The Swilcan Bridge (previously known as Swilken Bridge or Swilcanth) is a world-famous landmark at the eighteenth hole of the Old Course at the Home of Golf, St Andrews. It was built more than seven centuries ago, with the original intention of allowing shepherds to move their flocks across the Swilcan Burn, which makes its way through what are now the first and eighteenth fairways.
While ‘iconic’ is undoubtedly a much-overused word, it really does seem to apply here. Every golfing great has walked over the weathered stones off this small yet massively important and symbolic bridge. The ‘Auld Grey Toun’ of St Andrews behind it provides a spectacular backdrop, as do the imposing, famous Hamilton Grand apartment building and Royal and Ancient Clubhouse on another, with rolling hills facing the North Sea on the third.
Meanwhile, in St Augustine, Florida, at the World Golf Hall of Fame museum, there’s a life-size stone replica of the bridge, plus full-size photos of the buildings in the background.
This tiny structure, in the style of a simple Roman arch, measures just 30ft long and 8ft wide by 6ft tall. But its diminutive size is out of all proportion to Swilcan’s symbolic importance. And it’s become a tradition for golf champions, as well as other visitors, to pay homage to the bridge.
For example, in 2005 at the Open, Jack Nicklaus made his final farewell as a pro here. Five years later, the US legend Tom Watson was photographed kissing it. Last year, another, Sir Nick Faldo, posed on Swilcan with his caddy ahead of the 150th Open.
So it’s right up there with the azaleas of Augusta National Golf Club or the silhouette of the lighthouse and ruined castle synonymous with Turnberry Golf Club on the South Ayrshire coast as symbols of the sport recognised by golfers worldwide.
Indeed, so many people have been literally trampling a path over this bridge that St Andrews installed stonework leading up to it to protect the grass around it, which often became muddy due to the heavy foot traffic. But the move sparked a massive backlash, with Faldo one of the leading voices speaking out against the new masonry.
The new addition was described as completely out of keeping with the new surroundings, while some even commented that it looked like ‘a garden patio’.
In fact, the St Andrews Link Trust said that it had explored other options and that the bridge had previously had a stone pathway approaching it. Ultimately, however, it bowed to the opposition and confirmed the stonework would be taken up and that they would replace the bridge’s paved approach with turf.
Come to junior golf camp and have your photo taken on the Swilcan bridge
Our Masters Camp this summer in July and August includes participation at the St Andrews Junior Open, so there will be photo ops at Swilcan.
The Players Camp in July offers the chance to enter the ballot to play on the Old Course, but there will also be chances to play on The Fairmont and St Andrews Links. Again, there will be time to snap that all-important Swilcan selfie.
It’s a similar set-up for our Open Golf Camp, also in July.