ST. ANDREWS, SCOTLAND - Carolyne Nurse, Communications Director for the St. Andrews Links Trust, met me after a rather wet early-morning round on The Eden Course. After niceties were exchanged (and my sopping clothes changed), we convened in the comfortable grillroom of the Eden and Strathtyrum Clubhouse, which opened in 2000 as the second clubhouse on the St. Andrews Links property.
"How," began Nurse, "do you define a 'municipal' golf course?"
"Well, um," I stammered in a what-do-you-expect-from-an-inarticulate-Yank? sort of way, "I suppose the most basic definition is that a municipal course is owned by the government - usually a city or county - instead of a private concern. I think they generally operate as non-profit entities."
Nurse's large, captivating eyes widened even further. "You see, we just read on the Bethpage U.S. Open website that they are claiming that Bethpage is 'the largest municipal golf facility in the world.' But they have only five courses and one clubhouse. We have six courses [five 18-hole and one 9-hole] and two clubhouses."
After some discussion, I had to admit that Nurse and the St. Andrews Links Trust have a compelling case against Bethpage: Prior to the establishment of the Trust by an Act of Parliament in 1974, the courses were owned by the St. Andrews Town Council. The Trust was created to preserve continuity at the links, although they are still owned by the Fife Council. Furthermore, the Trust is a non-profit entity, with all monies from green fees, merchandise, etc. going directly back into the upkeep and management of the courses.
And despite the austere presence of the Royal and Ancient Clubhouse behind the first tee of The Old Course (the members of which one of my caddies described as "dinosaurs"), all of the courses here are open to the public at relatively reasonable rates, especially for natives of Fife. In fact, local golfers seem rather happy that golf tourists usually aren't even aware that tee times can be readily reserved on the New, Jubilee, Eden, and Strathtyrum courses - much easier for the locals to knock off a quick game that way.
One of the favorite courses with the locals is actually the 1914-vintage Harry S. Colt-designed Eden Course. Colt was one of a few pioneer golf course designers who took the trade from an idiosyncratic past time to a skilled profession. Among his many credits, Colt served as club secretary at Sunningdale in England, and designed courses on both sides of the Atlantic, including Sunningdale's New Course, the Country Club of Detroit, and Burning Tree in Bethesda, MD. Colt also had a major role in laying out the legendary Pine Valley in NJ, and designed and built holes 12-15 there after the death of George Crump. He also co-authored the first book on golf course design and did extensive work in Japan and South Africa.
The hallmarks of Colt designs are their strategic rather than punitive nature, and greens that set the standard for modern putting surfaces. Colt constructed his greens to facilitate drainage, with pronounced, often dramatic, contouring. As such, the greens of The Eden Course are the most undulating to be found at the St. Andrews links.
Recently extended to 6,195 yards, the par-70 Eden Course has hosted The Eden Tournament since 1919, a top British amateur golf event. Sheltered from the sea by The Old Course, Eden nevertheless features views from hole No. 3 and 4 out across the Eden Estuary toward the Leuchars Air Base, where fighters and bombers take off for training missions, and the helicopters and jets of politicians and celebrities land for rounds at St. Andrews.
Colt incorporated the partially buried field boundary dykes into the Eden routing, and the result is a very natural, flowing layout. Most fairways are generous, although crossing winds, high fescue, and O.B. threaten wayward drives on most of the holes. If you slice one on No. 3, you'll not only be O.B., but you'll be on The Old Course. (That's one way to get on even if you can't secure a tee time.)
The par-3 5th (144 yards) and 8th (178 yards) cross, and depending on the wind, can play much longer than their yardages suggest. The green of the 5th consists of two tiers separated by a 7-foot slope that makes for a wicked putt if you're on the wrong level.
Nos. 14 (350 yards, par 4) and 15 (170-yard, par 3) feature the only inland water hazard on all of the links. Added in 1985, this devilish pond was not at all popular with the locals, and, indeed, it does seem a bit out of place. It has the effect of drawing your attention - and golf balls - to it.
The 432-yard 17th is perhaps the toughest on the course. Tee shots must be threaded between a series of pot bunkers on the left side of the fairway and O.B. on the right. Colt sprinkled deep pot bunkers liberally throughout the Eden, and like the bunkers on the other St. Andrews courses, if your ball comes to rest on the wrong side of the sand, your only play is backwards.
Overall, The Eden Course is one of the few low-scoring opportunities to be had by visitors to the St. Andrews links; however, between the tricky, undulating greens and the visual illusions induced by the hollows and mounds in the fairways, precision approaches and sound strategy will be required to shoot low.
Links designs have a tradition of being environmentally friendly: Greenkeepers at all of the Links Trust courses use as little herbicide as possible. Just recently, Carolyne Nurse and her staff have begun actively publicizing this aspect of golf at St. Andrews. The Eden Estuary, after which The Eden Course is named, has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest for some time, and is now a Special Protection Area as well. And of all the courses, Eden offers the most serene round at the links.
The new Eden and Strathtyrum Clubhouse and its surrounding garden-like grounds also provide a welcome respite from the tour groups crowding the clubhouse of the Old, New, and Jubilee courses. The grillroom is relaxed (but please, take off your hat), and the pro-shop is stocked with the same St. Andrews Links swag as the other shops on the property.
Here you will also find the business offices of the St. Andrews Links Trust, where they oversee operations of the largest municipal golf complex in the world, contrary to the claims of the folks at Bethpage State Park.
"We are in the process of planning a seventh course, as well," Carolyne Nurse shared with me as we sipped cappuccinos. "Our present courses average 95-percent capacity throughout the year, so we are in need of some expansion." When I asked what the name, location, and opening date will be, her remarkable eyes narrowed. "I'm not at liberty to make that information public yet."
It is safe to speculate, however, that when ever and where ever that course opens, it will be yet another excellent reason to tarry a while longer in St. Andrews. There is so much more golf here to play besides the venerable Old Course.
The Eden Course at St. Andrews Links
St. Andrews Links Trust
Pilmour House, St. Andrews, KY16 9SF, Scotland
Tel: + (0) 1334 466666
Rates: 30 British pounds
Misc.: Caddies available; metal spikes allowed; walking only; fescue tees, fairway, and greens
Practice Facilities: 3
Club House &
Pro Shop: 5
Pace of Play: 5
Par 3's: 3.5
Par 4's: 3
Par 5's: 2.5
Overall Rating: 3 out of 5
July 8, 2002
Kiel Christianson has lived, worked, traveled and golfed extensively on three continents. As senior writer and equipment editor for WorldGolf.com, he has reviewed courses, resorts, and golf academies from California to Ireland, including his home course, Lake of the Woods G.C. in Mahomet, Ill. Read his golf blog here and follow him on Twitter @GolfWriterKiel.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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