Hail On The First Tee: St.
Andrew’s In April
My close friend is both my golf partner and the father of
two ex-patriot Americans married to Brits.
He’s in London all the time and his son-in-law and two of his
son-in-law’s friends and my buddy entered the lottery as a foursome for tee
times at St. Andrew’s, the Home of Golf.
Allow me to digress.
claims there have been settlements at this site for over 5000 years and the current
church goes back to the 8th century. It is, however, best known as the
location of the rulers of golf at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club (R & A)
(1754) that makes this and its famous Old Course, the home of golf and the most
frequent site for The Open Championship or what we call the British Open.
This is a public course accessible to all who can get here
and either pay a small fortune for a tee time OR, get into the ballot and win
the lottery. The three young Brits and one slightly older American won a slot
on April 24 for the New Course (1895) and then, the next day, for the right to
play the crown jewel of all golf, The Old Course at St. Andrews.
About four months ago, my American friend asked me if I might
like to take the place of one of the young Brits who had backed out.
This has become my stock answer to most crazy requests
involving travel and golf.
why the hell not. Who knows if I will never get the chance again?”
My son and I had played the courses with my American friend
in 2008 for my 60th birthday during a golf trip across Scotland. I
never thought that I would ever get back and never thought I would ever return other than in July or August when it might warm up to 70 degrees F. That was
when we went in 2008 and it wasn’t really warm then. Long sleeves and sweat
But I was in, figuring this was it for me and Scottish golf,
my last shot. I am not getting any younger and my back isn’t going to get more
flexible, so I grabbed on to the chance.
On Thursday evening, April 21 I took coach class to Heathrow
from Houston using frequent flyer miles and arrived at 9:30 AM London time on
Friday, April 22. I walked the half mile to passport control, waited the obligatory
20 or so minutes to clear and walked another mile or so to the Heathrow Express
train which took me to Paddington Station (Bears galore on display and for
purchase), and taxied to my buddy’s daughter’s house. From there he on the following morning, his
son-in-law, the other British friend, my buddy and I took the train due north to Scotland, a 5
and ½ hour trip and taxied to our hotel, the Macdonald Rusacks. This old girl backs
up to the huge courtyard containing the R and A headquarters and the first and 18th
holes of the Old Course. Beyond, sweeping in from the north is, of course, The
North Sea with its “breezes” often of gale force winds.
The first day was beautiful with a significant, but slight
wind, sun and the New Course before us. This is a classic links style course of
no particular notoriety.
Monday, April 25 was cold and blustery—Scotland personified.
As we practiced putting for our 10:20 tee off time on The Old Course, the hail
was coming down. It stopped before we teed off but it was very cold (maybe 45
degrees at most) and very, very windy. Needless to say the golf was less than spectacular
as putting is unlike anything in the States and so is the rest of the game. Bunkers
are like bomb craters and pop up everywhere, usually behind mounds left by the sheep. A ball hit to a green and landing
on it, rarely stays on it. A ball most properly should be run up. (I was able
to finally stop a 9 iron on the 18th hole.) No trees. No water. One
bathroom and a food truck on 10 tee. Not American-style golf. It did not
As opposed to The New Course, The Old Course is one of a
kind. Its bunkers were dug by sheep. In two places there are stones marked
blank on one side or with a G on the other to denote on which side the sheep
grazed (blank) and on which golf (G) was to be played. It has been played here
in one form or another for almost 700 years. No one knows when the stones were placed.
This is the temple to golf and unique in all the world. No
matter how badly I played, and it was pretty bad at times with that cold wind
on my old back, it was of no consequence. I was walking where the giants of
golf had walked, playing the same game, meeting the same obstacles and hazards
they had. There are few experiences like it in all the world of sports or
cannot sing at the Met. You cannot dance with the Bolshoi. You cannot put on
pinstripes and play with the Yankees. But you can take 14 clubs on to holy
pastures and knock around the same white ball the pros do even if you do not
have equally rewarded results.
It was good to get off the course and into the warmth of the
hotel as the wind was whipping up and the temperature was dropping when we
finished the 4 ½ hour round. No matter. I had walked in golf’s holy cathedral
yet again. Twice may be enough for a lifetime. But twice was not too much.