The Old Course at St Andrews
The essential qualities of the Old Course at St Andrews are the same today as they were when golf was first played over this stretch of ancient linksland six centuries ago.
Natural evolution and man-made changes have re-shaped some of the details, but the tumbling nature of the dunes terrain and the basic challenge presented by almost every hole would still be recognized today by the golfing pioneers who first struck a ball over the land that has become universally known as the Home of Golf.
In the early days of the game, golfers at Leith played over five holes, Musselburgh had nine. St Andrews had 22 -- or strictly speaking 11, which were played out to the estuary of the River Eden and back again into the city.
Homeward players had the right of way, but after holing out they had to tee the ball within one club length of the hole for their next shot. This created not only a very poor quality of surface over which to putt, but also a great deal of confusion and frustration.
In 1764, the first four holes were converted to two and the resulting 18 holes eventually became the accepted standard for the global game. It was not until 1856-57 that separate holes were cut for those playing the outward and inward holes, but soon afterwards the practice of teeing the ball on the green was abolished and separate teeing areas were used, getting golfers off the greens more quickly and improving their surfaces.
In its original form the Old Course was played backwards, from the first tee to the 17th green and then following a clockwise rotation, but the present anti-clockwise route became popular and for a period of some 40 years play was switched back and forth on a regular basis between the left and right-hand courses.
The creation of a separate first green in 1870 eventually led to the present course being permanently adopted for major events, although records for both courses continued into the last decade of the 19th century. In modern times the old left-hand course has occasionally been played for a few weeks in winter.
Constant use and natural erosion over hundreds of years forged a widening path through the dunes, heather and whin bushes. The inward holes of today's course mark the original line followed out and back by the earliest golfers and the gradual widening of the double fairways has brought more land on the seaward side into play.
Most bunkers are in natural hollows where the thin surface of topsoil was broken to reveal the sand beneath. Some have been refined for modern use and in the early 1900s additional bunkers were put in to the right of several outward holes to replace the bushes which had once flourished. A bunker in the wide expanse of the shared first and last fairways was removed in 1914 and six new championship tees have been created to cope with the onslaught of today's big- hitting professionals.
But man has merely tinkered with a few surface details. The natural challenge of the Old Course remains intact, as daunting and rewarding as it has been throughout the history of the game.