A Brief History of The Links
Six Centuries of Golf
Golf has been played on the Links at St Andrews since around 1400 AD and the Old Course is renowned throughout the world as the Home of Golf. The game grew in popularity and by the 19th century it was part of the way of life for many local people, whether as players, caddies, ball makers or club makers. Golf still plays a major part in the culture and economy of St Andrews today. As the 600 year history of the Links has unfolded, one simple track hacked through the bushes and heather has developed into six public golf courses, attracting hundreds of thousands of golfing pilgrims from around the globe. St Andrews Links is the largest golfing complex in Europe and all five 18 hole courses can be booked in advance.
Hell Bunker, par-five 14th hole, Old Course. Excepting the Road Hole Bunker (17th hole), no bunker on the Old Course is more feared than Hell. During the 2000 Open Championship, Jack Nicklaus hit it into Hell and ended up with a 10 on the hole.
Golf was clearly becoming popular in the middle ages, as the game was banned in 1457 by King James II of Scotland who felt it was distracting young men from archery practice. This ban was repeated by succeeding monarchs until James IV threw in the towel and in 1502 became a golfer himself.
In 1764 the Old Course consisted of 22 holes, 11 out and 11 back, with golfers playing to the same hole going out and in, except for the 11th and 22nd holes. The golfers decided that the first four holes, and therefore also the last four holes, were too short and that they should be made into two holes instead of four. This reduced the number of holes in the round from 22 to 18, and that is how today's standard round of golf was created.
In 1797, due to 'temporary impecuniosity,' that is to say bankruptcy, St Andrews Town Council lost total control of the Links, allowing rabbit farming to challenge golf for pre-eminence. Twenty years of legal and physical war between golfers and the rabbit farmers concluded in 1821 when James Cheape of Strathtyrum, a local landowner and keen golfer, bought the land and, in his own estimation, 'saved the Links for golf.'
Golf started to become more popular at St Andrews in the middle 19th century and the course became more crowded. The result was that golfers playing out began to meet golfers playing in, at the same hole. Not surprisingly, this led to difficulties and disputes. To solve the problem, the decision was made to cut two holes on each green, with white flags for the outward holes and red flags for the inward holes. This was the origin of the famous double greens.
The Royal and Ancient Golf Club
In 1754, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club was founded under its original name of the Society of St Andrews Golfers. This club, originally composed of 22 noblemen, professors and landowners, now governs the rules of golf everywhere except the USA. The club also runs the Open Championship and important amateur championships. The New Course was built by the R&A in 1895.
The First Links Act
St Andrews Town Council re-acquired the Links in 1894 following the passing of the first Links Act by Parliament, thus safeguarding public access to the Links for locals and visitors alike. The Council built the Jubilee Course in 1897 and the Eden course in 1914.
St Andrews Links Trust
In 1974, with the demise of the Town Council following local government reform, St Andrews Links Trust was created by another Act of Parliament to continue running the Links as public golf courses open to anyone. With the opening of the Strathtyrum Course in 1993, there are currently five 18 hole courses and one 9 hole course, the Balgove. An extensive Golf Practice Centre was opened in 1993. In 1995, the first Clubhouse in St Andrews freely available to visitors was opened - the Links Clubhouse by the Old, New and Jubilee Courses. This was followed in 2000 by a second clubhouse, the Eden Clubhouse, for golfers on the Eden, Strathtyurm and Balgove Courses, creating the largest public golf complex in the world. With demand to play on the Links continuing to rise, a seventh course is in preparation by the Trust.
The old course
From 22 to 18
The Old Course originally consisted of twenty-two holes, eleven out and eleven back. On completing a hole, the player teed up his ball within two club lengths of the previous hole, using a handful of sand scooped out from the hole to form a tee. In 1764, the Society of St Andrews Golfers, which later became the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, decided that some holes were too short and combined them. This reduced the course to eighteen holes and created what became the standard round of golf throughout the world.
The track through the whin bushes on which the Old Course evolved was so narrow that golfers played to the same holes going out and coming in. As the game became increasingly popular in the nineteenth century, golfers in different matches would find themselves playing to the same hole, but from opposite directions. To relieve the congestion, two holes were cut on each green, those for the first nine were equipped with a white flag and those for the second nine with a red flag.
Direction of Play
When Old Tom Morris created a separate green for the first hole, it became possible to play the course in an anti-clockwise direction, rather than clockwise which had previously been the norm. For many years, the course was played clockwise an anti-clockwise on alternate weeks, but now the anti-clockwise, or right-hand circuit has become the accepted direction. Many of the course's 112 bunkers, however, are clearly designed to catch the wayward shots of golfers playing the course on the left-hand circuit.
A Championship Course
The Open Championship was first played on the Old Course at St Andrews in 1873. With the 27th staging of the world's premier golf event taking place again on the Old Course in 2005, St Andrews has held the event more often than anywhere else. In modern times, the Dunhill Cup and the subsequent Dunhill Links Championship have been played at St Andrews since 1985, while the Walker Cup, the Amateur Championship and a host of other professional and amateur competitions for men and women have been held over the fabled links at the Home of Golf.