My trip to play golf at St. Andrews, site of this year’s British Open.
Every golfer who has been somewhat serious about golf must make a pilgrimage to the home of golf, St. Andrews, Fife, Scotland. The earliest recordings of golf date back to 1456, several years before Columbus got to the New World. The opportunity arose in 1999, due to a business trip to London to see a famous physician. Our friends, Mike and Susie joined us, though the ladies do not play golf. They were good sports in letting us have this golf outing of a lifetime.
Several days in London, though fun and busy, went by slowly in anticipation of the trip up to Scotland. We landed in the very industrial city of Glasgow, rented a van, and drove through Edinburgh on the way to the university town of St. Andrews. Mike drove most of the time, as I had a lot of trouble remembering that those darn Brits drive on the wrong side of the road. But the Scottish countryside is a beautiful part of the world, with quaint little towns along the way, and herds of sheep dotting the rolling, green hills of the Scottish Lowlands. Later in the trip, we would make our way to the southwest area of Ayr and bunk down at the famous Turnberry Hotel. We also visited a castle or two, but once you have seen one, you have seen them all. Golf courses are different!!!
We got to stay at the famous Old Course Hotel, right on the Old Course at St. Andrews itself. We were also playing other famous courses, like Carnoustie, Turnberry, and Prestwick. We warmed up with 36 holes the first day in anticipation of the big day. The hotel, while renovated in Scottish modern, still had a warmth and charm to it. Dinner on the top floor required a jacket and tie for men, suits or dresses for women, and we took a must visit to the Road Hole Bar to taste one of hundreds of single malts Scotches available.
Everything you have heard about Scottish food is true. It is not very appealing, though very hearty and rough. The highlight was trying the haggis, which is sheep innards encased in a animal organ. They told us that a vegetarian version is also available. Our dry scrambled eggs and boiled potatoes looked wonderful at this point. But when in Scotland, forget the food, and concentrate on golf and good Scotch. Though many people said the food has improved, we are just too spoiled here in California.
On the big day, we killed a few hours driving to some cute little villages, had some coffee and Scottish pastries, and tried to find the famous Scottish woolen outlets for some gifts. We had one of our best meals at the Old Course Grill consisting of a hamburger and a beer. We then realized the hour was upon us, so we ambled over to the starter’s hut near the 1st tee. The hotel had our clubs there, we met our caddies, and an older couple who would complete our foursome.
We tried our best to warm up on the putting green but were just too excited. When they called our starting time, we stepped on to the 1st tee. The starter announced my name, my muscles got tense, my mouth dry, and I just prayed I could hit the ball somewhere, anywhere on what is about a hundred- and fifty-yard-wide fairway. I managed a decent 3 wood onto the fairway, then watched the others hit their tee shots.
It turns out, Mike’s ball landed on a road, and he proceeded to take a drop. His caddie stopped him and told him to play it where it lies. He told us that “you bloody Americans” are always trying to change the game of golf!! So, he picked the ball cleanly with his iron, and made a birdie on the first hole.
We had to wait on the 2nd tee for quite a while before we could tee off. The four caddies sat down on our golf bags and proceeded to smoke. We had one female caddie, since the rule then was that female players had to have a female caddie. The difference was that she rolled her own cigarette, smoked it to the nub, then squashed it out on the back of her hand. My caddie told me that she was the women’s golf champion of St. Andrews.
The round of golf was magical, and we were able to have some nice conversations with the caddies. One was in a coma for several weeks after getting hit in the head with a golf ball. Mine wanted to hit a ball with my clubs. We started talking about life in Scotland, so he told me that he lives to caddie, drink, and chase girls.
It turns out that he lives at home with his Mom, while his Dad is out leading safaris in Africa. I asked him what time he usually got home after one of his binges. He replied with a matter of fact 3 or 4am, taking a quick nap, and getting to the course in the late morning. When asked if his Mom got upset with him, his response was: “I get home before she does”.
As we made our way around the course, it was fun to recall the famous players and events that preceded us on this hallowed ground. The caddies would point out where so and so had hit a magnificent shot, or a hole in one was scored by a friend of theirs. This was fine, as Mike and I were both playing fairly well. Until…..
We got to the famous Road Hole, where your tee shot must clear the corner of our hotel, before landing on the fairway. When the caddie told me to aim over the upper left corner, not too far from our room, I just stood there, and asked him to repeat it. Mike hit a magnificent shot, exactly where he was told. I, on the other hand, chickened out and pulled my shot into the next fairway. But then it got worse. I landed my 2nd shot in a bunker (sand trap) that was deeper than I am tall. The first shot had to go sideways, just to have a full swing to get out. I managed it on the 2nd shot, much to my surprise and the caddie’s satisfaction. The caddie then told me it took Nick Price (an excellent professional golfer) five shots to get out!!!
As we proceeded to the last hole, we were still as excited as when we started. While we were waiting to putt on the 18th green, people outside the fence would watch, and remark and ask if we were famous or not. The nerves came back, the mouth dried up, the muscles got tense. But I sank my putt for a par in the shadows of the Royal and Ancient Clubhouse.
We met our wives as we stepped off the green, paid our caddies, and decided to head directly to a pub to celebrate our great rounds of golf. Then it began to sink in, we got to play golf where it was invented and immortalized. Whether it was an old timer like Old Tom Morris, or Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, we got to walk in their footsteps for a few, brief, and glorious hours. The rest of the trip was great, but this was the day that I will always remember.
And who knows, fast forward to 2022, and I may return the Home of Golf!