Making the Pilgrimage

The Old Course Hotel, the place to stay at the "Home of Golf"...

Martin Park
Mon, 28 Feb 2000
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They have been playing golf for over five hundred years on this placid cut off corner of the Kingdom of Fife and in that time, the ancient St Andrews links have borne the footsteps of every great golfer.

Golfs earliest stars played here, Allan Robertson, Willie Park Jr, Old Tom Morris and his son Tommy Junior.

The 25 Open Championships on the Old Course have produced the finest winners. Among them are Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Peter Thomson, Jack Nicklaus twice in 1970 and 1978, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and John Daly in 1995.

The 'Auld grey toon' lays claim to being the spiritual home of golf. And golf, like any religion, summons its disciples from all corners of the globe to make the pilgrimage 'home'.

There are countless ways of spending a weekend in the Ancient University town. Hotels, B&B, camping or even staying in the University dorms out of term. But if you are going to do it properly and have something to remember long after your visit, there is only one way to go about it.

Flanking the side of the most infamous Par-four in the world, the 17th hole of the Old Course, is The Old Course Hotel and Spa. Home for the star golfers of the world when the Open Championship comes to town and true five-star luxury in every respect.

As you arrive at the entrance and take your firsts steps inside on the marble flooring, it is reminiscent of visiting a florist as the smell of freshly cut flowers waft through the foyer and up your nose.

The first thing that springs to mind in any hotel is what the View From the room will be like.

For the golf addict, it is an incredible vista from room 212. You can see from the far side of the Eden estuary, across the humps, bumps and bunkers of the oldest stretch of linksland in the world. Across St Andrews bay, all the way up the Road hole to the double fairway of the first and 18th holes on to the R&A Clubhouse and town. What a view!

Not only the view, but also a room perfectly suited for a weekends golfing and pampering oneself in the lap of luxury..

To say this room had all mod cons would be akin to saying Faldo likes to tinker with his swing a little, a complete understatement!

Along with the surround sound home entertainment centre was a small kitchen, a bathroom with heated marble tiled flooring, a bed big enough to house most of Charing Cross’ homeless and a perfect carpet for putting practice as the rain lashed down outside on the links.

The Hotel was built in 1968 on the site of the St Andrews railway station, which used to run alongside the Old Course.

St Andreans are not readily acceptable to change just for the sake of it. When building started on the hotel, the owners removed the old station sheds, much to the horror of local golfers envisaging that the Road Hole would lose its characteristics and alter the strategy of the course.

After much protest, the town planners insisted that the sheds were replaced to the exact same specifications. And to this day, even world class golfers agonise at the prospect of carrying their ball over the ‘O’ in Hotel, written on the side of the sheds.

In fact, the strategy has never changed at this murderous par four. In every Open Championship and Dunhill Cup, it plays its part, sealing the destiny of many players down the years..

Even the amateurs have their share of disasters here and in 1992, one happy hacker contrived to hit his ball down one of the chimneys. The ball found its way down the chimney, bounced off the fire grate and landed on the boardroom table smashing its glass top, nearly causing cardiac arrest to the astonished businessmen at the meeting taking place!

And now the weather! There is an old saying in Scotland, if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes! And how true would that prove to be during this weekend.

St Andrews is fortunate in most respects when it comes to the Scottish weather, this corner of Fife has its own little microclimate which generally means that you can play golf all year round as the courses rarely close.

But my coveted tee time on the Old Course for Friday afternoon was not to be. It rained so heavily that the Valley of Sin in front of the 18th green became Scotland's biggest water hazard in the space of two hours and the ancient links resembled an American style layout with water hazards everywhere!

But if golf is off the schedule, fear not. There is so much more to do in both the hotel and the town if the weather is not user friendly.

The Spa, located on the ground floor of the hotel, offers residents an elegant escape from the pressures of daily life and at its focal point is a 15-metre pool underneath an atrium roof.

You can choose the perfect way to relax and rejuvenate with a sauna, solarium or whirlpool. Alternatively, have a massage or facial from the team of fully qualified therapists.

Although most of this pampering is designed for the ladies, there is a selection of treatments specifically suited to the men such as the golfers massage, perfect if you have just been through every meteorological anomaly that Scotland had to throw at you on the golf course.

Alternatively, if you feel slightly masochistic, there is a state of the art fitness and cardiovascular centre, excellent for a workout if you like that kind of thing!

The town itself has an over-abundance of quaint golfing shops, hidden in every alleyway and street selling everything from the latest in technology to the rare artefacts and historical books and documents for the more discerning collector.

Golf is, after all, what most visitors to St Andrews come for. With 117 holes of golf in the town, there is no need to go elsewhere for your weekend if you do not want to.

Although world famous for the Old Course, which is a journey through history from the first to the 18th, there are so many more good courses in and around the area.Heavy demand for tee times at the Old Course, coupled with the fact that it is a public course and the Hotel could not guarantee its residents tee times, the owners of the Hotel built their own course.

Opened in 1995 by HRH The Duke of York and designed by five times Open Champion Peter Thomson, The Dukes became the first parkland course in St Andrews and is officially the longest inland course in Scotland at 7271-yards.

Situated about two miles out from the town centre in 330-acres adjoining the beautiful Craigtoun Country Park, the views over the St Andrews skyline and the surrounding countryside are worth the visit in their own right.

The gentle start offers you the chance to settle in and get the swing going before the challenge of the fourth hole, Roundel.

Position your tee shot long and straight avoiding the bunkers to provide a look at the green set among a circle of pines.

The 467-yard Par-four seventh hole, Denbrae, is one of the most picturesque. Set at the lowest point of the course, beautiful flora and fauna complement the hole, an aspect that Thomson insisted upon when he created the course.

And in keeping with the traditional philosophy of Scottish golf played close to the ground, Thomson offers several ways to approach each hole, from both the ground and the airborne route.

In typical links style, putting is a never-ending challenge. The immaculate greens are testament to Thomson's five Open Championship wins and if you are to score well here, you had better pay attention to the undulations on the short grass.

The back nine starts with a treacherous par four dogleg of 429-yards. The temptation is to cut off as much of the dogleg as you can, but there is little point as there is a stream waiting to catch the greedy players shot.

Following the difficult tenth is the longest hole in Scotland. Feddinch, at 610-yards from the plates, it calls for big hitting and patience. Avoid the solitary bunker from the tee and you may have to bust a 3-wood just to lay up to a comfortable distance for a mid to long iron approach into the two-tiered green. Great hole, but an awful long walk if you make a mess of the tee shot!

'Braw view' is the name and describes the 397-yard 13th hole perfectly. At this, the highest point of the course, you can see the skyline of the ancient town below with its church spires, the famous 'salt cellar' atop the University dorms, the Old Course Hotel, and the St Andrews bay in the distance...

The ideal line is at the 'salt cellar' and only a perfect drive will allow you a view of the green below, two-tiered and 'fun' to putt on!

The closing holes are equally as demanding as its predecessors are and the 18th, IceHouse, is a demanding finishing hole.

For the superstitious and the closet historians among you, beware of the Ghost of Magus Muir, resident spectre of the Dukes.

On May 3rd 1697, Archbishop James Sharp was travelling the old road to St Andrews with his daughter when, at Magus Muir, on land now known as Craigtoun Country Park, five assassins lying in wait ambushed his carriage.

Sharp was widely known as the Judas who betrayed the Scots and their Laird and since he was passing, the men felt it their duty to kill him. The assassins killed Sharp in front of his daughter; they slashed his face, cut off his hands, shot him and for good measure, drove over his head with the carriage.

Legend has it that the phantom carriage thunders past the Dukes clubhouse before plunging into the St Andrews bay and his daughter's screams are occasionally heard from the fairways. It is a bad omen to witness either the apparition or the spooky screams. I should hope so too!

If you are planning to make the pilgrimage home, look no further than The Old course Hotel and do it in style.

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