What Is The Swilcan Bridge?

The Old Course bridge is one of the most iconic sights in the game, but what’s its background?

A view of the Swilcan Bridge on The Old Course
(Image credit: Getty Images)

When you think of The Old Course at St Andrews, any number of images can come to mind - vast, expansive fairways, huge and perilous bunkers, or how about the world-famous and historic R&A Clubhouse building?

While each of these is woven into the fabric of the Grand Old Lady, at least equally iconic is the small stone bridge spanning the Swilcan Burn that runs between the first and 18th fairways.

While it’s indelibly linked to the sport, and it was once even known as The Golfers’ Bridge, The Swilcan Bridge was actually built long before Old Tom Morris redesigned the first and 18th holes as they’re recognised today. In fact, golf has been played at the site for some 600 years, while The Swilcan Bridge is thought to have been built around one or two centuries before that as a means of helping shepherds take livestock over the burn.

Tom Watson kisses the Swilcan Bridge during the 2010 Open

(Image credit: Getty Images)

First-time players on The Old Course may be struck by just how small the bridge is, at only 30 feet long, eight feet wide and six feet tall. Nevertheless, it is extremely photogenic with its easy-on-the-eye Roman arch wowing anyone who sees it against the backdrop of – depending on your vantage point – the architectural marvels of the clubhouse and Hamilton Grand apartment building or the gently rolling hills disappearing towards the North Sea.

Players often pay homage to the bridge in their own ways, too. Arnold Palmer waved farewell from it, not once, not twice, but three times. A fedora-bedecked Sam Snead danced across it in 2000. A decade after that, Tom Watson kissed it, while between those occasions, it’s also where Jack Nicklaus bowed out of the professional game in 2005. The Golden Bear propped his left leg on the arch and waved to the crowd before striding the fairway wiping tears from his eyes and, inevitably, finishing with a birdie on the 18th.

Jack Nicklaus on the Swilcan Bridge in 2005

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Undoubtedly, more legendary moments will unfold at The Swilcan Bridge in the years, decades and even centuries to come. After all, it is one of those rare, mysterious landmarks that demands your attention, even with its quiet, unassuming presence. At a course where a sense of reverence and history is present in every step, The Swilcan Bridge stands apart.

Where Is The Swilcan Bridge?

The Swilcan Bridge spans the burn that winds between the first and 18th fairways at The Old Course, St Andrews. The bridge has marked the scene of many memorable moments in the sport, including 18-time Major winner Jack Nicklaus' retirement from professional golf in 2005.

How Old Is The Swilcan Bridge?

There isn't a precise date for when The Swilcan Bridge was built, but it is estimated to be between 700 and 800 years old. Originally, it was built to help shepherds take their livestock over Swilcan Burn and was later known as The Golfers' Bridge.

Mike Hall
Mike Hall

Mike has 25 years of experience in journalism, including writing on sports such as golf, football and cricket. Now a freelance writer for Golf Monthly, he is dedicated to covering the sport’s most newsworthy stories. Originally from East Yorkshire, Mike now resides in Canada, where the nearest course is less than a mile from his home. It’s there where he remains confident that, one of these days, he’ll play the 17th without finding the water. Kevin Cook’s acclaimed 2007 biography, Tommy’s Honour, about golf’s founding father and son, remains one of his all-time favourite sports books.