July 13 2010
A truly great sporting event needs a setting that befits the occasion, and few are more memorable than the Old Course at St Andrews, the home of golf and the venue for the 2010 Open Championship, which begins on July 15. They claim to have been playing golf in these parts for around 600 years and, with all due respect to the other courses on the Open rota, nothing beats one of the championship’s five-yearly visits to the historic town on the Fife coast.
Even if you have never picked up a club in your life you may be familiar with the beauty of St Andrews, which doubled as Broadstairs in Kent when the film director Hugh Hudson shot parts of the Oscar-winning Chariots of Fire there in 1981. The opening sequence of the Olympic athletes running across the West Sands in their all-white kit has become one of the most famous scenes in British cinema and the two-mile stretch of windswept shore remains a great place for a bracing walk or beach picnic. The Old Course is behind the sand dunes, and the deceptive strength and direction of the wind – along with the heather and the big sky – is just one of the many aspects of St Andrews that captivates spectators and competitors alike.
A great part of the charm of golf is that it taxes the mind as well as the body – and by the time the world’s best players have completed four rounds of the Old Course in a fortnight’s time, some of them may feel as if their brains have been scrambled. The most challenging hole on the course is the 17th, or Road Hole, which is 495 yards long. It’s a par four, meaning that good players should normally take four shots to successfully get their ball down, but the 17th at St Andrews is widely recognised as the most sadistically difficult par four in the world. If you hit your approach shot to the green too aggressively your ball may end up on the road beyond. Or, even worse, it may roll down the slope into the jaws of the awesome Road Hole bunker, which has engulfed many an aspiring Open champion. Ten years ago the American David Duval came to the 17th on the final round only two shots behind the favourite (and eventual winner) Tiger Woods. But the unfortunate Duval drove into the bunker and took four embarrassing, sand-spraying shots to get out again. Tiger went on to win the Claret Jug by eight strokes.
If the players survive the Road Hole with their chances intact, they can look forward to the celebrated walk up the fairway to the 18th green with the venerable Royal and Ancient Clubhouse in the background. At the climax of the final round of the Open, the galleries around the clubhouse will rise to acclaim the new champion and most fans will feel the hairs standing up on the backs of their necks.
Of course, one of the other great traditions of golf is the reviving snifter after the round is over, and one of the best places to enjoy it in St Andrews is the Road Hole Bar in the Old Course Hotel. The bar overlooks the 17th and has 206 different malt whiskies, including such heart-warming rarities as a 1946 Glenlivet and a bottle of Royal Lochnagar Reserve.
The bookies reckon Woods will be celebrating again on July 18; despite off-course distractions, he’s a prohibitive 2-1 with William Hill to pull off an unprecedented hat-trick of St Andrews triumphs. The brilliant young Rory McIlroy looks a good each-way alternative at 16-1 with Paddy Power.