St. Andrews responds to worries about changes to its iconic bridge

swilcan bridge

The photo on the left shows the Swilcan Bridge during normal, summer conditions. The one on the right was taken by golf travel writer UK Golf Guy, showing the additional path of stone.

Twitter: @theHomeOfGolf / @UKGolfGuy

Almost every hour of every day all year long in St. Andrews, there are people taking photos on the Swilcan Bridge, the ancient stone overpass that connects the land on each side of the Swilcan Burn. It could be snowing, raining or sunny. It could be 6 a.m. or 11 p.m. The flash function on our phones still do the trick. 

Thousands and thousands of photos, though, each and every day. There is such demand for pictures on the bridge that the St. Andrews Links Trust has even allowed professional photographers to enter the scenario, promising to capture the bucket list moment for players for a small fee. (It helps maintain a somewhat orderly pace, too.)

Unsurprisingly, the traction might be untenable. In the middle of summer, when the turf is dry and hard, it wears away to dirt. In the winter, when the turf is softer and wetter, the results are much muddier. And thus, the extremely photogenic scene can include a bit of an eyesore. The St. Andrews Links Trust set out to change that, as clarified in a statement released by the Links Trust Sunday morning. 

Rather than institute various closures to the bridge throughout the year — a decree that is often ignored by visitors to the area — the Links Trust set out to “replicate” history. According to the statement, a “stone pathway” used to lead up to the bridge. 

“Historically the bridge has previously seen a stone pathway leading onto it and the current works are designed to see if we can replicate this while being fit for purpose for the amount of foot traffic it has to endure,” the statement read. “The shape of the current installation covers the ground that receives the most traffic as the area where the majority of photographs are taken of people on the bridge.”

Most every group that crosses the bridge each day will pause for photos. Only locals or people who have played the Old Course many times will cross the bridge without pausing for a pic atop its crest. And when those players aren’t posing themselves, visitors to St. Andrews will pop in between groups for their snaps. 

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On Sundays, the course is closed, but the bridge remains wide open for an endless photoshoot. The Old Course becomes a public park those days. Dogs take their own turn atop the bridge. People huddle on either side waiting for their chance to pose, too, never even striking a shot on the links. 

All of it reiterates how cherished the bridge is, and how any changes to it would seem to disturb the golf universe. When a photo of the new pathway was shared by travel writer @UKGolfGuy this week, it created a storm so significant the Links Trust determined it was worth replying to. 

“We recognize that a as such an iconic landmark in golf, the Swilcan Bridge retains a special place in the heart of many golfers and as such can be an emotive topic. We are confident we will find the best ongoing solution to preserve the iconic nature of the Swilcan Bridge and its surroundings while ensuring that as many people as possible can continue to visit the site year round.”

What can you do in the meantime? Perhaps exert a little patience. We are entering “growing season” as the Links Trust put it. The hard edges to the stone pathway will soften once they’re abutted by turf. They’ll get dirtied up by footsteps and grass and mud. It’ll take time to normalize. And at some point we’ll all wonder how many years its been since the pathway was created. And return visitors will notice one important aspect to all of this: the photos will barely look any different. 

Sean Zak Editor

Sean Zak is a writer at GOLF Magazine and just published his first book, which follows his travels in Scotland during the most pivotal summer in the game’s history.

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