of chic cafes, trendy boutiques and excellent eateries. And, of course, returning to golf, the St Andrews Old Course shop …
The Fairmont St Andrews makes for a good base for playing its two courses and visiting the town too.