Golf in Scotland: Part 5 – St. Andrews at Last

The day has arrived – at last! This is the day almost every golfer dreams of. This is the day we play the Old Course at St. Andrews. Although we have been in the town since Saturday, I have been good at keeping my gaze from the hallowed grounds. I planned many months before that the first look I get of the Old Course will be when I step to the first tee. It almost worked out that way too.

First things first. When the trip was originally planned, no tee times were available for the Old Course so we had planned to go into the lottery. But, as fate would have it, a block of tee times showed up online in January so we were now booked to play at 4:30pm.

Of course it`s not quite that simple. In order to play the Old Course you must also play one of the other seven courses run by the St. Andrews Links. We spent the morning playing the Donald Ross designed Strathtyrum course. With all due respect to Mr. Steel, I was gearing up for our afternoon game at the Old Course and barely paid attention to the layout in front of us. One point of note though, there are eyes everywhere and if you, as a guest, end up on the members tees you will be admonished. We did and we were. Twice.

Following our morning round we went to the St. Andrews club house and had some lunch before wandering around the shops that border the Old Course. I searched the shelves of old bookstores for the works of Bernard Darwin. We perused old wooden golf clubs for sale to collectors. We bought shirts to commemorate our visit to the epicenter of the game.

Traveling with Rob has a number of perks. On this day, the perk was an invitation to visit the clubhouse of the Royal & Ancient. We didn`t have jacket and ties which meant we couldn`t get into the locker room but we were brought into the lounge of one of the games most famous buildings and there we saw the clubs of many champion golfers including Old and Young Tom Morris`, Francis Ouimet and James Braid. The Walker`s Cup stood tall in one corner of the room. One also couldn`t help notice cases filled with silver and gold Captain`s golf balls dangling from silver clubs. It seems that at the start of every season the club caddies line up in the first fairway and the club Captain hits the first official drive of the season. The caddies scramble to retrieve the ball and return it to the Captain. The ball is then covered in silver. When the club Captain is royalty, the retrieved ball is covered in gold. To top off the visit was a close up look at the coveted Claret Jug. I couldn`t help but stare in awe at the names carved into its base. This was a once in a lifetime experience and I was making the most of it.

360 at the first tee

At 4:00pm we checked in with the starter who took a quick look at all of our handicap cards and then sent us to the putting green to await our turn at the first.

360 at the first tee

I tried hitting a few practice strokes but my attention was stolen by the group preparing to tee off at #1. In a scene that is repeated throughout the day, all of the members of the playing party took turns snapping each others picture.

360 at the first tee

While I watched the clock tick towards our tee time, I decided to capture a 360 degree view of my surroundings.

360 at the first tee

In a little while, I will stop typing and let me pictures do the rest of the talking. I would just like to say though that the Old Course is truly an amazing experience.

360 at the first tee – dizzy yet?

The course is unlike anything I`ve ever seen before. The double greens are awesome especially when you see eight players surrounded by eight caddies on two holes.

360 at the first tee

The bunkers range from the benign to the ridiculous and I found my way into both the benign and the ridiculous. We generally had great weather playing with a little cloud cover until it rained while we played the 14th.

360 at the first tee

The group ahead of us were too slow so we bumped them off the 14th tee box (very American of us but who wants to see them each teeing up a second ball “ okay I`m not proud but we came to golf not to stand around). And, finally, playing the closing hole with tourists snapping pictures the whole time is about as close to championship golf as most of us will ever get. Here then is the Old Course at St. Andrews:

Looking back from the first fairway

#6 & #12 double green

Holey fairway, Batman!

The Shell Bunkber at #7

Tee shot at the Road Hole #17

Approach to the Road Hole

Swilken Bridge

Approach to #18

P.S. I shot the happiest 84 of my golf life!

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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