Is it absurd to feel protective of a golf course? Perhaps no more so than feeling like that about a grove of oak trees, an unspoiled stretch of river, a city street or an old country church or a ruined castle.

No matter; it is how I, along with many, feel, about the Old Course at St Andrews. We don’t like to think of it being subdued and made to look stupid and out-of-date by the power-play of gym-schooled professionals with huge-headed clubs far superior to those employed by the great golfers of the Past. So there have been anxious articles asking if the Old Lady can defend herself. 

Well, writing this on the morning of the second round of The Open, the answer is “so far, so good”. Nobody took the course apart on Thursday. The lowest round was 64, eight under par, not at all outrageous.

Moreover, the conditions were benign. It has often been said in recent years that the Old Course is so short, in comparison to most courses today, that vile weather with strong winds and rain is needed to test the top pros today. Fair enough; there’s little natural protection from winds on the Firth of Tay. A few years ago, the young Rory McIlroy had a first round of 63. The weather gods, disapproving of such impudence, let loose a gale, and his Friday score was 80.

The Old Course is a work of nature rather than artifice. A few holes may be lengthened – one is now a monstrous 611 yards – but limits are imposed by the site. Protection can be offered by cunning and difficult pin-positions, but that’s about it.

The course is not only ancient; it is also old-fashioned – to an extent that perplexes, dismays and angers many on their first acquaintance with it. It’s aye been like that. More than a hundred years ago, the great American amateur Bobby Jones’s first tournament there ended in angry tears.

The course seemed absurd and unfair; they could keep it. But of course, he returned, came to understand it and love it, and won The Open there. You couldn’t count yourself a true champion unless you have won there. Other undisputed Greats – Peter Thomson, Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros and Tiger Woods -came to agree with him.

It’s an anomaly. Even today, looking at the landscape of the course, you aren’t surprised that a hundred and fifty years ago the fairways were still grazed by sheep. Indeed, they still look as if this might be so today.

Then, though the Rules of Golf and the management of The Open are still made by the R&A (the Royal Ancient Club), from its clubhouse behind the eighteenth green, the R&A doesn’t own the course, which remains the property of the town of St Andrews.

Consequently, all residents of the town are entitled to play there, and on the adjoining municipal courses. Alone, I think, among the Open Championship venues, the Old Course is not the property of a private members’ club.

The course is itself old-fashioned. Twelve of the holes – the first six and the last six – share a fairway and a green. So you may find yourself with a sixty-yard putt or even longer, and usually an undulating one. Sadly – one drawback – with the professionals this will often make for very slow play – rounds on Thursday taking up to six hours. There is more than one reason why you need the patience to win an Open at St Andrews.

It is more than sentiment that connects an Open at St Andrews with the Opens of the distant past. And so with champions like the Morrises, father and son, Old Tom and Young Tom, and the great Edwardian triumvirate – James Braid. Harry Vardon and J H Taylor who dominated the championship in the years before the First World War.

Links golf has changed less there than anywhere else. Chance still plays a big part. You can hit a drive or second shot correctly and find that the bounce of the ball on bumpy fairways treats you “unfairly”. All golf is a test of character as well as skill, nowhere more so than at St Andrews.

Its not only the best and greatest who win Opens, even there. Luck plays a big part in any golf, bigger arguably than in any game or sport except perhaps cricket. This is one reason why we love it. A player not quite of the highest class may win an Open if the gods are with him for four days.

Indeed, the last St Andrews winner, the American Zach Johnson, was, and indeed still is, only very good golfer rather than a great one. But most St Andrews winners are judged to have been the best, or in the top two or three of his generation; and this, one thinks, is how it should be.

That’s why I hope that Rory McIlroy follows his first-round 66 with three rounds good enough to let him win the famous Claret Jug this year. But who knows?

The Men’s Singles at Wimbledon is nearly always won by the best or highest ranking player in the field. Golf is a more chancy game. Its gods are capricious. Still, one thing is all but certain. The Open at St Andrews is very unlikely to be won by a player who doesn’t respect and has come to love the Old Course.