OSCAR JACOBSON SPORT ARTICLES
Debate will forever rage as to where the game of golf really began. But whether Scotland, Holland, China or elsewhere, such debate is ultimately pointless, for there is only one undisputed Home of Golf, and that is the magical Auld Grey Toon of St Andrews in Fife.
The first recorded evidence of golf in St Andrews was in 1552, with the famous Royal & Ancient Golf Club born out of The Society of St Andrews Golfers in 1754.
The Auld Grey Toon
Anyone who has been to St Andrews will know that it is blessed with a charm, history and character all of its own. But the real beauty of the small town set around St Andrews Bay, where the North Sea meets the Firth of Tay, is that it is regarded with equal affection by both golfer and non-golfer alike.
The town simply oozes golf at every street corner. Wherever you turn you’ll spot a tantalisingly well-stocked golf shop; a bar packed with golfing memorabilia; golfers heading down to the links with clubs on backs; grizzled old caddies making their way down to see who they will be nursing around the Old Course today.
Even those who have never laid hand on a golf club in their lives seem to somehow instinctively sense this special place’s significance and importance.
There is, quite simply, nowhere like St Andrews on planet golf. Others may boast grander establishments, more spectacular views, more visually mesmerising golf courses, but they are not St Andrews, and never will be. Unique is an overused term, but it is entirely appropriate for the famous Fife town, for while it may be the game’s universally acknowledged ancestral home, it is also a place where history meets the modern game head-on and comes away with an honourable half. It is a golfing marriage made in heaven, where both parties live happily ever after.
The Old Course is undeniably the star of the show, forging out from town towards the Eden estuary and back, via world-famous holes, inspiringly rumpled terrain, vast double greens and some of the most cunning and devious bunkers you will ever encounter. There are five other courses in town too, along with 21st century newcomer – the Castle Course – set a couple of miles above it, but to come to St Andrews and spend every waking hour out on the links would be to miss out on so much.
St Andrews is a town where golf and history seem to seep from every brick, stone and paving slab – a place where first-time visitors wander round in a trance, camera in hand, open-mouthed, awestruck and overwhelmed by the whole experience.
The Old Course is but part of it, a revered links layout which has tested all the game’s greats over the years and where many of them have emerged victorious, from James Braid to Bobby Jones, Peter Thomson, Jack Nicklaus, Seve, Nick Faldo and Tiger.
Every true golfer will want to fire one down the widest fairway in golf under the watchful gaze of The R&A clubhouse on any Old Course pilgrimage. They’ll long to see how deep the bunkers are; how long the putts on the double greens can be; and how brave they become when taking their line across the corner on the 17th hole by the Old Course Hotel. They’ll do their level best to avoid the Road Bunker, and the road itself, before safely traversing the Valley of Sin and putting out right next to where they started. It is a rite of passage that every golfer should experience at some stage.
But many a local will fix you with a steely gaze and tell you that the New is a better course. Others will extol the virtues of the Jubilee and Eden layouts. But however much golf you choose to play, don’t leave yourself so bereft of time that you’re unable to soak up the whole St Andrews experience. The Himalayas putting green, and home to the Ladies’ Putting Club, is an absolute must. Yes, it is still golf, but it is a single-club challenge over the most extraordinarily rumpled putting terrain, where getting down in three from 15 yards is often no pushover.
After posing for the obligatory Swilcan Bridge photo, head back along The Links -keeping one eye open for anything carved right off the 18th tee – before taking a right into Golf Place, where you’ll find Auchterlonies famous golf shop and The Dunvegan bar vying for your attention. It’s a tough call as to which to succumb to first, for Auchterlonies is one of the best-stocked golf shops in town, while Dunvegan owner, Sheena, has spent the last few years amassing a fine collection of ‘selfies’ with the golfing rich and famous that now adorn the walls and ceiling of her friendly bar.
Finally, head on up North Street to the far end of town to take in the imposing castle ruins, and more importantly the remains of what was once Scotland’s largest and most important cathedral. For here in the grounds you will find the graves of both Old and Young Tom Morris, two of the most skillful and influential players of the early Open Championship era, both of whom won the title four times.
Beyond their Open glory, though, their lives were marred by tragedy, with Young Tom dying ‘of a broken heart’ on Christmas Day 1875 at the age of 24, just months after his wife and child had died during a difficult labour. Old Tom lived to the ripe old age of 86 before taking an unfortunate tumble down some steps in the New Club, but both are best remembered for their sublime golfing skill, and for their role in inaugurating The Open Championship over 150 years ago. The least any grateful golfer can do is spend a few minutes paying homage to two men who helped shape the game we know today, and make St Andrews such an irresistible golfing Mecca.
By: Darren Phillips / Oscar Jacobson Sport