Deep breath. And another. One last look at the flag. And with that, I pulled the club back and heaved my driver.
The ball flew off the club face with a ‘ping’ and sailed high in the air, a fantastic shot – if only it had been going in the right direction…
‘Fore!’ I bellowed, flushed from both embarrassment and frustration.
The sound of giggling erupted from behind me and I whirled around to see my three friends doubled over in hysterics.
Glowering, I stormed off and a few minutes later found my ball sitting perfectly in the fairway on St Andrews’ Old Course – the home of golf.
The beautiful St Andrews clubhouse sits next to the opening hole on the incredible New Course
Water is very much in play on the New Course, explains Ben, with holes hugging the Eden Estuary
The sun rises and the flag dances on the breeze on a beautiful day at St Andrews – the home of golf
Had I been playing the Old Course it would have been a fantastic shot. As it was, I was playing the New Course – a championship course that runs parallel with its famous neighbour.
I pulled out an 8 iron, hit a shot and momentarily fulfilled a lifetime ambition – playing golf on the Old Course.
We had flown to Edinburgh and driven the 80 minutes or so north to spend a few days at one of the world’s finest golfing destinations, certainly the most famous.
For 600 years people have been playing golf on the St Andrews links. The history and traditions of the game – as well as the feats of golfing greats – is woven into the town’s DNA.
Naturally, we tried – and failed – to get a tee time on the Old Course via the famous ballot system.
While disappointing, it is still testament to this golfing Mecca that anyone (with a handicap of 36 or less) can play the Old Course either by winning the ballot lottery or by camping out at the starter’s hut from 3am and waiting for dropouts.
So it was a case of out with the old and in with the new as we wandered the beautiful, undulating fairways and enjoyed the splendour of St Andrews’ New Course – which turned out to be a complete, total and utter delight.
Even on a Sunday in winter the fairways were immaculate, the bunkers soft and the greens ‘absolutely mint’ – as a guy in the pub had told me the night before. He was not wrong.
The St Andrews Links complex has seven courses. Six of these, including the Old and New courses, are on one site while the seventh, the dramatic Castle Course, is just down the road.
Like excited schoolboys we set out on our golfing odyssey and meandered from tee to green, navigating our way around the cavernous bunkers, often failing to escape their enormous faces.
There were good shots and bad, birdies and bogeys, and we were blown away by the spectacular course with the famous old town nestled in the background. It felt like a privilege to be there.
The locals recommend putting anything around the green given the fairways are so manicured and the greens mountainous.
The greens at St Andrews are the stuff of legend, declares Ben – beautifully manicured and terrifyingly fast
Treacherous bunkers guard the greens and gorse bushes punish golfers who stray off line
St Andrews represents links golf at its best and is among the finest venues in the world
The undulating fairways and well-protected greens make the New Course a classic St Andrews test
On more than one occasion we watched a ball go up a huge slope, not quite make it to the top, turn around and return to the players’ feet. Cue, hilarity.
A birdie on the 170-yard par 3 fifth hole made the beer that bit sweeter afterwards and did much to remove the bad taste from some of my wilder shots.
The New Course was built in 1895 by keeper of the green Old Tom Morris, and it is often referred to as the ‘oldest new course in the world’.
It is also widely acknowledged to be slightly harder than the Old – and a proper links test.
Aside from the lightning-quick greens and treacherous bunkers the biggest danger is the wind, which whips around and causes havoc with club selection.
Also the sea is very much in play on the incredible 220-yard par 3 ninth, which hugs the Eden Estuary. Do not go left.
We negotiated the forest of gorse bushes – another hazard that comes into play on every hole and are to be avoided like the plague.
I revelled in the tree-less nature of the place, allowing you to escape with errant tee shots… sometimes.
The sun shone and the wind settled and we were amazed to be playing in T-shirts in Scotland in November.
As the shadows lengthened the clubhouse came into view. We stood on the final tee and looked out at a very familiar sight. The 1st and 18th of the Old Course – the widest fairway in golf – lay deserted.
We played the last and embraced on the 18th green. It had been a day of days and one that we would relive again and again that evening.
After a few quick pints we retired to the delightful Hotel du Vin, located about a strong five iron away from the Old Course’s hallowed 18th green.
Hotel du Vin – just a stone’s throw from the 18th green at St Andrews Old Course
The gorgeous views from the luxury rooms – ‘the perfect place to unwind after a day of golf’
Leather armchairs, super-king beds and Egyptian cotton sheets come as standard
Our elegant room, one of 42, boasted dramatic sea views, with the property perfectly situated in the heart of the old town.
The walk-in monsoon shower, giant flat screen, and super king bed with Egyptian cotton sheets were all very much welcomed as we dropped our golf gear and relaxed in our new-found stylish surroundings.
As night fell we dined on succulent steaks at the exceptional French-style Bistro du Vin – the hotel’s jewel in the crown.
Ravenous, we ordered enough to feed an army and particularly enjoyed the whisky-cured salmon and tiger prawns to start.
The French onion soup is also highly recommended and the rosary goats cheese and caramelised onion quiche was divine.
Noting that their butcher supplies His Majesty, we dined like kings on tender 21-day-aged fillet steak and 28-day-aged rib-eyes, washed down with bottles of full-blooded Chianti.
The hotel’s restaurant is the ‘jewel in the crown’ and uses meat supplied by the King’s butcher
Breakfast was served with sweeping sea views over the dramatic coast
Private dining is available, as the hotel caters for functions and events
The exquisite bathrooms feature walk-in monsoon showers
We finished our gastronomic feast with burnt Basque cheesecake followed by creamy Irish coffees before retiring to the bar for cocktails and to lounge in leather armchairs.
It had been a day of thirst and we toasted long into the night.
Midnight came and went and finally we found ourselves once again wandering the 18th fairway on the Old Course.
We crossed the Swilcan Bridge while reliving the memories of our own day as well as those of golfing ghosts of yesteryear.
The course was bathed in moonlight and our laughter carried away from the town and floated out over the black sea.
What a trip. What a place. What a day to be alive.
The New Course at St Andrews Links starts at £65 until 31 March 2024, then £92 from 1-14 April, then £140 from 15 April – 13 October, then £100 from 14 October 30 November.
Hotel Du Vin double bedrooms start at £149 from January and full details can be found by clicking here.