Playing The Old Lady Backwards
By Merf under British Open

Here is some mandatory reading to get you in the mood for the Old Course.

Back in 2005, Sports Illustrated’s Alan Shipnuck pitched a story to play the Old Course at St. Andrews in reverse, a design that was used intermittently until World War II. So on March 31, he played the Old Course forward. Then the next day on April 1, he joined the public for their annual frolic in reverse. (That dog! Wouldn’t it be nice to play any golf trip that you could dream up? Shipnuck’s planning to play all four courses at Bandon Dunes in one day later this summer. At least he shares his experiences so well through his writing.)

And according to Shipnuck, the layout in reverse is even better than the current version.

So what’s the verdict? At 6,350 yards the reverse is a couple of hundred yards shorter than the counterclockwise routing, but it is definitely more demanding — I putted better but still shot three strokes worse than the day before. The reverse has fewer blind holes, and to my eye it makes better use of many of the Old Course’s most celebrated bunkers. The reverse gets bonus points for making the 11th green more playable — at least for me. At next week’s Open Championship expect some of the players to opine that the Old Course is the best course in the world. Little do they know that it’s even better backward.

Here’s a current course map to help you piece together where exactly you are playing on the reverse Old Course (via standrewsgolf.org):

The Old Course in reverse sounds like a fascinating start, as you play across the Swilcan bridge to the impossible 17th green. The second hole in reverse plays down the 17th fairway to the 16th green, with the Old Course Hotel bordering the hole on the left.

To understand what this means, it is instructive to visit the sacred earth of today’s 17th hole, the famous Road Hole, which doglegs to the right around the Old Course Hotel. On the 1st hole of the reverse routing you tee off from a spot not far from today’s 1st tee, but you play across the Swilcan Burn to the Road Hole’s tiny green, which is a terrifying target from any direction. From there you’re off and running, albeit backward. For the 2nd hole of the reverse you use a special tee next to the present 17th green, driving the wrong way down the Road Hole toward what is ordinarily the 16th green. The resulting route is a dogleg left that skirts around the hotel.

Reading this makes me want to play the Sheep Ranch in Bandon, Ore., where there are 13 greens atop spectacular ocean-lined bluffs, but you choose your own routing.