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Still some fun golf to be played at the Old Course

July 14, 2010

I took at trip to play golf across the pond almost 11 years ago with a dear friend who died recently.

Seven rounds in eight days.

The jewels were Turnberry, Carnoustie and the Old Course, where the 150th Open Championship begins Thursday.

We played 126 holes and three were in the rain in late October, darn near unheard of.

I have played some great golf courses - Oakmont, Spyglass Hill, Canterbury, Pebble Beach - on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, but nothing compares to ripping a 7-iron 205 yards downwind, or 110-yards into a gale.

Turnberry and Carnoustie were great to play, but I was really looking forward to 18 at the Old Course.

It didn't disappoint.

You can basically hit it left of the world there (minus the 9th and 10th holes) and still have a shot.

There are four singles greens (1, 9, 17 and 18) and 14 double greens and those greens add up to 18 (2 and 16, 3 and 15, etc...)

The 5th and 13th greens add up to 1.5 acres in size and are 95 yards from front to back.

Playing the 5th hole, my caddy to me I had 134 yards to the front and 200 to the hole - the flagstick was 66 yards back, not 66 feet.

I promptly hit it 121 feet short of the hole and, believe it nor not, two-putted for birdie.

Where the 7th and 11th hole share a green, the right side of the green is the 7th hole (par 4) and the left side the 11th hole (par 3) and the 7th fairway is to the left of the 11th tee box.

The 9th hole, a 352-yard par 4 and the 10th, a 386-yard par 4, are driveable if playing downwind.

The 12th, at 348 yards, can also be driven, based on the wind. But, there is a brutal pot bunker short of the green that will gather tee shots.

I stood on the 13th tee, a harsh 465-yard par 4, and my caddy handed me my 2 iron and pointed me left of left. Now, mind you, I can hit it left of left without trying, but this time that was my aim.

The caddy told me to hit it in the 6th fairway.


So, I aimed left and ripped it.

"Perfect," the caddy said.

Down the left side of the fairway there are three cavernous bunkers of the Coffins at about 250-290 yards.

You can play to the right of them but the more popular route is left up the adjacent sixth fairway which gives a better view of the green.

The right-hand route leaves you slightly unsighted to a green guarded on the right by another couple of deep bunkers.

We walked to the 6th fairway and I had 200 in with no bunkers between me and the green.

I laced a 5-iron to about 12 feet and promptly choked the putt.

The 17th hole - the Road Hole - is the hardest hole I've ever played.

You must drive over the corner of the Old Course Hotel, so you cannot see the fairway from the tee. Right of right puts you on the hotel grounds and left of left puts you in thick rough.

The line off the tee is dependent on the wind - but you will see most of the guys aiming for the "o" of Hotel in the huge letters painted on the side of the wall. The fun is just beginning because the second shot is not easy regardless of the flagstick placement.

If it's on the right half of the green, the second shot is easier because a bump and run can be played from 200 yards out (or more). If the flagstick is on the left half of the green, some sort of right-to-left bender must be executed to have any chance of a par.

The Road Bunker on the left edge of the green is just brutal and will gather a lot of second and third shots via the ridges and hollows in front of the green. Tommy Nakajima made 9 from the sand in 1984, while David Duval took 8 when contesting for the lead 10 years ago.

If you go long and right you end up on the hard road and maybe up against the wall. It is the old turnpike road which forms the southern boundary of the course.

The green is 13 yards deep. Anyone going straight for the green with a long iron is taking a big gamble and, more than likely, making a mistake.

The 18th hole is where Doug Sanders choked away the 1970 title and Costantino Rocca made eagle from the Valley of Sin in 1995 to force eventual champion John Daly to a playoff in 1995.

Six of the last eight winners at St. Andrews have been Americans, with Tiger Woods claiming the last two Claret Jugs.

In 1764 the Old Course consisted of 22 holes, 11 out and 11 back, with golfers playing to the same hole going out and in, except for the 11th and 22nd holes.

The golfers decided that the first four holes, and therefore also the last four holes, were too short and that they should be made into two holes instead of four. This reduced the number of holes in the round from 22 to 18, and that is how today's standard round of golf was created. Golf started to become more popular at St Andrews in the middle 19th century and the course became more crowded. The result was that golfers playing out began to meet golfers playing in, at the same hole. Not surprisingly, this led to difficulties and disputes.

To solve the problem, the decision was made to cut two holes on each green, with white flags for the outward holes and red flags for the inward holes. This was the origin of the famous double greens.

The Old Course is closed on Sundays (except when major championships are being held) to let the course rest and allow the grass to recover from the heavy traffic during the week.

The course is occasionally opened on Sundays to local townspeople looking to picnic and stroll the grounds.

By the way, I finished 9-5-5 to shoot 77 ... and I'll take Ernie Els this week.

(Mathison, a Weirton resident, is the sports editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times and can be contacted at

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