Most every golfer knows about the Old Course at St. Andrews. At a minimum, they know it’s the first golf course. They know it’s the Home of Golf. They know they play the Open Championship there.
But do you know that, for a few days each April, they play the Old Course in reverse? That’s right.
Thanks to a tree-less landscape and a true out-and-back design featuring 14 shared greens, the Reverse Old Course is not only plausible, but it was once the preferred way to play the course.
When playing the Reverse Old Course, players start on the first tee and play to the 17th green, essentially making the Road Hole bunker a right-side bunker for an approach shot. Then, players tee off from 18 tee to 16 green, and so forth, until the course ends with playing to the 18th green from the second tee.
Playing the Old Course in reverse, a lot of the course’s 112 bunkers and other design characteristics make more sense.
Tiger Woods would love to give the Reverse Old Course a try for that very reason.
“I’ve always wanted to play it backwards, one time before I die,” Woods said Tuesday. “I want to play from 1 to 17, 2 to 16, so forth and so on. I think that would be just a blast because I can see how certain bunkers – why would they put that there? And then if you play it backwards, you see it. It’s very apparent. That’s totally in play. That one day would be a lot of fun to be able to do.”
As it is played now, the Old Course goes out and back in a counter-clockwise motion, with the course taking a figure-eight shape. That shape remains in reverse, but the course plays clockwise. The reverse design creates a couple of conflicts, including the aforementioned finishing hole that crosses paths with the reverse first hole. The fifth and 13th holes also come into conflict, creating a bit of a safety issue on the wide-open course.
According to architecture expert Jeremy Glenn, who wrote the definitive modern piece on the reverse Old Course, there is some debate regarding the true design of the reverse Old Course, suggesting hole Nos. 1, 2, 17 and 18 were meant to play the same way regardless of going out on the original or the reverse course.
The Old Course used to have 22 holes. However, about 200 years ago, four holes were dropped leaving the 18-hole standard we play today. In 1832, the 14 double greens began to have two holes cut in them each day instead of the previous one, which meant groups were simultaneously approaching the hole going out and and coming in. Along with the double greens came separate teeing grounds and wider fairways. Those innovations actually led to golfers favoring what’s now called the reverse Old Course — or the left-hand loop — over the modern design. But when Old Tom Morris created the modern first green in 1870, the out-and-back modern loop became the standard.