Ask the golf-playing residents of St. Andrews (probably three-quarters of the populace) to characterize each of their town’s seven courses and the results will go something like this:
Most Beloved: The Old Course; Fairest Test: The New; Most Difficult: The Jubilee; Best for a Quick Round: The Strathtyrum; Best Family Playground: The Balgove; Best Views (and Wackiest Greens): The Castle. That leaves one course, where the consensus surely would be “Most Fun”: The Eden.
This year celebrating its centennial (or centenary, as they say over there), the Eden was built in response to a turn-of-the-century golf boom that put pressure on the three St. Andrews courses then in play. The town leased a stretch of linksland smack beside the Old Course and commissioned an R&A member and fine golfer—Harry Colt—who had established impressive credentials with his work at Sunningdale and Swinley Forest in England and as advisor to George Crump in the creation of Pine Valley.
Colt took full advantage of what he was given, using every ravine, rise, and rumple to craft a series of beguiling, sometimes quirky holes, and in short time the Eden became a favorite of locals and visitors alike. Sadly, the full Colt course no longer exists: In 1989, the first two and last two holes were replaced by an expansive practice facility that now runs beside the 16th hole of the Old Course. Additional land was acquired to replace the four holes and another R&A member, Donald Steel, was brought in to reroute the course. But the land Steel was given was not linksland; it was a potato field and the four new holes—two of which play around an incongruous pond—lack the firm-and-fast charm of their 14 siblings.
Nonetheless, the Eden remains a place to enjoy what Alister MacKenzie called “the pleasurable excitement of links golf,” especially on the front nine where the fun begins at the 4th, a par four where you can drive the green but just as easily splash into the Eden Estuary for which the course is named. The 5th is pure joy, a wee par three to a tiered green cradled between hillocks and dunes. One day back in 2010, the headwind on its elevated tee was so strong that one of the more canny locals, Fergus Muir, after watching his playing companions miss the green with middle-irons, decided to use something different—his hickory-shafted putter. The result: a hole-in-one and a place in Guinness World Records for the longest putt ever made, 375 feet.
The back tee of the 7th hole is rarely used and that’s sad because it offers the most exhilarating tee shot in town—an 18th-at-Pebble-like assignment across the estuary to a narrow, angled fairway. The approach is just as testing, to a raised green that falls off steeply to the back and right. When you exit that green you’re back on the tee of the 5th hole but now using that area for the 8th, another par three but much more difficult: It’s an all-carry shot of just under 200 yards to a green, which, if you miss it short or left leaves you staring straight up a 30-foot slope.
The back nine unfolds on flatter, less interesting terrain, but Colt made good use of the native gorse and heather and added enough pot bunkers so that every shot must be played with care. Many a good score has been ruined by Steel’s pond-hole 14th and the OB that borders 16 and 17. If you can survive that gauntlet, a birdie chance awaits at the home hole, a short par four with a welcoming green. But even if you miss a tiddler for your three, it’s hard to walk off the Eden without a smile on your face.