Fancy experiencing a bit of golf at St Andrews? Can't play to save your life? Fear not, my friends - the answer is at hand in the Himalayas putting green. It's hugely entertaining, with 18 holes of devillish fun, and costs only a few measly pounds.
There's no need to book. You simply turn up at the little hut, wait in the queue - if there is one - and get given your putters. You're then let loose on the course, which ranges from the straightforward to the downright evil, but involves no real golfing ability and generally inspires a great deal of giggling, swearing (softly, please) and intense competition.
I"d recommend the Himalayas to anyone, young or old, and would urge you not to let the weather bully you. I completed it with friends in the driving rain, and while the boys ran for cover the girls stayed out, got drenched and cold - then headed to the nearest pub for a warming pint, or hot chocolate.
This is definitely the more light-hearted side of golf, and well worth a visit. [more]
Playing the Old Course
The course itself is beautiful; the fairways are lined with thick, yellow-flowering gorse, patches of heather will line your way, and they occasional hare will bound across the fairway ahead of you. The Old Course is deceptively easy your first round. A good golfer can post a pretty good score their first time playing; but to post a great score, you have to learn the course. It's not as long as newer courses, nor as devious. The rolling fairways, thick gorse and deep bunkers are straightforward: stay on the fairway and you'll be ok; if your ball goes into the gorse, say goodbye and drop another ball; if you land in a bunker, you may have some serious trouble. It was probably the bunkers that caught my eye more than any other feature. These bunkers range from 5 feet across to almost a hundred, and they all share one characteristic: a tall front face. The bunker shared by the 7th and 11th holes is impressive. About 60 or 70 feet wide, the front face is at least 6 feet high and the green above it slopes upwards. The names of the bunkers are also great, with the most famous probably being 'Hell' bunker on the 14th, "The Principal's Nose' on the 16th (so named because if you go in there, you'll definitely get a bogey), and the 'Road Hole' of the 17th.
If teeing off from the first hole is an electric feeling, then teeing off on the 18th is just as emotional. Ahead of you is one of the most iconic images in all of golf, the Swilken Bridge crossing the burn (creek) where all the greats have stood to get their photos taken. In the distance is the Royal and Ancient Golf Club once again and the impressive red sandstone of Hamilton Hall. As you walk up to the green for your final putt (or putts, if you play golf like me), there's simply no way to describe the feelings running through you. Many a golfer has shed a tear upon completing this course, with a silent promise to return. [more]
Teeing off on the Old Course
Assuming you have successfully gotten a tee time and you find yourself standing on the first tee box, make sure to pause for a moment and let the history sink in. Behind you is the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, and if it's summer, you'll probably be surrounded by other golfers waiting to tee off and innumerable tourists with cameras. With this crowd around you, it's easy to picture yourself as a professional golfer, ready to tee off on the most famous of all courses. As you drive off the tee the feeling is electric. You are now a part of history. And don't worry if your first shot slices to the right and out of bounds; almost every first-timer does this. You'll settle down by the second hole once you're away from the crowds. [more]
Booking a round on the Old Course
For anyone with an interest in golf, St. Andrews is a pilgrimage site. Traditionally hailed as the home of golf, it's a beautiful town with seven different golf courses on offer, six of which are right in town on a little headland between St. Andrews Bay and the Eden Estuary.
All of these courses are managed by the Links Trust, and the jewel in their crown is definitely the Old Course. Probably the most famous golf course in the world, people have been playing golf here for over 600 years. Currently, around 40,000 people play the Old Course each year, so if you're looking to get a round in yourself, some advance planning could help. To book a round in advance, check out www.standrews.org.uk and download the advance booking form. If you do this, you'll also have to book a second round on another course in town. The other option is to show up the day before you want to play and put your name into the daily ballot. Around half of the rounds played are determined by this ballot. You can either phone the Links Trust (01334466666), or show up in person at the starter by 2 pm the day before you want to play. You need to have 2-4 people to put your name in the ballot. By 4 pm they will post the results of the ballot and you can phone the above number or the website to check the results. If you're alone, your only option is to show up the day of and try to join a group of 2-3 golfers. During the summer months they're very strict about their handicap policy (24 for men and 36 for women), though in the winter you may be able to play without proof of your handicap. [more]
Golf on The Old Course
"Fore!" I shouted. And I had absolutely no idea why.
The ball I had hit sailed through the air at a whipping pace, only to slowly start to curve and then plough headfirst and heartily into a tree. Then it decided to play in the sand for a while. Then it went swimming.
I had never played golf before. In fact, I had never even had the slightest desire to hit a golf ball before (although I always did have a strange desire to wear those short checked pants). So just what I was doing whacking the white ball around the famous Old Course in St Andrews, I'll never know. Neither will the old people who were watching me.
It is every golfer's dream to walk on the Old Course, the birth place of golf. Golf has been played here for over 600 years. And the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St Andrews is recognised around the world as the governing body on the rules of golf (except in North America, where they make up their own rules).
The town is surrounded by wonderful beaches and fishing villages, and is well worth a visit, even if you don't like golf.
And here's an interesting piece of trivia: St Andrews used to be called Muckross. What a brilliant name for a town. Bring it back, I say!! [more]
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