News & Opinion

Backward thinking? Not at Old Course

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – The Old Course at St. Andrews is the most iconic golf layout in the world. Old Tom Morris, the game’s patriarch, is closely associated with the Old Course, even though his career in golf started at Prestwick.

J.H. Taylor, James Braid, Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Peter Thomson, Bobby Locke, Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods are just some of the players who have won at the “Home of Golf.”

No single course in the world holds the history and prestige of the Old.

Yet, one important and relatively unknown fact is that the Old Course can be played in reverse. Until recently, it was played that way every five years or so until the Links Trust, the keepers of the links, decided to stop the practice.

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There’s more than one way to play St. Andrews’ Old Course, viewed here from behind the 18th green. The question: Will the Links Trust allow it again?

© GOLFFILE/EOIN CLARKE
There’s more than one way to play St. Andrews’ Old Course, viewed here from behind the 18th green. The question: Will the Links Trust allow it again?

“But to me, it's brilliant, how you can play it so many different ways,” Woods said of playing the course in reverse in 2015 in preparation for the British Open. Woods won two of his three Claret Jugs at St. Andrews, in 2000 and 2005. “Before I die, I want to play it one time backwards. I want to play from 1 to 17, 2 to 16, so forth and so on. I'd love to be able to play it that way, just one time. I think that would be just a blast because I can see how certain bunkers – why would they put that there? And then if you play it backwards, you see it. It's very apparent. That's totally in play. That one day would be a lot of fun to be able to do.”

Faldo talked about the appeal of playing the Old Course in reverse as he was preparing for the Senior British Open this week at St. Andrews (tee times).

“We were walking down 12, and you turn around and look back, you've got the bunker not in play, but if you're coming off 13 tee, back up to 11 green, you should look at that, it's fantastic,” said Faldo, who won one of his three Claret Jugs at St. Andrews, in 1990. “You've got the bunker in the middle of the fairway, and you have the biggest bunker in front of the green, and we all know what the green looks like behind. I've got to come and play backwards. Would love that.”

The bunker that Faldo referenced is known as the Admiral’s Bunker, just off the 12th tee. The hazard is named for a naval officer who fell into it while gaping at a young woman walking along the North Sea’s Firth of Forth shoreline.

Bunker names aside, Faldo and Woods may get their wish as the Links Trust is seriously considering bringing back the reverse routing in November 2019.

The timing is not ideal, with autumn’s limited daylight here above the 56th parallel.

Also, the Links Trust is considering a one-day reversal, which would not be nearly enough for the interest that would be generated by the chance to play the course in reverse.

Hopefully, the Links Trust will take a long view at the popularity of the change and extend the Old Course in reverse for at least a week.

If you are going to go to the trouble of setting it up, why not take full advantage of it?

Either way, playing in reverse will be a tough ticket that will be available only through the ballot. Should you be one of the lucky ones, it should be a blast.

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli