The Reverse Course (con’t.) HOLE 10

The back nine of the Reverse Course begins with a 325 yard hole, playing towards the Original eighth green from a new tee complex to the left of the Original ninth green.

As in the previous hole, many golfers will be attempting to conquer this hole in three shots. However, it is no easy task, in large part due to pronounced swales at the front of the green.

There are essentially two entrances to this green, one dealing with heather, the second dealing with the swales. Using a long iron and laying back from the tee short of Kruger bunkers (220 yards away) will leave players with anywhere from 100 to nearly 150 yards to the hole, depending on where it is cut. While this is a conservative play, into the prevailing can be a smart one. It allows the player to hit a short iron rather than a tough-to-judge pitch. The approach would thus be hit with enough spin to stop the ball when the pin is towards the front, or 50 yards of green to work with when the hole is at the back.

Most often, however, golfers will tee off with 3-woods or drivers and go left of the fairway bunkers, hopefully onto a flatter ‘plateau’. When the hole is cut towards the centre of the green, players can then hit a bump-and-run through the throat of those swales, feeding the ball towards its destination. Threes will be more plentiful here. However, if the hole is cut towards the right of the green however, this second shot becomes a more delicate task, rewarding only those with imagination and touch. Indeed, players now must either bump their ball across those swales (preferably landing the ball early) or flop a wedge over them. Furthermore, the farther left one hits the tee shot the tougher becomes the chip shot.All in all, if you’re going to miss your tee shot, miss right. Heather is easier to hit out of than gorse.

Of course, for the power hitters, the opportunity exists to drive the green. It is certainly a big enough target, roughly the size of a football field. However, this aggressive play is a bit of a gamble. Reaching the putting surface all but guarantees a three (assuming a good lag putt), but falling just short will leave the player amidst those swales with a potentially awkward stance.

Finally, it should be mentioned that there are some safety concerns on the Reverse 9th and 10th holes. Unlike play on the Original course, golfers playing the Reverse course will find that the best angle of play towards their respective greens is often from the opposite side of the fairway, in the line of fire from the other hole. But they’ll get in the way when they’ll be in front of the other hole’s tee complex, which means they will see and be seen. Certainly not an ideal situation, but hopefully with a little common sense, and the old rule which states that returning golfers have the right of way, it shouldn’t be any more of a problem than it needs to be.

As an additional remark regarding this green, Alister MacKenzie spoke of theswale in front of the green, which feeds the ball towards the Original 10th green from certain angles in the fairway. Smart golfers would run up this swale, to avoid the high bank fronting the left half of the green. The swale and bank can be seen clearly in the picture above.

Recommended Revisions

– Construct a new complex to the left of the ninth green, trimming gorse bushes as required.

HOLE 11

Honestly, I haven’t made up my mind about this hole yet. And unfortunately, I don’t believe that I can come to a conclusion I can properly defend solely based on pictures and my fading memory about the place.

In theory, the Reverse 11th would play from the existing 9th tee, but I initially believed that it might be a better hole if the existing 11th tee were used instead. In that case, the tee complex will need to be carefully considered, to arrive at a safe arrangement between golfers on the tee of the Reverse 9th and 11th holes, as well as pushed or sliced drives from the Reverse 7th hole. There’s obviously more than enough room between the Reverse 8th green and the Reverse 7th fairway to place two tees facing opposite directions. It’s only their exact placement in the field that would need to be finalized.

From the existing 11th tee, the hole would measure 160 yards, and represent the course’s best opportunity to post a two or three. It should be easy enough to get a three, as there is nothing really penal near the green. However, it can be quite a challenge to get it close enough to the hole to set up a two.The hole would play from the front portion of the existing11th tee towards the existing 7th green, over the expanse of the Shell bunker and its more discreet little friend to the right, towards a fairly shallow green, but with ample room between Shell and the putting surface proper. Thus Shell is certainly a visually intimidating obstacle, yet it really isn’t much in play for most golfers, except perhaps on the days when the hole plays severely downwind and one’s golf ball expects to be given a good bit of ground from the moment it first touches land to the spot where its run mercifully comes to an end.

But for the high handicapper or for the non-negligible number of golfers for whom a 100-yard carry is still an accomplishment, Shell represents a formidable foe. As such, the Reverse 11th would really be a interesting hole for the below-average player, and would thus be perfectly worthy of praise (not all strategy needs to be designed for the low handicappers…). However, for most golfers there wouldn’t be much to it. A rock-and-roll green, perhaps, but not a whole lot more than that, it would seem.

The more I studied this hole, especially the green complex, the more I began to see merit in using the existing 9th tee. Obviously, other than a negligibly shorter green-to-tee walk, this would free up the slightly congested area to the left of the Reverse 8th green to locate the Reverse 9th tee with greater discretion. However, one would once again end up with a cross-over between Reverse hole 8 and 11.

But what really gave the existing-9th-tee option more interest is a dramatic right-to-left embankment fronting the green, which seems to feed the ball directly into the awaiting mouth of Shell’s little friend. Of course, it is difficult to say whether this little bunker is really set-up properly to catch an adequate number of these timid shots. It almost seems too far out of the way and frankly a bit too small to cause golfers any concern. Yet at the same time it really seems to be the reason why ‘they’ put it there to begin with: A vacuum cleaner for anything that falls short of the green. This would make it quite difficult to get the ball close to any front pin location. And at the same time, one would need to decide whether to hit over or through a ridge running across the mid-section of the green in order to reach back pins. And when the hole is cut towards the far back, there is some rolly ground between Shell’s little friend and the back of the green that may result in odd bounces.

At any rate, whichever tee is used, the Reverse 11th certainly is a legitimate golf hole, even though it may not be the best on the course. It might be a better hole from the existing 9th, although it would probably need to be fudged around a bit to get it set up properly. Exactly how is tough to say, assuming it is even necessary. More than any other Reverse holes, one would really need to play this hole to find out.

And if we can’t choose, there’s no reason why we can’t use both tees. Either way, it’s still going to be tough to top the Original 11th…

Recommended Revisions

Existing 11th tee option

– No revisions necessary, although slight modifications to the tee complex might be suggested for a safe relation with the Reverse 9th.

Existing 9th tee option

– Review the tee complex and adjust as necessary.

– Expand and/or relocate Shell’s little friend to bring it more in play (if necessary).

HOLE 12

The 310-yard Reverse 12th hole, where players exit The Loop, represents one of the course’s final opportunity to score a three. And while the best golfers will be disappointed if they fail to do so, writing that number on one’s scorecard is still a moment to be savoured.

Once more, in theory, one would have teed off from the vicinity of the existing 8th tee. However, such a setup is largely impractical. Not because it would produce in itself an unplayable hole (quite the contrary), but rather because such a hole would severely conflict with its close neighbours. As such, in an attempt to keep it in check, players will instead be invited to tee off from the existing 12th tee, from where they would take aim at the existing 6th green.

To a certain extent, the Reverse 12th plays similarly to a mirror image of the Reverse 10th. And while it may at first seem obvious that the tee shot would be identical as the existing 12th, it is in large part due to the setup of the green complex that the strategy still makes sense. As the centre of the fairway is infamously a mine-field of unseen pot-bunkers, one has the choice of staying to the right of them, to the left of them, or confidently hitting right over them. The green itself can be reached off the tee, although that would take a very confident poke, to say the least.

The instinctive straight-at-the-green line is to go towards the left, short of a grouping of gorse bushes 220 yards away. While the shortest distance is always a straight line, and a very simple tee shot, this strategy certainly doesn’t leave the easiest of approaches. Even with a wedge, it is still a blind approach to a green sloping severely front-to-back. It can thus be tough to hold the green, and the large swale to the back of the green is no easy up-and-down

Rather than going left off the tee, a better idea might be to aim well right, towards the Eden Course. This certainly opens up the approach, and the flag is now clearly visible. However, it’s a visually awkward tee shot, and significantly lengthens the approach. You really feel as if you are taking a big detour. Aiming well away from the final target is not an easy thing to do when all your animal instincts tell you to let loose and give it an big, aggressive rip at the the green. Brain or brawn on this hole, I suppose.

The compromise between these two extremes is to carry the four fairway bunkers and land to the right of the gorse bushes. While this requires a 225-yard carry, short of driving the green it is certainly the best way to play this hole if you’re behind in the match and gunning for a three. All you’ll be left with would be a 30 to 50 yard bump-and-run, with St Andrews then asking you: ‘How good is your short game?’.

Incidentally, it is well known that the group of fairway bunkers were designed to be seen when playing the Reverse Course. Unfortunately, in this version, this feature is not as used, as the Reverse 7th hole would would the existing 7th tee. It is clear, on the overhead map, that it would be very dangerous to use the existing13th as the tee for the Reverse 7th.

We are also, with this hole, returning to the more rolling grounds of St.Andrews. It is indeed quite curious that the first, eighteenth, ninth and tenth, along with the Elysian Fields, are so flat compared to the rest of the property.

Recommended Revisions

– No revisions necessary.

HOLE 13

The last divergence between theory and practice occurs on this hole. Rather than playing towards the existing 5th green, it would instead be wise to keep the green configuration as is, and use it both for both the existing and Reverse 13th.

Teeing off from the existing 7th tee, the Reverse 13th hole will actually be roughly 40 yards shorter than the existing 13th hole, thus measuring around 360 yards. This is in large part due to the fact the the existing 7th tee might also be used for the tee of the Reverse 7th. Having to keep golfers out of each others way, they couldn’t be moved too far back on their respective tees. However, as another example that length has nothing to do with quality, this shortening of the 13th creates a rather interesting setup for the drive, one that will dramatically differentiate the two 13th holes, and one that offers an good lesson about the game.

Cat’s Trap is the key feature of this hole, sitting patiently 230 yards from the tee.

For most golfers in most situations, the smart play is obviously to stay short of Cat’s Trap, with a long iron or metal wood, into the wide section of fairway to the left of the Coffins. From that point, they will be left with anything from 100 to over 150 yards for their second shot, with a good view of the huge green. All in all, while being a perfectly good hole, it’s not the most fascinating one on the planet, as the entire interest lies in how close to the hole the player can hit her approach.

On the other hand, for the adventurous lot, flying it over Cat’s Trap is not entirely out of the question, especially when the hole is towards the back of the green. While doing so requires a ‘damn the torpedoes‘ approach towards the game, with a bit of luck the reward can be a simple pitch or chip to the hole, where a three is the likely result.

The second strategy is an interesting one from the point of view of luck, control, and the spirit of the game itself.

The area beyond Cat’s Trap is fraught with sharp tiers, pockets of rough, heather, fairway, a pot bunker, and Lord knows what else. Essentially, using your driver off the tee means that you are willing to relinquish control of your game, and rely on luck and a good bounce to help you along. While you have no idea where the ball will finish, and what kind of lie you’ll have, you’re willing to roll the dice. And although you’ll need luck to get a perfect lie, at the same time you’ll also be rather unlucky to get an unplayable lie as well. It’s really the golf equivalent of a slap shot from the blue line. Shoot it towards the net, and see what happens: you never know where it might deflect.

Interestingly enough, this is precisely the sort of strategy that is virtually eliminated from the modern game. When we usually think of a gamble, we think in terms of the golfer’s ability. Yes, it is a gamble to reach the 15th at Augusta in two shots, but if the golfer hits a good shot, we assume he should be rewarded. We believe that there should be a direct relation between execution and result.

Yet in this case, the gamble is not about the golfer’s ability. A good golfer knows that he can clear Cat’s Trap. Rather, the gamble is about the golf course itself. It is to see where two equally good drives will end up. The question is to see what the golf course will give the golfer. The test is to see how the each player will react after a voluntary loss of control and seeing the end result, good or bad.

The lesson is to accept that Luck is a integral and valuable part of the game.

Recommended Revisions

– Adjust the tees as necessary to allow for possible double use (Reverse 7th and 13th).

HOLE 14

The fourteenth is the longest hole hole of the course, measuring 570 yards from the back tee. And while I was both hoping and expecting this hole to be one of the most strategic and interesting of the Reverse Course, the truth is that all its potential falls flat when studied more closely. In reality, mainly due to the setup of the green, the shots are very one-dimensional, with hazards pushed away from the line of play and a fairly free, direct route to the green available. Of course, this in itself does not make the fourteenth a bad hole, far from it. However, with all the features found from tee to green, one cannot help but be disappointed at the outcome. And, as such, one is very tempted to do something about it.

And so I will.

There currently sits a pair of pot bunkers in the neck between the Reverse fourth and 14th greens. These, I believe, have a very minor role in the playing of the Old 14th, yet essentially spoil much of the strategy for the Reverse 14th. They make the approach easier from the mostly hazard-free left side of the fairway, and punish the golfers that challenge Hell.

As such, I thought that shifting them over towards the front-left of the green, would breathe new life into the interest and strategy of this hole.

Teeing off from the area Old 6th tee, the drive must challenge a bottleneck at 250 yards from the tee, between a sharp tier to the right and gorse to the left. Staying short of this pinch makes it quite difficult to carry Hell on the next shot, while confidently hitting through that gap allows the good player to attack the hole.

The decision to be made for the second shot is whether of not to carry Hell, about 200 yards away (give or take 50 yards, depending on your drive and the wind). For the long hitters, this task is probably so simple that they would be quite tempted to go right at the green and make a four.

But for most mortals, carrying Hell is still a challenging shot, and a very intimidating one at that. Yet the reward is a clear view of the green (now that the two pot bunkers are pushed out of the way). On the other hand, punching your second shot down the left side will then force players to clear the green-side bunkers on the approach, which is an especially delicate task when the pin is towards the front. Actually, staying left on the second shot is not an entirely straight-forward shot, as a series of mounds give good roll to the landing area. (In the area highlighted in yellow) One could thus stay short of them, roll through them, or not worry about them and rely on luck to give us a good stance.

Finally, off the tee, it must be mentioned that there exists another option of hitting over the Beardies into the Elysian Fields. While this may seem pointless at first, it does guarantee a flat lie, and opens up the green quite nicely for the long hitters going for it in two. Just make sure no one is putting out on the Reverse 5th before going that way

As a matter of fact, comparing this hole to the play of the Reverse 5th hole, and when one realises that such line-of-play overlaps between outward and inward holes exist throughout the Old Course and the Reverse Course, one cannot help to wonder how and why someone hasn’t been killed yet. Honestly.

Recommended Revisions

– Adjust the tees as necessary. Potential exist for a back tee back in the gorse somewhere.

– Relocate two greenside pot bunkers towards the front left of the green.

– Add fairway in area to the left of Graves bunkers. Tiers and mounds short-left of Graves could remain as rough, though.

HOLE 15

The fifteenth is perhaps one of the best of the Reverse Course.

Measuring 440 yards, this hole features a sharp fall-off about 275 yards from the back tee, splitting the landing area into two separate tiers: a narrow, lower section to the left, and a generous, inviting area up above.

Staying on that higher plateau to the right certainly seems to be the shot of choice off the tee, and overall is probably the smartest, safest way to play the hole. The landing area is 75 yards wide, and most thankfully, for once, hazard free (at least not counting Sutherland and Rob’s). In fact, a flat shelf towards the left half of that upper plateau seems to say ‘hit it here’. Doing so really is the best play.

However, nothing is free in this world, and if something looks too good to be true…

The catch, in this case, is that the further right you drive, longer and the tougher becomes your approach. Indeed, a menacing pot bunker guards the front right of the green, as you can see in the picture above. Of course, when the flag is towards the back of the green, there is still a good amount of room to carry the bunker and roll up to the flag.

To ease your predicament for your approach, you’d be well advise to stay left as much as you can. And, when you’re playing well (or playing so poorly that you need a three to stay alive), driving down the 20-yard-wide lower chute to the left offers a much better view of the green, even though some tricky contours might still need to be negotiated at the front left of the green.. When the flag is tucked behind the green-side bunker, coming in from this angle is by far your best opportunity to hit it close.

All in all, the location of the flag plays an important role in determining the best route off the tee. There are some areas of the green that can be very easy to reach from one landing area, but next to impossible to reach from the other. Roughly speaking, back and back-right are perhaps the only areas of the green that can be easily reached from the upper-right landing area. A very tricky green marks the end of a fascinating hole.

Recommended Revisions

– No revisions necessary, although some of the rough in front of the green could be shaved back.

HOLE 16

At 380 yards, the sixteenth hole is a rather simple hole, yet a tricky one nevertheless. The green is perhaps the most contoured at St. Andrews, and can greatly affect not only the putts, but also the approach shots as well.

Essentially, off the tee, the line is basically anywhere between the 2nd and 16th flags. But as it so often happens at St. Andrews, while the centre of the fairway is safe off the tee the result is a tougher approach, whereas flirting with the edges of the property offers a better angle in. Here, a large mound (topped by a gorse bush) blocks the view of the green from the centre of the fairway and impedes the approach.

Of course, the rough short of the green should be shaved down, as it should be on many other holes on the Reverse Course because it surely used to be a fairway that has simply been overgrown over the decades. However, the gorse bush could certainly remain. Not only does it have strong visual presence, it is a good aiming point off the tee.

For the golfers who stay left off the tee, the approach is more open with the right-to-left slope of the green facing towards them. Furthermore, the ladies’ tee of the Old Course’s third hole offers an flat landing pad on which to land the ball before having it run onto the green. However, in doing so, the golfer will need to flirt quite closely with a large, blind pot bunker about 270 yards from the back tee. The best strategy is often to stay short of it, and come into the green with a full short iron..

The real trick of this hole seems to be the semi-blind approach. In effect, the sixteenth, while shorter, is quite similar to the previous hole: A tricky green best approached from the left side. And while the putting surface cannot be seen, the player knows all about its hidden dangers, having seen it on the way out. What frightens us most is often that which cannot be seen.

As a final note, I’m curious as to the origin of those two linear drainage swales that look like tire tracks for the Green Giant’s maintenance vehicle. They start in front of the Reverse 3rd green and traverse diagonally in front of the Reverse 16th landing area.

It was also mentioned that an option of play is to drive far left onto the New Course, and thus face the inviting upslope of the green. This option should be discouraged, as it is quite dangerous and seems to defeat the purpose of the hole. Thus the heather, gorse bushes and pot bunkers along the left, near the maintenance road, should remain as a stern buffer between the Reverse Course and the New Course.

Recommended Revisions

– The rough in front of the green should be shaved back or eliminated altogether.

– A new back tee could easily be built for the long hitters / pro players, lengthening the hole by a good 40 yards.

HOLE 17

The second to last hole of the Reverse Old Course — a hole where it is likely that many matches will be decided — offers a generously wide, 440-yards-long battlefield. The important decision I had to make was how long to make this battlefield. Too long, and Cheape’s comes increasingly into play. Too short, and the second shot is no longer one of sheer terror.

Essentially, the interest of the second shot is dictated by three features: a large mound front-right of the green, a green that falls away from you, and the Swilken Burn. So it doesn’t take a great strategic mind to understand that an approach from the rigth side will be tremendously difficult: A semi-blind long iron, all carry to a green falling away from you and water hard against the back edge.

Good luck!

The reason why I did not want Cheape’s to be in play is that I wanted the right side of the hole to be a bail out for the timid drives. As I have it, it’ll be a 210 yard carry from the back tee.

So once again, therefore, the aggressive play from the tee is to hit it down the property line, in this case along the left side of the fairway, flirting with the gorse and a trio of pot bunkers. From this side, however, players will have a better view of the green, a better angle in, and a shorter shot. In fact, the approach no longer needs to carry the large mound, and could thus be run up onto the green, once the rough is trimmed back. Furthermore, overshooting the green does not necessarily spell disaster, as the water is now more to the left of the green rather than directly behind it.

It is interesting the way that the Swilken Burn, so close to the green but behind rather than in front, still has the same effect on golfers approaching the Reverse 17th as when playing the Old Course’s first. But in this case, instead of screaming ‘Go ball! Go!’, they’ll be pleading ‘Stop ball! Stop!’.

Recommended Revisions

– Construct a new back tee 50 yards front-left of the Reverse 16th green.

– Shave back the rough in the area highlighted in purple. This will also improve play of the Reverse 2nd hole and Old Course’s 17th hole.

HOLE 18

The 18th hole of the Old Course has long been an important question mark for golfers and architect aficionados alike. Indeed, it is certainly unconventional — some might foolishly say anti-climatic — in that it doesn’t heed to the more common idea of the ‘difficult finale’. However, it remains a hole where a player can easily score a three and thereby gain a stroke on his opponents. And certainly the return into the amphitheatre formed by the ancient town of St Andrews is not likely to be forgotten. Those who have crossed the Swilken Bridge and made that walk into the heart of the ‘Olde Grey Toon’, under the watchful eye of the local gallery, will rarely describe the Old Course as a mere sports field.

Yet those last few shots must still be hit, and off the tee players, hitting across the line of the first hole, are once again faced with a number of choices. These choices will partially depend on what score the player wishes to post on this hole, but mostly depend on the location of the flag.

For those find themselves ahead in their match, and who want to avoid a five at all costs, the best play can be described — as it always is — as two middles and two putts: Middle of the fairway, middle of the green, lag it close, and tap it in. Most times and in most situations, this is the best and smartest play.

On the other hand, for those desperate golfers who are trailing by a shot, the placement of the drive should dance with the location of the hole. Left when left, long when long, short when short, and right when right.

The setup for the tee shot is essentially to avoid the Valley of Sin on the approach. In effect, the Reverse 18th plays quite similarly to the existing 18th, for obvious reasons. When the hole is cut on the left side of the green, the drive should be aimed towards the first tee, as far down the fairway as possible. This will allow the approach run on to the green from that side, passing by the Valley. Along the same line, when the hole is (more rarely) towards the severely-slopped right side, players might wish to aim across the width of the fairway and towards the right half of the corridor. However, that side is certainly more bumpy, producing uneven lies that can ruin a realistic run at a three.

Of course, if the pin is towards the back of the green, players can then take dead aim and hit it down the middle with their driver. They’ll have plenty of green to work with, and the Valley of Sin won’t be much of a factor. They can pitch it quite close to the hole. And finally, when the hole is cut to the front, players may wish to stay back a bit more on their drive. While they can run it through the Valley of Sin, this play will also give them a choice of hitting it over the valley with enough spin to stop it reasonably quickly.

When the last putt has fallen, players are invited to share a Pint at their favourite pub, and debate the merits of the Old and Reverse courses.

Recommended Revisions

– No revisions necessary.

CONCLUSION

So there it is, the Reverse Old Course. We’ve done the unthinkable, and revised the Grand Old Lady, to re-create a golf course that had been lost for generations.

When we embarked on the journey, we had two goals in mind. The first is to see if the Reverse Old Course is a legitimate golf course, and not some awkward, dangerous contrivance that is basically unplayable. Truth be told, a ‘pure’ Reverse Course, due to the setup of The Loop, fell short of this goal. However, once the routing of the Loop was reviewed, the end result, as we can safely conclude, is a perfectly playable golf course. The second goal was to discover just how good a golf course the Reverse Old Course was or could be. I’ll let you answer this for yourself, but rest assured that next time I go to St.Andrews, I’d be quite tempted to aim a little more left off the first tee.

Yet the question remains: Why has the Reverse Course disappeared? Just what are we waiting for to revive it? After all, it is a true diamond in the heather, one ofthe greatest ‘lost’ links of all.

It lies in waiting; like an old musical instrument yearning to be dusted off and played again.

Credits

The overhead aerial plans of each hole are taken from the Old Course’s yardage book, which I purchased when playing the Old Course. It is provided by the St. Andrews Links Trust.

Other pictures are taken from both St Andrews: How to Play the Old Course by Desmond Muirhead and Tip Anderson; and St. Andrews & The Open Championship: the Official History by David Joy

Golf simulation screenshots were made with the use of Links LS 99 (for the front nine), and Links LS 2001 ( for the back nine).

The End