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Pate's perspective: Sizing up the Old Course at St. Andrews

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Jerry Pate knows golf. He's got eight wins on the PGA Tour, including the 1976 U.S. Open, and he's an accomplished course designer. Throughout the season, he'll be stopping by Devil Ball to offer an inside-the-ropes look at the week's upcoming course. Today: The Old Course at St. Andrews.

The earliest record of golf at St. Andrews is found in a license dated in 1552 which permitted the townspeople to raise rabbits on the grounds and "play at golf, futbal, schuteing...with all other manner of pastimes." The proprietor was required "not to plough up any part of said golf links in all time coming," according to The World Atlas of Golf.

Fortunately for golfers worldwide, this decree remains. St. Andrews has given us the ultimate case study on accessible golf facilities, the origin of golf-course strategy, and centuries of championship lore.

The placement of the hazards at St. Andrews is the most recognizable feature of its design. Prinicipal's Nose, Hell Bunker, Lion's Mouth, Coffin and the Road Hole Bunker are known by golfers across the globe. The links are scattered with well over a hundred pits placed to protect the favored line of play off the tee or to confound the next shot after the safer route was taken from the tee.

Many championships have been lost, or nearly lost, in these bunkers. In 1933, Gene Sarazen challenged the 14th hole with a good chance for the Open title. He found Hell Bunker on his second, and again on his third. He closed the hole with an 8 and finished only one shot behind. However, in 2000, Tiger Woods crafted one of the most amazing and laudable accomplishments in St. Andrew's lore. On his way to a comfortable victory, he played all 72 holes without ever seeing the bottom of a bunker. Many claimed he simply overpowered the venerable layout. However, his impeccable planning and his precision shot-making, particularly in the ever-changing conditions on the links, was simply remarkable.

Countless essays have been written about St. Andrews — its aura, its design, its championships. What is so important about St. Andrews for golf today is not its spirit, or the placement of its hazards, or even stories of ghosts. What we must remember about St. Andrews, the "home of golf," is that St. Andrews in its most basic form is a game space and a way of life for its townspeople.

Jerry Pate has been designing golf courses for more than 30 years. His portfolio of work includes Old Waverly Golf Club in Mississippi, site of the 1999 United States Women's Open; Trump National Golf Club Colts Neck (formerly known as Shadow Isle) in New Jersey; Kiva Dunes on the Alabama Gulf Coast; and Rancho La Quinta Country Club in California. See more of his work at www.jerrypategolfdesign.com.

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