The Library

The Dunhill Nations Cup and The St. Andrews Links
By Ed DeBell

Golf has been played on the Old Course at St. Andrews ever since the early days of 1552, and - if that tradition prevails - the same games of golf will be played upon those venerable links for as long as there are golfers to play the game, caddies to carry the clubs, and linksland to provide the challenge.

By order of the town council in that bygone year, the citizens of St. Andrews were given the right to "play at golf, futball, schueting...with all other manner of pastimes" as befitted the terrain. The dignitaries obligated themselves "not to plough up any part of said golf links in all time coming", but to preserve them "for the amusement of the inhabitants", that they might "take comfort and solace" in the pleasures of the game. And they have been doing so ever since - with no green fees until this century!

The Old Course is the most famous links in the world which didn't have an architect - unless the "whims of nature" are given credit. And that natural harmony of sun, wind, rain, and indigenous vegetation has sculpted a linksland course which is considered the archetypal creation.

Robert Trent Jones, one of the most renowned of golf course architects, was typically articulate in his analysis of the Old Course, fashioned over the centuries by one of the least renowned of golf course architects": "The first few rounds a golfer plays over the Old Course are not likely to alter his first estimate that (the course) is vastly over rated. He will be puzzled to understand the rhapsodies which have been composed about the perfect strategic positions of its trapping, the subtle undulations of its huge greens, the endless tumbling of its fairways which seldom give him a chance to play...from a level stance. Then, as he plays on, he begins to realize that, whenever he plays a fine shot he is rewarded; whenever he doesn't...he is penalized in proportion; and, whenever he thinks out his round hole by hole, he scores well."

This, in his own words, is a description of the principal of strategic design - one which he emphasizes so much in the architecture of his own courses. If left alone to follow their own inclinations, the "whims of nature", over inexorable time, will create a landscape as challenging as any that man can conceive with all of his technological advances.

And so it is only fitting that Mark McCormack, in his endeavor to create an international team event to rival the struggling World Cup, chose the Old Course at St. Andrews as the permanent home for the Dunhill Nations Cup, the "most significant new golf competition" of its time.

Initiated in the mid-eighties, this event features teams of three players from sixteen countries, whereas the World Cup is composed of teams of two players from all over the world. Each three-man-team confronts another three-man-team in a series of three one-on-one matches with one point scored for each victory. But, according to the format, they play against each other not by match play but by medal play: The player who takes the fewest shots over eighteen holes is the winner.

The most dramatic example of the twist of fate which can occur in this format was the triumph of the Irish over the Australians in 1988. Going into the seventeenth hole, the Australian player was one stroke ahead. He sliced his next drive out of bounds, however, and took a seven on that hole. The Irish player then got a par, went two strokes up, and thereby won the match on the eighteenth. Upsets are also possible. In 1993, the formidable Scottish team was upset by an unknown threesome from Paraguay. And the American team was once beaten by France. So the different kind of format can certainly lead to a different type of outcome.

And the outcome for Mark McCormack has been notably different from that of the World Cup. The prize fund has been set at well over one million dollars and the commercial opportunities have been substantial. They will surely be even greater this year when the event resumes between October 10 and October 13, a great time for avid spectators to watch the exciting proceedings of this grand Old Course.

And it was that 'grand old course' which set the standard for the traditional links loop: the first nine holes are 'out' and the last nine holes are 'in'. So many golf courses since that time have actually been two nine hole courses, each ending at the club house. The true links course demands you confront all of its holes if you are to appreciate the challenge which it offers.

Of all the holes which St. Andrews offers to the conscientious golfer, Number 17 - The Road Hole - must be the best known and most feared. Countless championships have been lost on this hole, as they surely will be in days to come. The tee shot requires the golfer to drive over or fade around a wall at the corner of what once were railroad sheds. The approach iron must carry to a small green - one of the few single ones at St. Andrews - guarded at the left front by a terribly deep and awfully steep bunker, beyond which lies a metalled road in front of the wall. The putt has to be delicately hit to make certain it goes in the hole and not off the green. Is it any wonder this hole has been characterized as being 'perilious'?

Quite obviously, avoiding the bunkers at St. Andrews is imperative if a golfer is to score well. There are a great many of them, and most are hidden from view because at one time these links were played in a different direction. The most famous bunker is known as Hell; it is a huge pit of sand which guards Number 14 - the Long Hole. Others are the Strath bunker in front of Number 11 - the High Hole In; the Coffin bunkers in the middle of Number 13 - The Hole O'Cross In; and the Principal's Nose in the center of the fairway at Number 16 - the Corner O' The Dyke. As can be seen, the names of some of the holes at St. Andrews are as intriguing as the bunkers themselves.

Bobby Jones once was quoted at the occasion of his being made an Honorary Burgess of the City: He said: "I could take out of my life everything except my experiences at St. Andrews and still have a rich full life." What more fitting sentiment than this could have been expressed by one of the games most revered players about one of the world's most revered courses?

St Andrews: the perfect venue for the Dunhill Nations Cup!

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