Net gain at The Old Course at St. Andrews?

A proposal for new safety netting will protect golfers drinking at the Jigger Inn.
In more ways than simply history, St. Andrews tees up a fantastic buddies-trip experience.

Golf's biggest eyesore could be coming to arguably its most famous course.

How do you feel about safety netting lining no. 17, the "Road Hole", on the Old Course at St. Andrews?

The Herald newspaper in Scotland has reported that a temporary 14-meter long and 4.7-meter high safety net could be put up until at least November to protect customers drinking on the patio of the famed Jigger Inn. Apparently, it's not the first time the Old Course Hotel, Golf Resort & Spa, which owns the Jigger Inn, has tried to get netting installed to protect one of its buildings, but the first request three years ago was denied by the town planning commission.

"The development (of this net) is solely required to provide physical distancing in response to COVID-19 - i.e. the customers seated outside are being directly placed in risk of stray golf balls," Neil Gray, the founder of Gray Planning and Development Limited, which consults with the hotel on planning advice, told the newspaper.

My first reaction was "Oh the horror!" Seeing netting lining the fairways of any course, let alone one the caliber of St. Andrews, is one of my biggest pet peeves. Not only is netting ugly, it also signals that the outside world - typically a building or a house - is intruding onto the course's hallowed playing grounds. Blame the architect or developer or both for this sin.

Unfortunately, it's not just your local muni with netting anymore. Installing netting is often contentious for the course and/or the owner of the property it is meant to protect. In 2016, a judge required Quaker Ridge Golf Club, an exclusive A.W. Tillinghast course in Scarsdale, N.Y., to pay $7,300 to settle a six-year legal dispute over errant balls that a hole redesign, new trees and safety netting couldn't stop from bombarding a homeowner's backyard, according to the Journal News website, The private Manasquan River Golf Club in Brielle, N.J., remains in a contentious lawsuit after a 65-foot-high net was erected by a homeowner in 2018 without proper permitting, according to the Asbury Park Press website, Pasatiempo Golf Club also uses netting to protect the houses lining the narrow par-5 sixth hole near where Dr. Alister MacKenzie's former home is located.

I will admit that netting around a range is a more forgivable offense. You've got golfers of all handicappers practicing and flailing away. Some of those shots will go anywhere and often do. Unless a course has unlimited acreage, these shots are hard to contain. Many of the courses I play in California's Bay Area - TPC Harding Park, Baylands Golf Links, Santa Teresa, Pasatiempo - have netting surrounding their ranges.

I've never played the Old Course, but I hope when I do, both the netting and COVID-19 are long gone.

What course have you played where safety netting ruins the setting or the experience? Let us know in the comments below.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed and photographed more than 1,000 courses and written about golf destinations in 20 countries for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfpass and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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Commented on

Netting at the Jigger will be an eyesore. Having been there many times it is not always golfers sitting there but tourists with families. A sign yes, getting in there garden takes some skill or lack of it, impossible off the tee, hotel yes, Jigger no!
If that is the case they might as well net all along the 18th whilst their at it as that is a far more likely target.

Commented on

Jason I just sent an email to Brandon in response to this article. In June 2018 I attended a Southern California Golf Association Member Outing where we stayed at the Old (it’s not really old) Course Hotel and the first place my girlfriend Maria and I had our dinner was at the Jigger Inn. I included a pic. And no they don’t need a safety net

Commented on

Better to require hard hats of the Jigger Inn customers. Some places - coat and tie - here at the Jigger - head protection.

Commented on

Better to post a sign for the patio crowd. Caution, errant tee shots may be hazardous to your imbibing.
I birdied it, BTW.

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I doubt one person drinking outside at the Jigger would wish a fence. They are all golfers and want to look into the course. Bear in mind the 18th has a road all the way up the right.

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Net gain at The Old Course at St. Andrews?