Battle lines on the fairways

As the R and A issue Open invitations to their millennium party, tension is already running high

Every player who has lifted the old claret jug and is still around to drink a toast, or at least swing a club, is expected to be invited by the Royal and Ancient to participate in a unique celebration of the Open Championship when the event is staged at St Andrews this coming July.

Every player who has lifted the old claret jug and is still around to drink a toast, or at least swing a club, is expected to be invited by the Royal and Ancient to participate in a unique celebration of the Open Championship when the event is staged at St Andrews this coming July.

In a potential curtain-raiser to golf's oldest competition and on its most revered stage, it is hoped that Open champions from Sam Snead, who won at St Andrews in 1946, to the defending champion, Paul Lawrie, will play four holes on the Old Course - the first, second, 17th, and 18th - on the eve of the Millennium Open. There are 27 surviving champions and, although the R and A stress nothing has been finalised, the cast list could have a taste of vintage claret in Max Faulkner, Peter Thomson, Roberto de Vicenzo, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus as well as the more modern masters.

Lawrie, of course, took possession of the jug in an astonishing climax at Carnoustie last summer, winning in a play-off after Jean Van de Velde blew a three-stroke lead with his famous seven at the last. Had Carnoustie - where fearsome rough, narrow fairway and strong winds made it the toughest test in history - been the venue for the Open this year it is doubtful if the old champions could have survived even four holes. The Old Course at St Andrews, which has evolved over six centuries, will be different.

"We don't touch the rough with fertilisers," Eddie Adams, the head green-keeper, said. "It will not be tricked up and there is no hidden agenda. Carnoustie was in fantastic condition but it is a totally different animal. Ideally we want a hot, dry Open with classic hard and fast links conditions, but like Carnoustie we are in the lap of the gods when it comes to the weather."

Aficionados would argue that St Andrews itself, fashioned by nature on the Eden Estuary in the kingdom of Fife, is in the lap of the gods. "Victory anywhere is sweet," Seve Ballesteros remarked, "but to win at St Andrews is so special it rises above everything." The legend continues to grow.

Since King David gave the links to the town as common land for the people in 1123, it has been the scene of royal battles between conservationists and developers. The R and A may run the Open but the courses and facilities are managed by the St Andrews Links Trust, established by an Act of Parliament in 1974 to preserve the land as a public park, albeit a park for golf.

The self-financing charitable trust have built St Andrews into one of the largest golf complexes in the world. They have six courses and are currently looking for land for a seventh. In addition to the Old Course, they have the New (despite its name it opened in 1895), the Jubilee (reputed to be two strokes tougher than the Old), the Eden, the Strathtyrum and the Balgove.

The latter is a nine-hole course which is suitable for children and beginners. Even with 99 holes on more than 660 acres, the trust need another 18 holes, a missing links. "We are running out of space," Alan McGregor, general manager of the trust, said. "We are over-subscribed, although it's a great problem to have."

Since their formation, the trust have transformed golf at St Andrews from a quaint, almost ramshackle operation, in which players changed in the car park, into a modern phenomenon attracting more than 200,000 rounds of golf a year.

An acronym for the St Andrews Links Trust would be Salt, although that could be read as strategic arms limitation talks, which at times would not be inappropriate. They are faced with a delicate balancing act between preserving the heritage of land regarded as sacrosanct and satisfying demand. Introduce so much as a breeze-block on to the site and a whole host of bodies will land like a ton of bricks. When the Links clubhouse was built five years ago it met with fierce resistance.

"It seemed that everybody was up in arms and it was very vitriolic stuff," McGregor said. "We had to dig a great hole and put the clubhouse in it so it would be below the town's skyline." Another facility, the Eden clubhouse, opens next month. It had to be built around an old cottage, decreed a listed building by Historic Scotland.

While other courses in Scotland are struggling, St Andrews is booming. There are big private developments under way, including a £50m scheme on what was Kingask Farm two miles outside town. Don Panoz, an Irish-American businessman, wants to build two courses and a hotel on the site. "It is not in our remit to stop commercial ventures," McGregor said, "but there is a danger of killing the goose that laid the golden egg."

The five-star Old Course Hotel, which is integral to St Andrews hosting the Open on a regular basis, is currently building a £5m extension which edges towards the tee on the 17th, the infamous Road Hole. Although its plans for a three-story addition were reduced to two, that did not stop critics describing the extension as "vandalism".

The trust make a surplus of £1m a year (profit is a dirty word), which is spent on the links. Another big investment is a £2.5m computerised irrigation system and a £1.5m green-keeping centre. "We have to move forward and set high standards," McGregor added, "although I'm not suggesting that we have to say, 'Have a nice day' on the first tee."

In the necklace of links, the Old Course remains the jewel. It accommodates about 42,000 rounds a year (to protect the hallowed turf the course now opens at 7am instead of 6am) and is so popular a daily ballot of players takes place. Last weekend Adams, born and bred in St Andrews and a green-keeper since he was 16, played the Strathtyrum course because he couldn't get on anywhere else.

As public links they are open to all and the residents of the town have the best deal in the world: a £98 yearly ticketoffering unlimited play. There is no charge for under-16s. If the home of golf was run as a commercial concern things would be very different. As it is the rate to visitors is rising to £80 for a round on the Old Course. "I would argue that, compared to many courses, Wentworth for example, which charges £195, £80 is very reasonable by today's standards," McGregor said.

For the Open, which is expected to attract 250,000 people, the Old Course will play to 7,115 yards, slightly longer than when John Daly won there in 1995 and when Curtis Strange went round in 62 in the 1989 Dunhill Cup. Adams is hoping for fast greens but nobody will be able to complain about them being too small. In total they measure 7.5 acres with the largest double green, the fifth 13th, occupying 1.5 acres. A green keeper cutting it with a hand-mower would walk seven miles.

The course will not be defenceless this summer. There are the elements and then there are the bunkers, 112 of them. They are not only works of nature, but works of art, and all have been rivetted using five-and-a-half acres of turf produced in the trust's nurseries. It is the sand trap on the 14th hole, however, that takes pride of place at St Andrews. This is Hell Bunker, which has been rebuilt using railway sleepers sunk into a concrete base. It is so deep players will use steps to enter it. Some will not get to Hell and back.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power