THE GREENS OF THE OLD COURSE AT ST. ANDREWS

 
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Abrupt slopes and broken ground are common features in greens and green surrounds on the courses I admire, particularly the Old Course at St. Andrews.  The 14th hole at Royal Dornoch epitomizes these features, and there are some fine examples at North Berwick as well.  Muirfield did not display these features as much; generally there was a heavy slope in the front of many greens.  One reason these features are prevalent on The Old Course is documented by Scott Macpherson in his book, The Evolution of the Old Course, where he records that two sources from 1887 and 1913 mentioned that the putting greens were leveled by raising their lower edges.  These man-made changes may account for the profusion of distinctive features as compared to the other courses I mentioned here.  The mound as a feature in front of the green was used to a more limited degree as well. 

Here are some samples of these green features at Royal Dornoch and North Berwick:

To the right is the 15th hole at North Berwick.  Among many interesting features is the table land along the right side of the green approach.
Hole 16 at North Berwick, pictured to the left, was a surprise.  The slope in front runs at a diagonal to the approach shot.  This feature would be enough to make play to the green interesting.
The slope that distinguishes the front of the green is along the entire green except for one spot.
This picture of hole 16 green, to the left, is taken from the right side of the green where you see why there is a break in the slope in the front part of the green: a swale through the green creates a triangular shaped pad of putting green to the right in the picture.  Green is to the left of this swale as well. 
Here is the 18th green at North Berwick.  There is a tremendous slope in the front, right portion of the green that descends sharply to a deep swale.  Notice the subtle bumps in the approach area to the green, and what appears to be a slight rise within the green.  Unfortunately, I can not recall all of the nuances from my one day trip, but I do recall the bumps and slopes in front causing me to carefully plan my approach shot. 
The 14th green at Royal Dornoch is a magnificent treat.  Approaching the green from the right side of the fairway proved very difficult.  I recall playing the hole as a three shot par four because of the length of the hole and the fierce wind . The high slope in front is at a diagonal to your incoming shot and can very well deflect your shot away from the green. 
This is not from where you want to be approaching the 1st green at Royal Dornoch, however this picture from behind the green reveals some interesting bumps and pockets as well as a magnificent little basement area in the back, left of the green (or to the right, front as viewed from the angle of the photo).
This is the 12th green at Royal Dornoch.  Notice the large knob in the front, left approach area of the green.  The farther back the pin in the left portion of the green the less the knob is a factor except for the fact the shot is blind unless you are approaching from the right fairway.  However, it definitely has an impact on any pin position in front.  Overall it is worthy feature to employ on any golf course.
Before embarking on a review of the greens at The Old Course in St. Andrews here are some novel shots from Nairn, Dornoch and St. Andrews.  To the right is the childhood home of Donald Ross in Dornoch.
This I believe to be the resting place of Young Tom Morris and his wife, Margaret, in St. Andrews.  I believe Old Tom Morris was laid to rest close by.  Their life and times are written about in a brilliant  book called Tommy's Honor, by Kevin Cook.  The father and son were always hard to appreciate because of the lack of interesting information about them, but Mr. Cook has done an admirable job of telling their story in a way that made me feel guilty for having little interest in them all these years.
What an interesting guy he must be; the one on top of the hay!

Upon reflection, it seems to me the most interesting greens incorporated these sharp, and tumbling features but in varied ways that were not repetitious. I like the placement of bunkers away from the center of the green, and instead the use of slopes and bumps to challenge the play into the green. The slopes and knobs in addition to being challenges unto themselves, can also can serve to direct balls toward the bunkers to the sides.  Because there are so many occurrences where a sharp slope is in front of the green or rises up within the green it is necessary to know why it doesn’t seem repetitive.  The lack of repetitiveness may have something to do with the characteristics of each hole: upon arrival at the green everything may appear fresh and new.  Or, it may be that having played the course just a few times I have not picked up on a sense of repetition.  I doubt it though.  The more I study the greens the more distinctive each one becomes in my mind.

The following is an examination of the greens at The Old Course using my photos, the book, Experience the Old Course, by Rich Goodale, and St. Andrews: Evolution of the Old Course, by Scott Macpherson.  I am sure I will reference other books and articles I have regarding the Old Course and will try to note those as well. 

 
THE OLD COURSE AT ST. ANDREWS-HOLE 2  
At hole 2 green the landform toward the left side leading into the green  is high and it matches the elevation of the green as it moves into the green. In the fairway to the right of this landform the land comes into the green much lower than the left side.  The lower, right side of the fairway comes into the green forming a little cupped area within the green in front then the land rises, breaks and tumbles for a bit before it settles down and assumes the level of the right side of the green as it descends down away from the left side. Not all the right side of the green does this.  The far right side is gentle as it forms into the green and continues to slope down and away from the left.  Any pin on the right side is very accessible to an approach played from the right side of the fairway. 

Pictured to the right is a view of the 2nd green from the right side of the fairway. 

 

 

The picture above is taken of the high ground as it tumbles toward the green. Pictured above, right is a view from the right side of the green.  The pin is near the horizon, just to the right of the magnificent movement in the green.

 

Pictured to the right is the high ground that characterizes the fairway as it comes into the green.  This view is from the front, right portion of the green looking back toward hole 17. 

Pictured to the left is a view from the far left side of hole 2 looking at the green. This is an excellent angle from which to approach the green particularly where the pin is positioned in the picture. Pin positions in the middle of the green behind the tumbling ground, and toward hole 16 green would definitely best be accessed from the left side of the hole, even playing from the left rough is an advantage.  This approach would bring the left side fairway bunkers more into play; the bunkers can be seen in the picture.  The left side fairway bunkers includes the Cheapes bunker which is anywhere from 222 yards to 298 yards from the teeing area, and the first of two bunkers farther down the left side, is within 300 yards from the front of the teeing area.  These bunkers sit within rough, not abutting the fairway maybe due to the fairways being narrowed for the Open.  In front of the bunkers grass is low and thin, but it is definitely rough beyond the bunkers to the left toward the hotel where is very rugged terrain and dense grasses. These bunkers were in a direct line, and likely to have been in fairway when the hole played from a tee near 17 green to what is now the 16th green. 
THE OLD COURSE AT ST. ANDREWS-HOLE 3  
At hole 3 the green is open in front and bends toward the left where it becomes the 15th green. There is high ground in the green approach; it falls steeply to the left revealing the Cartgate bunker which makes an indentation in the green. The high ground is broken as well, combining pockets and humps. The Cartgate bunker starts ahead of the green slightly and then follows the shape of the green. A slope in the approach area that descends from the high, broken ground in front flows into the back side of the bunker. Certainly weak shots that impact the slope will be directed toward the bunker.  Unfortunately, for the picture of the third green, to the left, the pins were out since it was Sunday, a non-play day on The Old Course.

 

THE OLD COURSE AT ST. ANDREWS-HOLE 4  
The fourth green is similar in shape and has the bunker left side but it is in alignment with the back of the green leaving much of the perimeter of the green open. The green is lower in relationship to its surroundings. The ground in front of the green is distinguished by a large hill. Naturally a lot of pin positions are in the front part of the green bringing this hill into play. The green descends toward the right. Midway into the green there is a slope beyond which there are more slopes descending toward the right. Within this broken ground are some excellent pin areas as well. This area is closer to the left greenside bunker.
 
Along the left green edge the ground descends and flows down to the bunker edge, pictured to the right.  Notice the pin location, which is a Sunday pin placement.  Depending upon the angle of approach, a run up shot would have to contend with the sloped approach area that could direct the ball into the bunker.  That part of the green is very narrow, my guess it is only 30' deep, then there are two small bunkers behind this portion of the green.

 

THE OLD COURSE AT ST. ANDREWS-HOLE 5  
I remember this green more than any other made me anxious due to the long, steep slope in front, and the depth from the bottom of the swale to the front edge of the putting surface.  It appears that most of the tournament pin positions are in the front of the green.  The interesting aspects of the steep feature in front of the green are that it is hidden, but anyone with any knowledge of the course will make certain you know it is there if you are a first time player at TOC; and, it is such a strong feature to overcome when you consider what comes before it.  It all comes together if you are approaching the green from a considerable distance because you must focus on the Spectacle bunkers, and the narrow way between them, and once you pass through this area somehow predict how your ball will make it through the deep swale and up the steep front to the green. If you choose not to go at the green in two shots you must give generous consideration to the placement of your lay-up shot in relationship to the Spectacle bunkers, once this is accomplished, then you must give equally generous time and care to your approach shot  particularly if the pin is front.   
Another view of the green front, though it is hard to appreciate the depth of the swale.  Again notice how the land pitches toward a bunker toward the back. left of the green, and notice the lack of any rough around the bunker.  In the background is the 13th green which is connected to the 5th green.
Having departed the 5th green and preparing to walk down the 6th tee toward its green on a Sunday, I encountered two ladies giving their dogs a walk.  

I must admit now looking at the photographs whether the experience of walking and playing the course might be more enjoyable if more of the land were free of the gorse that can be seen in the picture to the left.  It seems the landforms would be attractive if their forms were exposed, not covered, much like the land forms I am depicting in and around the greens.

 

THE OLD COURSE AT ST. ANDREWS-HOLE 6  
Hole 6 green has interesting elements which contributed to my understanding of why greens with substantial movement in the approach area work best when employing these elements on new design. One element at hole 6 green is the high ground in front is to one side of the green. The right side of the green is visible then disappears to the left behind the high ground in front. Many of the most challenging pin positions are near the front of the green just beyond the point where the green rises from the swale. Not to beleaguer the point but again gorse behind the green hides more distant views, especially toward the River Eden, that could be most intriguing. The removal of the gorse and replacement with heather might allow for some magnificent views beyond the green. Heather is being expanded throughout the course but it is retarded by the high Ph in the water that is used to irrigate the course. Furthermore, heather does not do well in areas of high foot traffic.
Closer examination of the green from the side reveals the most interesting element. A large swale is in between the green and the high ground, actually a portion of the front of the green is in the swale. How a ball reacts on the ground as it travels through this area is what makes the approach shot each time a new adventure. As Mr. Goodale pointed out you can add another option to the approach if you are playing into a head wind by lofting your shot onto the green in an attempt to take the uncertainty of the terrain out of play.
Pictured to the right is more of a view of the high ground in front of the green.  The picture is taken from the right side of the hole.
Pictured to the left is a similar view of the 6th green depicting a wider angle of the high ground left, the swale that encompasses the front portion of the green and green approach areas, and the rise up to the top of the green: imagine the challenging pin positions just beyond where the green rises to the top. 

 

THE OLD COURSE AT ST. ANDREWS-HOLE 7  
The approach to hole 7 green presents one of the few forced carries. There is a substantial amount of ground between the Shell bunker, the main culprit in the forced carry, and the green. The slope is broken and undulating in a manner that would satisfy anyone who has attempted to build such an interesting feature in a green. Although I focused on this feature there must be some interesting terrain in front of the green more toward the back, right as it gets closer to hole 8 tee. This area in front descends from the front of the green toward a small bunker.
In the front of the green is a slope that is angled in relation to the angle of approach. It is an interesting combination of elements: the Shell bunker makes it difficult to determine the length of approach to the pin, behind the bunker is a considerable distance of fairway before reaching the green, and once at the green this impressive slope awaits. The picture to the left is probably taken from just past the Shell bunker looking toward the 11th green.  The feature on the horizon, toward the right portion of the photo, is the bunker in back of the green.
This picture to the right is taken looking along the slope toward the Strath bunker at the 11th green.  Not only is the slope a strong feature, the ground comprises the slope is broken by pockets and ridges.

 

THE OLD COURSE AT ST. ANDREWS-HOLE 8  
I have concentrated on dramatic land features abutting greens or within putting surfaces. The small bunker at the 8th green is about 8 yards in front of the green. I never appreciated the hole more than I did on my second trip when one of the days I played the pin was directly in line with the bunker from the tee. As noted previously on hole 4 regarding the mound in front of that green, one of the key aspects of the bunker placement here is it is off center, placed to one side of the center line from the tee to the green. Although there are no demarcations between the double greens it appears there is more green dedicated to hole 8 to the right of the bunker than to the left. The bunker probably impacts at least 20 yards in width of the left side of the green.

Pictured to the left is the view of the 8th green from the tee.  The small bunker is about in the middle of the picture, slightly off set to the left.  It is the dark looking feature, and when a feature has a dark shadow within it you know it can not be good.  The horizon line of the hill looks higher because it blends in with a hill in back of the green.

The hill in which the bunker is carved has a horizon line that hides putting surface when viewing from the tee. There is a mound in the back of the green that looks a part of the hill with the bunker in front. These elements combine to make the pin position behind it a very difficult shot to judge. The bunker is ominous looking and definitely tells you it must be avoided. The green is deep behind it so it seems the strategy of taking plenty of club to clear the bunker is a safe one. However, into a head wind my tendency was to go with a strong club, in this instance a 2-iron, and while I hit it well the hard conditions caused my shot to end up beyond the green and into the dreaded gorse. The hill in front without the bunker would have been much less intimidating and may have caused me to select less club because the consequences of being short would seem much less severe.

Pictured to the right is the bunker.  Now you see why it is so treacherous.  Extending an imaginary line through the right edge of the bunker and through the green, there is approximately 20 yards width of putting surface from that line to the left edge of the green that is impacted by this bunker.  It is obvious why all of the pin positions for the British Open are concentrated in this area.

THE OLD COURSE AT ST. ANDREWS-HOLE 10

Hole 10 green continues the features that I have been examining here. It is a wide fairway coming into the front of the green, but that interface between the fairway and the green is anything but tame.  The entire width of the green is fronted by fairway, about 150’. This includes a portion that is hole 8 green.  According to Macpherson’s book on The Old Course about 110’ measuring from the left side toward the right is what is in play for approaching pin positions on the 10th green.   As with all of these features in the front of the greens there obviously is an impact on the approach shot played on the ground.  On hole 10 according to Macpherson’s book the final day pin at the 2005 British Open was located near the front of the green not far from one of the pockets, or swales, that protrude into the green, and certainly protected by the ridges and broken ground in front.  Many of the pin positions for the 2000 and 2005 Open were located in the middle to back of the green where there are undulations to contend with. 

 

Most of the green is fronted by a ridge and there are a couple of interesting breaks in the ridge where the ground falls below the ridge into pockets that protrude into the green. This is depicted in the picture to the right.

THE OLD COURSE AT ST. ANDREWS-HOLE 11

Hole 11, the High Hole, otherwise referred to as the Eden Hole is famous for the ground upon which the green was situated.  The two famous bunkers, the Hill and Strath, are important features, but it is the characteristics of the ground that are most prominent.  The most prominent ground features that garner attention are in the area between the bunkers and leading up into the green between these bunkers.  Interestingly, all of the pin positions for the Open Championship in 2000 and 2005 are just over the Strath Bunker, and in line with this bunker and the tee toward the back of the green.  It is likely the green speeds for the Open do not allow for pin positions in the area between the bunkers.  There is the strong slope in the front of the green between the bunkers, then, there appears to be about 42’ of area where the pin can be located before encountering a strong slope in the back.   There is a large hill to the right of the Hill that still affords a view of the green but must be contended with on the tee shot.  The ground then falls away to the right exposing more of the green however a strong slope continues across the front of the green. 

 

One of the March stones mentioned in Macpherson’s book can be seen here.  These stones marked the limits of the golf course at one time.  The stone is depicted to the right, and can be seen in the picture above, near the bottom of the picture, clothed in an artificial turf glove.
The ground around the Strath Bunker, pictured to the left, seems less likely to deflect shots into this bunker. 
The picture to the right is the area in front of the green between the Hill and Strath Bunkers.
The Hill Bunker is surrounded by terrain that slopes toward the bunker, gathering shots into the bunker. The bunker is shown in the picture to the left.

THE OLD COURSE AT ST. ANDREWS-HOLE 12

The 12th green was one that stood out on my first trip around the course.  To start one must avoid being distracted by the hill in the fairway in front of the green out of which a bunker has been carved.  It is this hill, as I recall, Tiger chose to play left of on his tee shot in order to have a simple chip to the pin thus taking the low, undulating green in front out of play.  The hill, depicted in the middle of the picture to the right, sits in front of the portion of the green that is most intriguing and challenging.  This is a significant amount of green to the left of this area that appears much easier to play to before becoming a part of the 6th green.  That part of the green is around 60’ deep and very accommodating to an approach shot but it is fronted by sloping ground as well making a bump and run shot most challenging. 

 

Beyond the hill the front of the green as mentioned is a low area marked by undulations, pictured to the left.  It is about 51’ deep so it encompasses a significant portion of the green.  I assume it is not pinnable, and if this is true, represents a controversial strategy for any course that has to build greens at a respectful cost, but nonetheless makes for some very interesting fun for play.  From this low area the green rises sharply to a plateau that is about 36’ deep where most pins are located.  Beyond this plateau the green descends sharply away from the line of play for another 27’ of green area that is not pinnable.  This is the most interesting and challenging part of the green. 
Pictured to the right is a  close up of the low, undulating ground in the front portion of the green.

THE OLD COURSE AT ST. ANDREWS-HOLE 14

The 14th green is a magnificent finish to a great hole.  A slope guards the entire front of the green.  The front of the green follows the slope as it protrudes toward the player before curving in toward the 4th green, and at one point near the left bunker it seems to fall into a hole.    The left portion of the green appears slightly deeper but like hole 12 green the back portion of the green descends along a slope that can easily propel a ball off the back of the green into more trouble. 

 

A close up of the area that appears sunken right before the bunker is pictured to the right.  All the slopes in this area can deflect a ball away from the intended target and direct the ball toward these bunkers.
Like hole 12 green the front part of the green which is in the slope does not appear pinnable, yet it has significant implications on any approach shot into pin locations beyond the slope.  The middle portion of the green is about 111’ deep. Toward the right front of the green after you ascend the slope in front the ground continues to rise and then pitch downhill before reaching the green.  This portion of the green, which is the far right side, extends right, away from the incoming shot and very near the 15th tee.  While the table land on top coupled with the green makes for a deep target the actual green itself is narrow, probably 60’ deep.  It appears most of this area descend away from the incoming shot making it even more difficult to properly judge an approach shot into here. 

THE OLD COURSE AT ST. ANDREWS-HOLE 16

The 16th green again has a low, front portion that is green that ascends a slope which goes across the front of the green culminating in the Wig Bunker on the left side.  The slope is at a diagonal to the approach shot.  This slope along with other slopes around and in the green cause the large green surfaces to effectively be much smaller with regard for trying to find the pin on your approach shot.  The slopes can deflect shots or create very difficult approach putts if you end up on the wrong side of one.  The low, front portion of the green does not appear pinnable but a weak approach shot will likely remain there making for a most difficult putt to judge with the mighty slope between your ball and hole.

 

Pictured to the left is a close-up of the low portion in the green and the diagonal slope that defends many of the pin positions on the upper portion of the green.  Notice how the slope follows along the front of the green then is punctuated by a bunker on the left side.

THE OLD COURSE AT ST. ANDREWS-HOLE 17

The ground features in the front of the 17th green is probably the most memorable and formidable.  This ground feature is so overpowering upon my first visit I remembered it as distinctive until upon further experiences at The Old Course I realized there were many greens with similar features, but all distinctive themselves for a variety of reasons. This dramatic rise in the green is noticeable from the fairway.  With this in mind and the other features such as the road and wall in ball and the Road Bunker to the left it makes it difficult to approach the shot with a high degree of confidence. 

 
Once again there is a significant, sloping land form in the front portion of the green, as is often the case it protects the entire front of the green, and it has a bunker that punctuates it.  So much is made of the Road Bunker for good reasons, but the magnificent ground feature across the front of the green stands out the most for me.
As with many of the greens on the incoming nine holes there is a low portion of green in front of the slope, as pictured to the right.  In back is a tremendous slope that has a protruding knob before it curves sharply toward the Road Bunker. 
Again, a mighty slope in the front portion of the green is eventually interrupted on the left side by a bunker, the most famous element of this green, but in my mind the sharp rise in the front of the green is the most engaging aspect of the green.

THE OLD COURSE AT ST. ANDREWS-HOLE 18

The Valley of Sin in the front portion of the 18th green makes this a very challenging approach shot when the pin is nearby as evidenced by Macpherson’s book. In there the pin locations for the Open Championship are all clustered just beyond the deepest portion of the valley toward the left side of the green.
The bump and run shot through this area is somewhat different compared to other holes because the slope in the front portion of the green is a part of a valley meaning there is a slope on the other side of the valley that can cause some erratic bounces. This is best illustrated by the picture to the left.
Moving across the front of the green the sharp slope in the front of the green continues to be a factor on approach shots to pins located near the front of the green.

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