St. Andrews is a place that I love and not just for the Open Championship which takes place every six months or so. This year was the first time I missed the championship in golf country since 1971.
At that time, I had never given much thought to visiting the “Auld Gray Toon”, as this Scottish enclave is called, and I consider it a highlight every time I have had the chance to return.
Due to a number of circumstances, I didn’t travel to the Championship and the Old Course this summer. Unfortunately. Since 1978, Open dates had been part of my annual calendar until COVID caused the tournament to be canceled in 2020.
Throughout last week’s tournament there were flashbacks to past tournaments at St. Andrews and other times where it was possible to visit the home of the University of St. Andrews, play the Old Course and visit friends.
The first trip to St. Andrews was in 1978 when I took the “Flying Scotsman” from London and then booked a local train to St. Andrews.
I was mesmerized by all things British, especially lager and Scottish accents. It would take me a few more trips before venturing into haggis and single malt, later I couldn’t get enough once I tried it.
As a traveler, I’ve never come across any scenery I didn’t like, but it was nice to leave the desert behind after a brief stay. All the great Renaissance artists who painted the varied landscapes and cornucopias would have been at home in the fields, and among the flora and fauna of Scotland.
There’s nothing in Scotland not to enjoy, from train rides to quaint pubs to off-the-beaten-path golf courses like North Berwick in Edinburgh.
To have played the Old Course would have been uplifting even if I had scored a double bogey on every hole. Luckily, my first time there, I caught the wind on a day when it was mild, and my dash became a memory with a score to brag about.
Like so many others, I had a caddy story to cherish. Sydney Rutherford wore a tie. He had played 18 holes in the morning and stuffed my bag in the afternoon. He was 82 years old.
“Hit it to the steeple on the left, sir,” he might say. Or “Hit it in the direction of the gorse bush near the left side of the fairway.”
Renowned golf writer, Herbert Warren Wind, said that to play St. Andrews without a local caddy, “…is to miss out on the country wine”.
There was a time when I followed golfing icons such as Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson when they were in the lead, every step of the way to the final in which they won the Open Championship.
As the years went by quickly, and I mean literally, the open week offered side excursions to places like Stirling Castle, which is less than an hour away. During the Open, you can play a round of golf at a nearby course in the morning and then watch the championship in the afternoon.
You will never tire of spending time in St. Andrews Cemetery where you can find your way to the grave of the legendary Old Tom Morris. You can find a marker for her grandson born in Darien, Georgia.
He died at birth when his mother and father, Old Tom’s daughter and son-in-law lived there, but his remains were taken back to St. Andrews.
The highest peak has to be for those lucky enough to hoist the silver chalice that goes to the winner of the championship. For the legions of the unwashed, the best thing to do is get media accreditation and hit the fairways with champions who enjoy the experience.
Last week, the course seemed longer, the birdies more numerous and the crowds bigger. The champions look younger too. Cameron Smith is a good player as his record attests, but I don’t think he’s likely to play another major with a hotter hand when it comes to putting.