Thursday, July 21, 2011

The-Dukes_600x337 By Charlie Hanger Tuesday Before heading to St. Andrews, it's important to know the distinction between the Old Course Hotel and the Old Course. The hotel, a Kohler property, is as close to the 17th hole as physically possible but is not able to guarantee tee times at the Old Course or the other links tracks, which are public and controlled by the St. Andrews Links Trust.
The hotel's official course is The Duke's (£115, roughly $185), an inland or "heathland" layout about 15 minutes away. It's an interesting change of pace, and possibly the most challenging course in the area. Originally designed by five-time Open champ Peter Thomson, and revamped by Tim Liddy for a 2006 reopening, The Duke's (pictured above) features sweeping views of the town of St. Andrews and the coastline.
We were the first group out a little before 8, and we thought we were playing fast until the sixth hole, when two 60-something women and their dog, Gatsby, caught us. We were searching for my ball, which was nestled in tall grass on the lip of one of the course's many bunkers, when they appeared on the tee. We waved them through and didn't see them again the rest of the day. Bunker-Failure_298x216 It was good they went ahead because our round involved a lot of searching. In addition to all the defenses the links courses have -- deep bunkers, wind, tall grass, gorse -- The Duke's has trees and relatively fast greens to contend with.
We finished our round exhausted from our many swings and vowed to play better in our afternoon round at the New Course. After lunch of steak pie and Scotch broth at The Duke's bar and grill, we headed back to the Old Course Hotel to talk to the golf stewards. These indispensable members of the hotel staff are dedicated to helping guests navigate the local courses. After assuring us that we had been entered in the ballot for Wednesday's tee times at the Old Course, they arranged our 2 p.m. tee time at the New Course and shuttled us there in a hotel van.
The New Course (£70, roughly $113) is relatively easy to get on, and in many people's opinions, just as good if not better than the Old. A classic links layout from 1895 that was "set out" by Old Tom Morris himself, the New's first hole is right next to the Old's second, and the two courses run parallel for much of their layouts.
The course is mostly straight and flat and slightly scruffier than the more manicured Old Course, but its pot bunkers, gorse, heather, wild flowers, and shared greens and fairways made for a true links experience. (As you can see from the shot above, the pot bunkers were too much for me. This shot nearly hit me on the ricochet off the bunker face, but the next one got out.) Umbrella_298x173 As we neared the end of the front nine, we saw a huge storm brewing in the distance. It seemed frozen in place but troubling, seeing as I had yet to get that rain jacket. We hoped for the best and we headed to the back nine.
At No. 14, the rain caught us. Walking in wasn't an option, so we put on whatever gear we had and soldiered on in a downpour. I would've paid anything for a good rain jacket at that moment.
The rest of the round was a blur as we hurried to finish and get out of the weather. Afterward, we trudged back to the hotel across the Old Course, where several other groups of pilgrims were finishing their rounds come Hell Bunker or high water.
Back at our room, we were soaked and exhausted, but we found an envelope that had been slipped under our door by the hotel staff: we'd won the ballot, and we had a 7:30 a.m. tee time for the Old Course. Our week was made. Up Next: Wednesday A near whiff on the first tee of the Old Course, a nearly perfect day on the links and a first taste of haggis. Part I: Kingsbarns (Photos: Charlie Hanger)

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