Is there a greater stage for golf than the birthplace of golf, the Old Course at St. Andrews? It's doubtful.
The 2015 British Open marks the 29th time that the Old Course (est. 1550) will host the event, and there are too many great memories on this iconic course to list. A few highlights, though, would include Tiger's decisive win in 2000, the second of four consecutive majors, which become known as the "Tiger Slam." Jack Nicklaus won two of his 18 majors on the Old Course, including one that Doug Sanders gifted to him in 1970. And in 1984, Seve Ballesteros held off Tom Watson, who got stymied on the wall on the 17th, denying him what would have been his sixth Open Championship title.
The history, the great championships and the fact that this is the birthplace of the game are all reasons golfers should have the Old Course as no. 1 on their bucket list.
But let's face it: For Americans, trekking across the Atlantic to Scotland is doable, but hardly inexpensive or easy. So if you can't get to St. Andrews, you can settle for the next best thing. Fortunately, there are four courses in the U.S. that feature replica or tribute holes to St. Andrews. Here's a look ...
Grand Cypress New Course, Orlando, Florida
Perhaps no American loved the Old Course at St. Andrews more than Jack Nicklaus, and the New Course he created at Grand Cypress in Orlando expresses his admiration in a big way. It's only natural for Nicklaus, considering his emotional farewell to the Open in 2005 there. Of his three British Open victories, two were at St. Andrews, including the 1970 playoff victory over Doug Sanders after Sanders missed a 30-inch putt that would have won it outright.
"My love affair with St. Andrews and the Old Course began in 1964," Nicklaus once said. "And to this day, the Old Course remains one of my favorite places in the world to play golf."
While the entire golf course isn't a replica of St. Andrews, Grand Cypress' New Course certainly has the feel of St. Andrews throughout, despite its central Florida location. The first and final holes closely resemble the first and 18th at the Old Course, and they are parallel to each other, which means you can hit it about as far left as you want from the first tee, and you can putt through the Valley of Sin on 18. The rest of the course features newly created holes, allowing you to play the course in the air or on the ground. And just like the Old Course, you'll want to avoid those hellish bunkers.
The Tribute Golf Links, The Colony, Texas
Located north of Dallas on Lake Lewisville, The Tribute, designed by Tripp Davis, has copies of the great Scottish golf courses of the Open rotation, including, of course, the Old Course. Like Nicklaus' New Course at Grand Cypress, the first and 18th mimic the first and 18th at St. Andrews, running parallel to each other, complete with berns and the Valley of Sin.
In addition, you'll get to play a couple other famous holes from St. Andrews, most notably the famous Road Hole, the 17th on the Old Course, which is also the 17th at The Tribute. In Scotland, of course, it's a blind shot over the wall of the Old Course Hotel. The wall is there, right by the green, which is a big problem at both locations (just ask Watson). The other hole is the 11th, which replicates the 11th at St. Andrews, a 172-yard par 3 with serious bunker issues. In the 1921 Open, Bobby Jones picked up his ball and stormed off, then returned later, of course to win at St. Andrews in 1927.
There's no Old Course Hotel, of course. But golfers can enjoy bagpipe music, a Scottish pub and even luxury overnight accommodations above the golf shop at The Tribute.
Royal Links Golf Club, Las Vegas
Designed by Dye International, Walters Golf's Royal Links Golf Club is a tribute to 11 different courses of the British Open, including, of course, the Old Course at St. Andrews. Unlike some of the previous entries, though, the first and 18th holes are not replicas of the first and 18th at St. Andrews. Instead, the course not only features the famous Road Hole from St. Andrews but also the famous par-5 14th from the Old Course, featuring its famous "Hell Bunker." It's the last hole on the course, and at 515 yards, there's certainly a risk-reward element to it, just like in Scotland. Of course, it's usually a lot warmer in Vegas, but you can count on the wind there, so playing the ball down is probably a good strategy through much of this course.
To complete the experience at Royal Links, though, you have to spend time in the clubhouse, which is literally a small castle. Inside, you'll find Stymie's Pub with authentic ales and stouts on tap as well as an extensive selection of Scotches and blends.
World Tour Golf Links, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
This (now) 18-hole replica courses pays homage to both great courses in the United States and abroad. World Tour Golf Links' Open Championships nine, like the New Course and The Tribute Golf Links, starts and ends with the first and 18th holes at the Old Course, and yes, they are parallel. You certainly get a feel for how the originals feel, but the South Carolina terrain, including tall pines that are found on the rest of the course, don't exactly say Scotland. Still, there's the bern and the Valley of Sin, so you can get an rudimentary understanding of what it's like to come up the 18th fairway at St. Andrews.