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Why a British Open at St. Andrews is the best event in golf

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Here's what makes the Old Course, the "Home of Golf," so special.

Warren Little/Getty Images

It's almost impossible to think about the Open Championship without thinking about the history of the game. After all, this championship has been played longer than any other tournament and at courses that have been around as long as the game itself. This year's venue, The Old Course at St. Andrews, is the most famous of them all and is considered the "Home of Golf."

The game was first played at the Old Course sometime in the 1400s. There are very few things in the world of sports that have as much history as the Old Course and the Open Championship. Here are a few of the features that make the Old Course a unique venue.

Shared Greens

One unique feature of the Old Course is its shared greens. Most golf courses in the world consist of 18 separate putting surfaces, but not the Old Course. There are just 11 large greens here and they are huge. In fact, on average, the shared greens at the Old Course measure a mammoth 22,000 square feet. An incredulous Keegan Bradley shared his map of one green that measured 100 yards long earlier this week.

100 yard green!!! #StAndrews

A photo posted by Keegan Bradley (@keeganbradley1) on

And in another quirk, the shared greens add up to 18 every time. So 2 and 16 are shared. Same with 3 and 15, and so on. Maybe the best way to remember which greens are shared is to think of the putting surfaces that aren't shared. The holes with their own greens are 1, 9, 17, and 18.

Swilcan Bridge

Have I mentioned that the Old Course is really old? Well so is the Swilcan Bridge, which spans the Swilcan Burn between the first and 18th fairways. In fact, it has been there for at least 700 years. It's initial purpose was to help livestock cross the burn, but now has become an opportunity for one hell of a photo op.  It's almost a requirement to take a picture here while playing the Old Course and you will see the Champion Golfer of the Year taking pictures here with his Claret Jug come Sunday night.

(Photo by David Cannon/Pool/Getty Images)

Bunkers

Are you one of those people that always seems to be in a bunker? Well, playing the Old Course might be a terrifying proposition for you. There are 112 bunkers scattered all over the legendary course and to add a taunting element, most of them have names. With names like Coffin and Hell, it's no surprise that players will want to avoid these bunkers that are essentially a one-stroke penalty.

Perhaps the most famous bunker on the course is the "Road" bunker, which sits beside the 17th green. This bunker has been the site of many shattered dreams. Most recently, David Duval, trailing Tiger Woods by three shots in 2000, found the Road bunker. As he hacked and chopped his way through the deep pot bunker, he saw his slight chance of an Open victory get buried beneath the sand . He eventually took a drop and an eight on the hole. There are hundreds of stories like Duval's.

Even Jack Nicklaus hasn't escaped the disasters these bunkers present. At the infamous Hell Bunker on the 14th, he carded a 10 in 1995, chopping away and finally tossing his club when he finally escaped. That bunker got a facelift since the last Open here n 2010, and is now wider and perhaps more menacing.

Road Hole

The Road bunker comes at the end of the Old Course's most famous hole. The Road hole is memorable for many reasons, but let's start at the beginning. When teeing off at the 17th hole players are aimed directly at the Old Course Hotel. For those that haven't played the course, it can be a little unnerving to hit a tee shot directly over a building.

Clearing the hotel is a must, otherwise players will find the deep rough that lines the left side of the fairway. It's not the most comfortable view, especially for those who like to shape shots. Bubba Watson said he sometimes likes to play big cuts out over the hotel and buzzes the building trying to come back into the fairway.

After a completely blind tee shot, players will be faced with a second shot that brings the aforementioned Road bunker into play. If players go long, they may find their ball against a stone wall that is very much in play. As we have seen in years past (and even this week) it takes a creative shot to get away from the wall.

Other St. Andrews Facts

  • The 10th hole is named for Bobby Jones, who apparently hated the course at first. As he played the Old a few more times, he fell in love with it. In 1958, the town of St. Andrews gave him the key to the city.
  • The Royal and Ancient Golf Club is based at St. Andrews. It was formed in 1735 and eventually codified the rules of golf. The club is the massive stone building that overlooks the No. 1 and No. 18 green area.
  • The first Open Championship played at the Old Course took place in 1873. The 2015 Open will be the venue's 29th.
  • Tiger Woods set the Open scoring record (relative to par) at the 2000 Open played at St. Andrews with a score of 19 under par. Birdies are out there and if conditions are right, we may see that mark challenged and we may see the single round majors scoring record of 63 fall this week.

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