We're hurling through space at 35,005 feet above sea level over northeastern Colorado according to my in-flight navigation screen.
Delta Airlines makes you pay $6 for movies now, so I've chosen the free entertainment option instead: watching my little plane icon inch slowly across a map of the United States on my personal monitor, while I try and tune out the screaming baby in the seat behind me. I've seen enough kids on leashes in airports on this cross-country trip, why don't we take it up a notch and start muzzling them too?
Somehow, this environment has driven my thoughts to the Old Course in St. Andrews. Maybe it's because I'm off to play some old links in the United Kingdom in a few days. Or maybe it's because I just finished playing some links golf at Bandon Dunes on the Pacific Ocean - or maybe it's because I was at an English-style Pub in Portland where a friend ordered a Scottish Egg (hard boiled egg wrapped in sausage, breaded and deep-fried), and I'm still grossed out thinking about its effect on his arteries.
But here I am, wondering why more golf courses don't have large double greens like St. Andrews, which has seven of them that host 14 holes. Not every golfer knows this. In fact, I told someone last week that the two holes on each of St. Andrews' double greens add up to 18. They were blown away, yet I didn't know this mathematical coincidence a few years ago myself.
Traditional looking, links-style golf courses with fescue grasses and dunes landscapes seem to be chic right now all over golf, just look at the recent U.S. Open nod to links-style Chambers Bay.
But there are a lot of things a round on the Old Course has that no other course has dared to implement, and I can't figure out why.
Now, not every course can suddenly come up with six centuries of history, a seaside location and major championship lore, but the beauty here is in the subtleties any course could employ if they were looking close enough.
For starters, the Old Course can be played in reverse. Rather than its modern counter-clockwise direction, for a few days each spring it's played in the original clockwise direction, so from the first tee you are in fact playing to the 17th green, then to the 16th green and so on ...
You're telling me Tom Fazio can build a rain-forest oasis in the middle of the Las Vegas desert at Shadow Creek Golf Course for an eight-figure sum, Pete Dye can create a rugged Irish links on Lake Michigan at Whistling Straits, but they can't build courses that can be played in either direction?
Even though I'm hesitant to label any one course the "best in the world," whenever someone declares it's a course other than St. Andrews, my immediate argument is that their course can't be played backwards.
And play the course in either direction, and you're bound to encounter blind shots, something that has gone missing on most modern courses. Who cares if the insurance man doesn't like it? There should be at least one tee shot on each golf course where you can't see the fairway at all. There is no better feeling than blindly ripping a drive over gorse or a hill and not getting immediate visual feedback from it - rather waiting until you come to the crest of the hill and see your white little gem sitting up in the center of the fairway.
One other design trait horribly absent from too many of our top modern golf courses is that we don't hit over enough stuff. The Road Hole at the Old Course's biggest appeal is that you hit your tee shot over a man-made object: the shed of the Old Course Hotel. I think golf course architects have underestimated how much golfers enjoy hitting over solid objects: trees, boulders, teepees, etc. Just because it's a massive liability issue doesn't mean each course shouldn't let you hit over some kind of solid object at least once. Why do you think the windmill has become mini-golf's signature?
Speaking of mini-golf, the Old Course is practically as available to play as any Myrtle Beach mini-golf course. How much sense does it make that the most famous golf course in the world allows daily public play (about 50 percent of its tee times are allocated to a daily lottery any duffer with a handicap certificate can enter), yet most towns in America have a private country club where they'll release the hounds if you try and squeeze in a quick 18 holes.
Lastly, I think every course should name each of their bunkers: Some courses name their holes. The Old Course has 112 pots and each has a name, and you're almost excited to find your ball in one because sure enough a local Scot you're playing with gives you a bonus, colorful anecdote as you climb down.
In fact, I'm going to begin naming every single bunker I find myself in from here on out and hope at least a few stick. It's never too late to begin installing the beauties of the Old Course on all of our local tracks - I'll start doing my part as soon as we touch down.
May 19, 2008