Chad Conine is a sportswriter from Texas who spent the summer in Scotland and the town of St. Andrews. He chronicled his golf adventures before this year's British Open, held at the Old Course July 15-18.
I don't think I have enough club in my bag to reach the par-3 9th hole at The New Course. But I'm going to continue researching this point as long as it takes.
I've played the hole in question seven times so far in my first seven weeks in St. Andrews and so far, the mean result is that I hit driver on the 182-yard uphill par-3 (I know, that's a short drive, but somehow it's always into a stiff breeze) to an area between 10 and 15 yards short of the top of a bowl that holds the green in the bottom. From there, I typically roll a bump-and-run shot to the top of the bowl and let it trickle down to somewhere in the vicinity of the cup, then walk away with a par or bogey.
Now, you might be wondering why you should care how an 18-handicapper like me plays the 9th hole on The New Course. You shouldn't. My larger point, though, is worth noting and that's this: St. Andrews offers the best, most accessible golf in the world, especially for its residents but also, really, for anyone. So a long-term visitor like me has the chance to play these courses enough to study and learn every hole and maybe even every shot.
Of course, it would be nice to land permanent-resident status or enroll in St. Andrews University. Residents of St. Andrews and students at St. Andrews University have the opportunity to purchase a yearly ticket and join a club all for about 250 pounds (about $375 at the current exchange rate). That includes all the golf they care to play on The Old Course as well as the New, Castle, Jubilee, Eden, Strathtyrum and Balgove courses.
Because I'm neither a voting resident or a student, I can't purchase a yearly ticket. But I'm far from left out in the cold. I can purchase a 7-day ticket (which I have several times now) for 290 pounds. That sounds like a lot, but it allows me to play all the golf I want on the New, Jubilee, Eden, Strathtyrum or Balgove on any of the seven days while the ticket is still valid. What's more, the seven days on the ticket can be used over a period of two weeks, so I have golf availability for up to 14 days at a cost of about 40 pounds per day. For example, if I buy a ticket on Monday and use it to play The New in the morning and the Jubilee in the afternoon, take Tuesday and Wednesday off to rest my feet, play the Jubilee again on Thursday and the New and Eden on Friday, then take Saturday off or play somewhere else in the area, I'll still have four days left on the ticket to use the following week.
If you're not crazy like me, and you've only got a week in St. Andrews, a 3-day ticket is available for 145 pounds and it works basically the same way — you've got a week to play 3 days.
This is how I'm learning to navigate several St. Andrews Links courses as if they were my home course. Along with my seven rounds on The New, I've also played five times on Jubilee, seven on Eden and six on Strathtyrum. You can't play The Old Course on a 3- or 7-day ticket, which is the one downside. But if you play your ticket right, you can play the other courses for 30 percent off retail price or better.
As a bonus, I can now play any of these courses in my head, too. And this has helped me develop preferences, such as my top 5 favorite holes (not on The Old Course).
5. Eden No. 4, 251-yard par-4 — This short par 4 put a hex on me the second or third time I played it, when my drive settled about 40 yards short of the green, but because I went slightly to the right, I had an uphill pitch at the whale's back green. I left the pitch short, so my ball rolled all the way down a 30-foot bank, leaving me essentially back where I started.
4. Jubilee No. 8, 344-yard par-4 — This is the toughest tee shot on the Jubilee and among the hardest in all of St. Andrews. Hit it left and it's dead, hit it right and you're going away from the green. But hit it just right — say, a fade that comes back to the left side of the fairway or, even better, a draw that runs up the middle toward the green — and it's an easy finish. A huge plateau on the right side of the green funnels approach shots toward the center of the green.
3. New No. 18, 405-yard par-4 — Like many of the St. Andrews Links courses, the tee shot sets up with The Auld Grey Toon in the background. But this one is special because it finishes on a long, slender, superbly shaped green right in front of The Links Clubhouse. No matter how bad I've played for 18 and 1/2 holes, I try to look like I know what I'm doing on this green in case anyone in the dining room is watching.
2. Jubilee No. 15, 346-yard par-4 — The approach shot on the most talked-about hole on the Jubilee requires that you split two huge dunes which rise about 50 yards in front of the green, then land at least on the middle of the green or the ball will roll back into the deep valley in front.
1. New No. 8, 472-yard par-5 — A good tee shot renders two huge fairway bunkers mostly harmless and makes it possible to get home in two if you can split the two dunes that guard the green. Of course, local knowledge helps here too, because as you're climbing the uphill par 5, you have to remember that the green runs away downhill from front to back. It'd be a shame to get home in two only to find you had hit the ball through the green and into the gorse at the back. I've escaped such a fate so far, but it's been close.
(Photo: From the Links Clubhouse balcony, golfers waiting to tee off can study the first fairway on The New [left] the first fairway on the Jubilee [right] and the 18th green of The New.)