Golf historians may quibble over where the game was invented, but when it comes to charting the origin of the game as we know it today, most will concede that St. Andrews is the acknowledged Home of Golf. Golf has been played there since the early 15th century over common land that today is held in trust by the Links Trust of St. Andrews under an act of Parliament.
The Old Course (aka “The Grand Old Lady”) didn’t get its name until 1895 when the New Course debuted next door. At one time, it featured 22 holes, but the course has evolved, and the present incarnation that is known so well around the world features 18 holes that each have their own unique character—and history. Part of that history involves their names.
Where do those names come from? Here’s a look at what we know.
Hole 1: “Burn”—Par four, 376 yards
The opening hole at the Old Course could have been called a lot of things, from “Clubhouse” to “Double-O.B.” to “Away-Ye-Go.” But the opener here takes its name from the Swilcan Burn that fronts the green. Players must take care not to drive into it from the tee or find it with their approach shots to the green, which is tucked just one pace from its edge. Extremely lucky players have been known to bounce mishit approach shots over this hazard on occasion, but your best bet is to play well over the burn on “Burn.”
Hole 2: “Dyke”—Par four, 453 yards
In Scotland, the word “dyke” can mean wall. This hole shares a green with hole 16, “Corner of the Dyke”—the first of fourteen holes with shared greens on the course. Today, the course’s chief hazard is not a wall, but Cheape’s bunker—a large, inhospitable fairway bunker from which saving par is a rare affair.
Hole 3: “Cartgate (Out)”—Par four, 397 yards
Did the two Cartgate holes at St. Andrews get their names from a gate through which carts traversed the course, perhaps en route to the sandy shore of St. Andrews Bay? Or was it so named because threading your tee shot between the bunkers and undulations of its fairway seem like passing through a cart gate? No one seems to know. The answer, by all accounts, is lost in the mists of time.
Hole 4: “Ginger Beer”—Par four, 480 yards
For many years, players coming off the green of this tough par four would stop for a moment of refreshment at a simple ginger beer stand located behind the green. The stand, which was little more than a wheeled cart, was manned by David “Auld Da” Anderson, a local clubmaker. Rumor has it that stronger stuff than ginger beer may also have been on offer, too. Today, there’s a more substantial trailer offering snacks and beverages behind the 4th green, but you can still get a ginger beer there.
Hole 5: “Hole O’Cross (Out)”—Par five, 568 yards
It’s not clear where this hole got its name. Some have opined that there was once a cross located in this area, which also gives the par-four 13th hole (which shares a green with the 5th) its name. Others say it’s because of a chasm that had to be crossed. It could just as easily be due to the enormous size of the green—over an acre—which might encourage the faithful to make the sign of the cross before commencing putting.
Hole 6: “Heathery (Out)”—Par four, 412 yards
The 6th hole at the Old Course shares a green with the 12th, Heathery (In). These holes reportedly got their name from the rough nature of their putting surface back in the day, which apparently sported patches of heather (just to make three-putting easier).
Hole 7: “High (Out)”—Par four, 371 yards
The 7th hole shares a green with the 11th—“High (In).” This green is sited on one of the higher points on the course, at the edge of the Eden Estuary and just above the dastardly Shell bunker. It’s where the course does its little loop, from the 7th through to the 11th, before turning back toward the clubhouse for the remaining inward holes.
Hole 8: “Short”—Par three, 175 yards
There are only two par threes on the Old Course. This is the first one-shotter players encounter. It’s not the shortest hole on the course—that honor goes to the other par three, the 11th (by one yard).
Hole 9: “End”—Par four, 352 yards
This short, straight par four isn’t located at the end of the course, but it is the end of the front nine. And if you find yourself in any of the deep pot bunkers reachable from the tee, it could also be the end of your quest to play to your handicap.
Hole 10: “Bobby Jones”—Par four, 386 yards
Bobby Jones was a favorite son of St. Andrews, even though he was born far across the pond in Georgia. Jones first came to St. Andrews for the 1921 Open, an event he quit in a huff after failing to extricate his ball from a bunker after four attempts. Jones returned to St. Andrews in 1927 and captured his second Claret Jug in a row there. In 1930, he launched his successful assault on the Grand Slam by winning the British Amateur title on the course. Jones so endeared himself to the people of St. Andrews that they gave him the key to the city in 1958, and after he died in 1971, this hole was named after him.
Hole 11: “High (In)”—Par three, 174 yards
The 11th is the hole where Bobby Jones lost his cool in 1921, but because it shares its green with the 7th Hole, High (In), it also carries the “High” name. Looking down from the green, you can see all the trouble that gives this par three its unofficial moniker: “The toughest par five on the course.”
Hole 12: “Heathery (In)”—Par four, 348 yards
See Hole 6.
Hole 13: “Hole O’Cross (In)”—Par four, 465 yards
See Hole 5.
Hole 14: “Long”—Par five, 614 yards
It’s easy to see where this hole got its name. At 614 yards, it’s one of the longest holes in major championship golf, and when the players tee it up in the 150th Open it will play as the longest hole in Open Championship history to date. Should they hit their ball into Hell bunker, their day will get considerably longer.
Hole 15: “Cartgate (In)”—Par four, 455 yards
See Hole 3.
Hole 16: “Corner of the Dyke”—Par four, 423 yards
See Hole 2.
Hole 17: “Road”—Par four, 495 yards
Every golf enthusiast knows where this hole gets its name—from Old Station Road, which runs immediately behind the back of the elevated green. In the 2010 Open Championship, Miguel Angel Jimenez hit his approach shot over that road and played one of the most unlikely recovery shots in golf history when he banked his third shot off the rough stone wall on the far side of the road and flew it backward onto the green. Many players, amateurs, and professionals alike have found themselves playing from the road over the years. It’s not an easy shot, in part due to the rough nature of the road surface. This road also gave one of the world’s most famous bunkers its name: the Road Bunker, a pit of despair from which Tommy Nakajima took four shots to escape in the 1978 Open.
Hole 18: “Tom Morris”—Par four, 357 yards
Old Tom Morris, for whom this hole was named, was four times an Open Champion, a renowned club and ball maker, and a resident of St. Andrews. He also served as keeper of the links in St. Andrews and had a hand in adjusting many aspects of the course’s design through the years—including his tweaking of the 18th green and its dreaded Valley of Sin. Today, the Tom Morris Golf Shop that once stood at 8 The Links is managed by the R&A and is called The Open Store.
What are your favorite holes on the Old Course at St. Andrews?