It gave me a real taste of what the world’s best could face.

The Links Trophy marker’s call

A quiet weekend was turned upon its head when a call from John Grant, Tournament Director, came in declaring he needed a marker for the final 36 holes of the St Andrew Links Trophy on the Old Course, due to an odd number making the cut (61).

Due to the nature of the late call, my clubs were collected the evening before and they’d made their way to the first tee ready for my 06:35am tee time with a young Dutch player, Robbie van West. Now at this point I would like to mention that I would usually hit balls before playing, but the nature of the circumstances made this tough. That said my playing partner had showed the level of professionalism needed to play at this world class amateur level. Robbie had set his alarm at 4am that Sunday morning, before embarking on his usual 30 minute stretching routine, this was then followed by 30 minutes for his ‘relaxing breakfast’. By this point his watch was showing 05:00am and he set about his walk to the practice ground, which of course was the Balgove (with the Golf Academy’s closure due to the construction of the spectator village). Once he arrived he had hit balls for 40mins before the relatively long walk back towards the first tee. A pretty good effort considering he had 36 holes ahead of him! Again it shows the outstanding dedication of these individual athletes.

As we arrived on the tee there was the smallest of crowds, in fact if I’m honest it was one man (without his dog), before we were announced on the tee and we were off. At this point Robbie’s warm up was apparent as my ball headed to the left side of the fairway, whilst Robbie’s was struck straight down the middle. Jim White a former Management Committee Chairman remarked at lunch, that he thought I had left my jacket in the New Club of St Andrews, such was the direction of the drive!

As ever it was a real pleasure playing the Old Course, but a particular treat in the fact we were playing off the Championship tees (with the exception of 2,13 & 17), which was actually my first time playing the course with this extra length. Now, I’ve been fortunate enough to play the Old many times, but never have I played it anywhere near as tough as the first 18 holes. A wind that was 25-30mph, into and slightly from the left, with pins that were set for a final championship day meant that my work was cut out.

And if I needed matters reinforced in my mind I only need look at what I thought were some quite impressive drives that weren’t that far down the fairway. Drives that left me hitting a 5 iron to the 3rd and also 4 iron to the 6th and 10th holes. Normally they’d be short wedge shots from the regular tees with a ‘normal wind’.

The good news was that I knew once I’d putted out on the 11th it would be downwind from there. And it helped me greatly, getting up on the 617 yard 14th hole in two shots as well as driving the last to 12ft from the pin.

Once we putted out on the 18th we headed up to the Links Clubhouse for a buffet lunch, which was fantastic – a great selection and quality of food on offer – a far cry from my days of cheese sandwiches and a carton of juice!

The second round teed off five hours after the first round. This time there was a slightly more impressive ‘crowd’, including some work colleagues who were kind enough to remind me about the out of bounds and the difficult wind. A lucky swing later and I found myself down the centre of the fairway, much I’m sure to their disappointment…

This second round, much like the first, was a very windy occasion. I think the CSS for the two rounds highlights how tough it was, being 78 & 76 respectively, which when you take into account the level of golfer, really highlights how the Old Course showed its teeth…

It was a great experience to play 36 holes in the midst of the St Andrews Links Trophy and so close to the upcoming Open Championship it gave me a real taste of what the world’s best could face. So let’s see some strong winds on at least a couple of the days and some dry weather.  If we do then we’ll see the course set up ideally for traditional links conditions, which ultimately will produce an extremely worthy winner, a bit like Federico Zucchetti

I slept like a log the night after my 36 holes although the blisters I suffered from still haven’t quite healed, so if you’ve got any suggestions for helping heal them please let me know!

Words by Director of Instruction at St Andrews Links Golf Academy, Steve North

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