124th U.S. Open

Pinehurst No. 2

End of a (short) era

St. Andrews Links Trust yields to critics, will remove stonework around Swilcan Bridge

February 06, 2023

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — It took 48 hours or so, but in the face of overwhelming criticism, negativity and mockery, the St. Andrews Links Trust caved. So it is that the so-called stone “patios” at either end of the eponymous bridge that traverses the Swilcan Burn in front of the 18th tee on the Old Course at St. Andrews is set to be removed.

Which is perhaps no surprise, given the level of vitriol aimed at the now doomed construction on social media. By way of example, the work was described as “a monstrosity,” “a car parking spot,” “really troubling,” “a (night)mare,” “a shocker,” “an epic abomination,” “out of proportion,” “bloody awful,” “criminal,” “an amazing level of incompetence,” or simply “horrible.” Three-time Open champion Nick Faldo called it “worse than missing the fairway left.” And today’s front page of the local Dundee Courier left no doubt as to the newspaper’s view. Above a large picture of the work done so far the headline read: “Like painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa.”

In a statement on Monday, the Links Trust announced the abandonment of what was claimed to be an attempt to alleviate the wear and tear at either end of what is perhaps golf’s most historic monument. The bridge is crossed by each one of the 50,000 golfers who play the Old Course each year, as well as by thousands of other visitors eager to have their photograph taken. Every great male player in the history of the game (with the notable exception of Ben Hogan) has walked over the Swilcan Bridge at least once in their lives.

“The stonework at the approach and exit of the bridge was identified as one possible long-term solution, however while this installation would have proved some protection, in this instance we believe we are unable to create a look which is in keeping with its iconic setting and have taken the decision to remove it,” said the statement. “We have also taken on feedback from many stakeholders and partners, as well as the golfing public, and we would like to thank everyone who has been in touch for their contribution to the issue.”

The statement was released only hours after two representatives of the Links Trust—Laurie Watson, external relations and media manager and David Connor, communications and marketing manager—met with a Golf Digest journalist on-site and gave no hint of what was to follow.

“Something had to be done after several years of wear and tear,” insisted Watson at that earlier meeting. “If you think back to last year, we had no play for a month in the run-up to the Open Championship. But even with that break, by October the area we are looking at was a quagmire. We’ve tried a few things over the years. Astroturf. Rubber rock. Turf seeding. But nothing has really worked. So this is the next step in trying to find a potential solution. This might not end up being the answer, but we are up for trying anything to fix the problem, without actually touching the bridge itself.”

“This is not the finished article,” Watson continued. “We would like to get grass growing through between the stones so that it does look more natural. It is pretty stark right now. But maybe this won’t be what it looks like when we’re done. What we can’t do is put a tent over the bridge and disguise what is going on while we do a bit of work. We’re a public links and at the mercy of someone coming along and taking a picture.”

All of which has now been superseded by a speedy change of heart.

“The widespread attention and commentary is indicative of the regard in which St. Andrews is held around the world and we are conscious of our role in preserving this heritage while recognizing its hallowed grounds have continued to evolve to meet demands for more than 600 years,” the later statement continued. “In the coming days our team will be reinstating the area with turf. We would like to thank golfers for their patience as we continue this work. In the meantime we will continue to explore alternative options for a permanent solution and will work with all relevant partners, including Fife Council and key stakeholders.”

So ends the short era of the Swilcan Bridge patio.