The original opening holes of St Andrews’ fourth course may be consigned to the history books, but as Mark Alexander finds out, they still have a role to play at the Home of Golf.
The origins of the Eden course in St Andrews were a response to the growing pressures on the famous Links at the beginning of the twentieth century. Built on leased land, the town’s fourth course was urgently needed to accommodate the increasing appetite for sandy golf. Like many of the Auld Grey Toon’s tracks, both old and new, it was a course borne out of necessity rather than time.
For me, it was the place where I cut my teeth on the rudiments of the game. Standing on what used to be the fifteenth green in the hazy twilight, I fell for the romantic views of wispy grasses and smooth greens. Like many who grew up in St Andrews, the Eden was my first proper course and remains one of my favourites to this day.
Its charm lay in the Harry Colt design which maximised every conceivable twist and turn of the allotted land which stretched out to the Eden estuary and then back through the dunes. By no means easy, the site offered up a host of intriguing holes, all but two of which made use of natural plateaus for greens.
Although it was opened in July 1914, only fifteen holes were playable during the inaugural match between local golfers and the R&A. The missing three were located in a northern spike of land which had been plagued with large banks of gorse and had yet to reach maturity. This troublesome spot contained the fifth, sixth and seventh holes (now third, fourth and fifth) which together with the old fourth created a remarkable stretch of links holes overflowing with blind tee shots, pot bunkers, hidden valleys and sharp gusts of wind.
Seventy years after its launch, the Eden had become a firm favourite, not only of mine, but also with the throngs of amateurs who came to do battle during the famed Eden Tournament. But it wasn’t just salt and sand that filled the air during the late 1980s; change was afoot.
“Change came not through any public demand nor from any sense that the course was inadequate,” says Tom Jarrett in his book St Andrews Golf Links – the first 600 years. “It stemmed from the need to provide suitable facilities for practice and an area which could be used for the tented village by the R&A Championship Committee during major events.”
A new era was dawning in St Andrews that would see the town throw off its primitive demeanour and blossom into a world-class destination. To do this, however, there had to be sacrifices and the Eden drew the short straw.
In fact, two plans were hatched with the shared goal of using newly acquired land to create a short eighteen hole course (the Strathtyrum), reinstate the beginners’ course (the Balgove) and create a driving range and practice facilities. The contention between the plans was that one advocated losing the first two and last two holes of the Eden while the other proposed keeping them. Only one local golf club voted to save the existing layout.
“They desperately needed to develop some practice facilities and their own headquarters,” says Donald Steel, who was charged with the task of reorganising the Links. “I did a masterplan that embraced the range but meant surrendering the first two and last two holes on the Eden. The Eden, therefore, was the next step in the development of St Andrews. Although it was a marvellous Colt course, we had to put the extra holes on less promising land, which led to a certain amount of comment. There wasn’t anything we could do about that; the land was a wet potato field.”
The loss of the Eden’s opening and closing holes rankled just as much. Gone were the pressures of an opening drive in front of the Eden Pavilion and in the shadow of the mighty Old Course Hotel. In my mind at least, this was the closest I’d get to driving off in front of the huge stadium that was the first on the Old Course during the Open Championship. In fact, like the opening hole on the Old, the Eden’s first was a relatively short par four that presented an easy opening birdie. The round started properly on the second.
“There were three fairway bunkers on the second hole as well as a greenside bunker on the left-hand side which is just a dip now,” remembers Davie Wilson, who has worked on the Links since 1968 and looked after the ‘old’ Eden from 1974 onwards. “It was always a very tight hole because the railway track on the right-hand side was out of bounds. It must have been about 400 yards.”
The fence running down the right-hand side was certainly a distraction not only as it represented out of bounds, but if you leaked one right you’d have to retrieve your ball from the Old Course, which always felt like treading surreptitiously on sacred ground.
On the other side of the hole, the seventeenth was laid out in the opposite direction with the fairways separated by sand traps. The double-whammy of the Old Course on the right and players walking towards you on the left added even more pressure to drive it straight off the tee.
If you did, your long approach shot was to a sloping green that many believed was one of the finest on the Links. “It was an excellent green in great condition because it was sheltered from the elements by the gorse bushes,” says Wilson. “It was about 50 yards long, 30 yards wide and higher towards the back. The main championship pin position was back left because you had a bunker running down the left side of the green.”
The gorse that backed onto the putting surface not only protected it from the cruel wind but also provided added dangers for those brave enough to go for the flag. With the green sloping away from you, the return chip from an over zealous approach presented a shot of considerable difficulty.
In a strange twist of fate, a small part of the Eden’s original second hole will be back in play this summer during the Open thanks to the lengthening of the Road Hole and the new championship tee that occupies the old teeing area. With the green used as a training area at the practice centre, it’s heartening to see a golf hole of such repute continuing to have an influence at the Home of Golf.
Mark Alexander is a Scottish golf journalist and photographer
This article was initially featured in the April 2010 issue of Golf Course Architecture.