1. Nix your fears
Nobody can be faulted for getting a little weak in the knees standing on the first tee of the Old Course, with the Royal & Ancient looming behind you and pages of history fluttering before your very eyes. Yes, there’s a certain element of seriousness here, but ignore it. You’re about to play arguably the most fun golf course on either side of the Atlantic. It’s tough to hit a ball out of bounds here, greens are the size of football fields, you’re encouraged to drive a tee shot over a hotel, and there are just enough blind shots to retain their charm. If that’s not fun to you, then you shouldn’t be lacing up spikes.
2. Follow the leader
Take a caddie or play with someone who knows the course well. St. Andrews is littered with pot bunkers, many of which you can’t see from the tee box. On many holes, experienced players will avoid hitting the fairway altogether — the rough usually is light and is far less penal than ending up in the Principal’s Nose, the Spectacles or the Beardies (three famous St. Andrew bunker groupings).
3. Hit Driver
St. Andrews boasts very wide fairways. It doesn’t defend itself with think stands of gorse either, making it one of the more driver-friendly tracks you’ll play. Plus, there are only a few times when hitting a shorter club is needed to avoid the bunkers off the tee (even then it’s a iffy proposition due to the sheer number of bunkers, so why not hit the big stick anyway?). To squeeze out a few extra yards, try keeping your hands as far away from your head as possible at the top of your backswing. This adds width to your swing, and a wider swing is a more powerful swing.
4. Expect to three-putt
The large expansive green complexes complete with aggressive bumps and swales add up to a challenging putting day. Hardly anyone gets hot with the flatstick on his first go-around on the Old Course. Spend some time practicing your lag technique on the days leading up to your visit (up to 100 feet). Posting a good score here is more about two-putting than it is making a few miracle 30-footers. Save your birdie mindset for when you knock it stiff.
5. Play your tee shot to the right on 17
The 17th hole at St. Andrews, the “Road Hole,” has very few — if any — peers. It’s a 436-yard mind-bender that plays straight away. The only problem is that the Old Course Hotel sits between you and the green. Everyone knows to play the drive over the hotel property, but nobody ever cuts enough off. You almost have to graze the hotel (or pull off a power fade) to land your ball in the fairway. Most tee shots end up in the left rough, a lie that leaves a long iron over the most diabolical hazard ever imagined, the Road Hole bunker. This hazard is so nasty it often forces you to play away from the pin. It’s an almost automatic double-bogey.