Commentary

What's not to love about St. Andrews?

Originally Published: July 14, 2010
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- If there were only one major and it could be played in only one place, then I'd choose the Open Championship and I'd choose this place.

I love the Old Course because, well, it's old.

Six hundred years old. It makes the oldest 18-hole course in the States -- Chicago Golf Club (1892) -- look like a newborn. It makes Pebble Beach (1919) and Augusta National (1933) look like embryos. This place has argyle socks older than the U.S. Constitution.

I love the Old Course and St. Andrews because it's the home of golf.

Mary Queen of Scots got a tee time here in 1567. Colin Montgomerie (Whiner of Scots) has a 2:20 p.m. tee time here Thursday.

I love the Old Course because of the weather.

Right now, it's wonderfully miserable. Imagine standing in front of a wind machine as someone sprays you with a fire hose. And did I mention you can see your breath? That's St. Andrews -- for the moment. As Andrew Aitken, a marshal on the 17th hole, told me in his mashed-potatoes-thick Scottish accent: "You can have four seasons in one day here, even one hour."

I love the Old Course because the players love it.

Tiger Woods once said it was his favorite course in the world. If Jack Nicklaus hadn't married Barbara, he would have married the Old Course. And Phil Mickelson goes absolutely gooey when talking about it: "I think that if it were up to me, I would play this championship here every year. As much as I love all of the other golf courses, there's something so special about St. Andrews. … [Y]ou can't help but feel this sense of spirituality come over you as you play this course."

I love the Old Course because it's the only place I know where you have to thread a tee shot over a hotel.

[+] EnlargeRose
Warren Little/Getty ImagesJustin Rose braved the elements Wednesday to practice for the British Open. It's said that in a single day at St. Andrews, a person can experience all four seasons.

Well, not the Old Course Hotel itself, but the old railway sheds attached directly to the hotel. It all takes place on one of the hardest and most famous holes in the world -- The Road Hole, a 495-yard gargantuan that plays to a par 4, but, says Mickelson, could qualify as a par 5. Anyway, if someone pushes a drive a teeny-weeny too far right, the ball is going to land in a third- or fourth-floor hotel room.

I love the Old Course because of the greens.

Some of them are the size of John Daly's old sweaters. They're so large you have to take full shoulder turns when you putt. So it's not only the home of golf, but it's the home of the 150-foot lag putt. That's part of the reason Woods won the last two Opens here: nobody lag-putted better than him. Plus, some of the greens have more undulations than the roller coasters at Great America.

I love the Old Course because of the names.

The Spectacles bunkers on No. 5. The Coffins bunkers on No. 13. Hell bunker on No. 14. The Principal's Nose cluster of bunkers on No. 16. The Valley of Sin swale in front of the No. 18 green. The matching pair of fairway mounds called "Miss Grainger's Bosoms" on No. 15. One hole named after an American ("Bobby Jones" on No. 10) and one hole named after a Scot ("Tom Morris" on No. 18).

I love the Old Course because it never plays the same.

Tom Watson, who has won five Opens and first played here in 1978, still hasn't completely figured it out. "St. Andrews is a hard course to understand," he said. "You have to relearn it, relearn it all the time."

I love the Old Course because it belongs to the town.

You should see the place at the end of the day (or late at night). The locals and visitors get free run of the fairways on Nos. 1 and 18. Dogs are walked on those fairways. The only rule: You've got to pick up behind your pet, if you know what I mean. Anyway, if you tried taking a leisurely walk with your pooch at, say, Augusta National, you'd never make it past the armed guard at the gates. And if you did, you and Fido would probably end up in jail.

I love the Old Course because of all the blind shots.

You need a caddie and a seeing-eye dog.

I love the Old Course because of who wins here.

Take a look at the list of champions since 1970: Jack Nicklaus (twice -- once in a playoff), Seve Ballesteros, Sir Nick Faldo, John Daly (in a playoff) and Tiger Woods (twice). That any good?

I love the Old Course because it was designed by nature.

There is no official course architect. It is the product of the weather and centuries of time.

I love the Old Course because of the Scots.

Nicest people on the planet.

I love the Old Course because anybody can play it.

The local residents pay about £180 a year (about $290) and then can play the Old Course (and the other six St. Andrews Trust courses) for goose eggs. That $290 is a little more than half of what it costs to play one round at Pebble Beach.

I love the Old Course because of the Royal & Ancient clubhouse.

You half expect the R&A members to land Spitfires on the first and 18th fairways, adjust their ascots and then go inside the stone building for afternoon tea.

I love the Old Course because you can hit every shot imaginable.

Bump and runs. Putts from the fairways. Knock-down wedges. 2-irons that roll forever. Drivers to the wrong fairways. High shots. Low shots. Skimmers. Stingers. It all depends on the wind. Everything here depends on the wind.

I love the Old Course because I think my pre-tournament pick is actually going to win this week.

Woods, by 2 strokes. At least, that's what I said to the woman at the Ladbrokes betting counter.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

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