On Sundays, The Old Course at St. Andrews turns into a dog park


Ziggy, named after David Bowie, enjoyed his time on the 15th Green Sunday.

Sean Zack

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — One polarizing aspect of The Old Course is that it’s extremely flat. Flat courses are not ideal for viewing golf tournaments! The Links Trust has even built mounds in recent years to help golf spotters. But on this particular Sunday, that flatness is welcome.

I can see for hundreds of yards, uninhibited, and right now, there are eight dogs in range, prancing around the property. Behind me, there’s another handful, barking loud enough to be heard above the grandstand construction.

One of the dogs behind me, a black bulldog named Cato, has been enjoying his time around the 17th hole, but he jumped onto the Swilcan Bridge and interrupted a precious photo. “Come down here, Cato,” said his owner. It’s a very special bridge, Cato.

It’s a special bridge, Cato, but that’s the way it is on Sundays at the Old Course, where the pooches run free and the owners respectfully keep them from causing too much trouble. Spanning 45 acres, The Old Course on Sundays is easily among the largest dog parks in the world. The only rules are obvious: 1. Pick up after your four-legged friend. 2. Stay off the greens. (The latter is only loosely followed.)

It was on the 15th green that I found Ziggy, the 2-year-old beagle, named after David Bowie for his blue eye and his brown eye. Ziggy had just gotten flash forwards from a pair of rambunctious greyhounds, George and Bingley, and he was exhausted. So Ziggy sat on the edge of the green, right where some famous golfer would make a birdie putt in three weeks, ignoring calls from his owners. Ziggy loves visiting the Old Course, but luckily there’s fencing with the championship coming up. Because Ziggy has been interested in the driving range in the past, and that’s much more dangerous.

Ziggy eventually turned to catch up with Mom and Dad. Golfers know that the walk is round trip in St. Andrews, three miles in total. It follows the shape of a shallow hook, providing endless opportunities for encounter.

In a few weeks, those grandstands will fill up along the 16th tee. Until then, Ziggy the Beagle and George the Greyhound are enjoying themselves.

Sean Zack

Geoff Shackelford got it right when he listed his three criteria for a great golf course:

1. Do you want to play this course every day?

2. When you leave this course, can you remember each hole?

3. Is this a place you’d like to take your dog for a walk?

The Old obviously ticks the box, but in a different way than its counterparts in America. In the United States, these Sundays are simply not possible, because in America we live in overabundance. We love our Sunday rounds and we love our courses as green as possible, thin and smooth, so we can spin wedge shots back onto the green. Dogs tear up that grass, so keep ’em on a leash. Here in Scotland, where the lawn is only watered by mother nature, straps are just a suggestion. The ground here stands firm under those canine claws.

All this is possible because hundreds of years ago it was decided that there should be no golf on Sundays. It was against religion. And while the other six St. Andrews Links courses are open on Sundays, the Old is almost always closed, barring special events like the Links Trust Amateur earlier this month or, say, when Tiger Woods and the boys come to the city ​​in July.

For now it’s Ziggy Turfdust and the many friends he crosses paths with: Hamish the western highland terrier, Bailey the lhasa apso, Ava the cockapoo and Indi the golden doodle. All the owners of it are locals, with plans in the afternoon to visit the Jigger Inn, the pub that juts out against the 17th hole.

But St. Andrews on Sundays also draws dog owners from afar. Finn’s parents, the hard-working English cocker spaniel, were in town on holiday from the south-west of England. Finn was invited to join because, well, “there are good places to walk here in Scotland.” West Sands Beach is Old’s main competitor. Harris, a Lhasa Apso and Bichon Frize mix, was in town from Dundee, just 13 miles away. It is named after the Scottish island off the west coast. “If you want to see Bahamas beaches but with Scottish weather [the Isle of Harris] it’s the place to go,” said its owner, Julie-Anne Alexander, tossing a tennis ball with a “Chuckit!” stick. Harris’s father, Kevin, is an avid golfer who plays at Carnoustie and was less focused on the dog, more interested in the shape of the greens before The Open. But he had the right to do what he wanted. It was Father’s Day, after all, and his son was waiting for his parents to have lunch at the Jigger.

Hamish, the 8-year-old terrier, and his owner hail from the west of Scotland.

Sean Zack

Around that time, a 10-year-old cocker spaniel named Maisie sat on the steps next to the 18th green. This was the first time she had ever walked the Old Course. “She’s beautiful,” said her owner, Isobel Dallas, stroking Maisie’s long, furry ears. Maisie had already walked the course and was looking at it the way golfers do the other six days of the week. As she got up to leave, a shepherd walked past her, bounding up those steps, also like a golfer, off leash, ready to take on The Old.

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