Appeared in July/August 2005 LINKS
At 110 years old, the New Course is anything but new. A day after the 1895 British Open was completed on the Old Course, a number of competitors christened the New in a 36-hole tournament. Sandy Herd, who had finished second to J.H. Taylor the day before, came out on top, though his 86–86 was hardly impressive. The scores made it clear: This new 18 could challenge—perhaps even embarrass—the game’s best players. It was certainly more than merely a “relief course,” despite having been created specifically for that purpose, to handle overflow traffic from the Old Course.
The second half of the 19th century was witnessing a golf boom, with courses springing up in England, Wales, Ireland and even in the United States. The Scots themselves were embracing the game in greater numbers. In St. Andrews, the only course in town was packed from dawn til dusk. Everyone played, and why not? The game was not only fun, it was free. Golf was every Scot’s birthright, especially if you were a St. Andrean.
When overcrowding and slow play became intolerable, the Town Council and the R&A agreed in 1894 that a second 18 had to be built. Most sources today credit Old Tom Morris as the architect. Not only was Old Tom St. Andrews’ Custodian of the Links, he was also the foremost golf architect of the day, having remodeled the Old Course and laid out Prestwick, Royal County Down, Royal Dornoch, Muirfield and Lahinch, among many others.
Except for some lengthening and conditioning, which is markedly better today, the New Course is little changed, with the holes still going where they’ve always gone. They march out on the first nine, one after the other, the Old Course tight along the left, until they reach the Eden Estuary at the ninth. Then they march back in on the second nine, with the Jubilee Course now tight along the left.
The New enjoys much the same type of undulating linksland as the Old, but has fewer blind shots and somewhat fewer of the hummocks, cants and cambers that afflict odd bounces and lies on players of its ancient neighbor. Luck plays a lesser role here. There is little in the way of high-risk shots that can result in either birdie or double-bogey.
Out at the far end of the links, in the charming dune country bordering the Eden Estuary, lies a particularly attractive trio of holes that displays the New at its best. On the par-5, 481-yard 8th, a pair of imposing sandhills stands sentinel, one on either side of the narrow gap leading to a largely concealed green. Next, at the 225-yard 9th, above and along the estuary, the gently rising shot—sometimes a driver—must find a punchbowl green just over a ridge. A hook vanishes into the sea.
The par-4, 464-yard 10th is altogether splendid. From an elevated tee, our back to the water, we command the entire world of St. Andrews: holes and golfers on the New, Jubilee, Old and Eden, and, beyond them in the far distance, the town itself, its low, gray silhouette punctuated by a handful of church spires. It is the game’s most awe-inspiring and endearing panorama.
A regular diet of the New Course never grows stale. Again and again in the course of a round, this classic links presents opportunities to execute shots to the green along the firm, fast, wrinkled ground, sometimes calling for a bump-and-run from as far away as 100 yards. Imagination and touch are essential.
Unlike the Old Course, which is closed on Sundays, the New is open seven days a week. And if by any chance you need a golf cart, why it’s available on this wonderful course. Hard to know what Old Tom might think about that. Still, a man revered for his kindliness just might have consented.