The Old Course is perhaps the most famous golf course in the world, located at the Home of Golf. Alongside the New, Jubilee, Eden, Strathtyrum, Balgove and The Castle, the Old Course is one of the seven courses managed by St Andrews Links Trust. Golf has been played at St Andrews for over 600 years and the Old Course now accommodates approximately 44,000 golfers a year with over 15,000 caddie rounds. It also features prominently on the professional tournament calendar; the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship is played here every October and in recent times it has hosted The Open Championship every five years. 2010 saw the 28th playing of The Open over this most famous of links.
The playing quality of the courses is high throughout the year – good enough to host major professional events through the summer and autumn months. The Open Championship 2010 saw a programme of performance parameters measured to inform preparations of putting surfaces. Firmness (with soil moisture), smoothness, trueness and speed were assessed.
Covering 2.3 hectares, the greens to the Old Course (including 11 double greens) are famous for their size. The quality of their indigenous links turf is a result of traditional management that sees less than 40 kg/ha of nitrogen being applied to them each year. Water is also sparingly used. Over the last 3 years, the lowest amount of irrigation applied was 3,900 cubic metres (in 2010), the most 5,800 cubic metres (in 2009). Over the same period, the greens have been treated 2 to 3 times a year with fungicide to try and manage fairy rings. A decision was made to stop these treatments in 2011, looking to a tighter control of water management to deal with the effects of this fungal activity. Two herbicide and one insecticide applications were made to the greens between 2008 and 2010.
The commercial viability of the town of St Andrews is partly dependent on the success of the golf courses, and in particular the ability of the Old Course to attract visitors all year round. The fact that the Links Trust has been able to invest in two new clubhouses, two new maintenance buildings, a new irrigation system for the entire Links and a new golf course, The Castle, with its own clubhouse and maintenance infrastructure over the last 15 years demonstrates that golf in St Andrews is an economic driver. The golf courses are an integral part of the life of the town.
The Links Trust has an environmental management policy. It manages the courses with low inputs of water, fertiliser and pesticides to maintain their true links character. In 2005, when The Open was played there, only 9,518 cubic metres of irrigation water was applied to the Old Course greens, green surrounds and fairways, 30 kg/ha of nitrogen was applied to greens and their surrounds (nothing to fairways) and no pesticides were applied to the greens, though the fairways were spot treated twice with an herbicide. The native sward is a mixed one composed of approximately 70% fescue (Festuca spp.) and 15% bent (Agrostis spp.), with other grasses such as annual meadow grass (Poa annua), crested hair-grass (Koeleria cristata), perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne), cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata) and Yorkshire fog (Holcus lanatus) also to be found across the links.
Gorse removal with reinstatement of dune grassland and heather forms the basis of habitat management to encourage greater numbers of ground nesting birds such as the Red-Listed skylark. Coastal protection works have been undertaken to the north end of the links (on the Eden Estuary) to help preserve the golf courses.
Energy use and waste production is closely monitored and minimised. Green waste from the course is composted.
St Andrews Links is open to the public and utilised for recreation other than golf, e.g. walking, running and cycling, and for pursuits such as bird watching.
An independent research study showed that The 150th Anniversary Open Championship staged in St Andrews, last year, delivered a combined £100 million benefit to Scotland. The study commissioned jointly by The R&A and EventScotland, found that most of the economic impact was focussed on St Andrews and the Fife Council area, with £40.1 million income entering the local economy directly attributable to The Open Championship.
The Old Course and the Links in general at St Andrews is an excellent example of how a traditional and sustainable approach to greenkeeping can produce excellent quality courses whilst caring for the environment, providing a tremendous resource for the local community (recreational and economic) and a very sound business operation.
The town of St Andrews is the backdrop to the opening and closing holes of the Old Course.
Coastal protection of the courses on the shore of the Eden Estuary has incorporated a variety of hard engineering options.
Nature, golf and people in harmony at St Andrews.
One of the iconic images in golf - golfers walking across the Swilcan Bridge on the 18th hole to the Old Course.
Measuring the trueness of the 17th green during The Open Championship 2010.