Golf's Hallowed Ground
St Andrews guards golf's legacy for the thousands of pilgrims who visit Scotland to pay their respects
From the Print Edition:
William Shatner, Sept/Oct 2006
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For those staying in St Andrews for longer than three or four days, a visit to the courses of the East Neuk will take you back to another age of the game. The East Neuk is a strip of land along the south coast of Fife whose eastern tip encompasses the town of Crail and the two courses of the Crail Golfing Society. The Balcomie Links, the older of the two, was laid out by Old Tom Morris in 1895. Proceeding west toward Edinburgh you will find the abiding courses of Elie, Lundin Golf Club and Leven Links, all of which welcome visitors. It is at these courses that you might well hook up and play with a local, perhaps sharing a pint and a toasted cheese sandwich afterward in the clubhouse. The locals of St Andrews, at first so opposed to the new Links Clubhouse, came to embrace it when they realized that even though they were not all members of the R&A or the St Andrews Golf Club or the New Golf Club, they, too, could have a splendid spot for a pint and a toasted cheese sandwich and in the process, commiserate with the visitors.
Gordon Murray will commiserate with anybody. A St Andrean by birth, an Aberdeen fisherman and fish monger by trade, a caddie on the Old Course in his retirement, Murray is a willing participant in any conversation and a man of far-flung connections in the game. He doesn't tote a bag every day and he doesn't tote for just anyone. He lives along the 18th fairway of the Old Course, gets his caddie bib out of the boot of his Mercedes, and knows members of the Augusta National Golf Club (one of several elite American clubs at which he has played). He has his opinions about change in St Andrews, and they are generally accepting, though he does have his issues with the St Andrews Links Trust, which has asserted that the building of the No. 7 course is driven by local demand. "Rubbish," says Murray, who, at the time, was gearing up for a trip to the U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club as a guest of David Fay, executive director of the United States Golf Association.
"If you ask the locals, I am sure they will say that the Links Trust, and bear in mind the word trust, has exceeded its boundaries and has become a bit of an empire builder. When they built their new clubhouse, it was in competition with the locals. They are building a new commercial shop where the St Andrew Woolen Mill used to be [alongside the 18th green of the Old Course] that will be in competition with the locals. They are building the No. 7 Course, which will be in competition with the private money that built Kingsbarns and St Andrews Bay and The Duke's Course. "Now, we need change over time here, there's no doubt. The new clubhouse, which is grander than what they originally stated it would be, has been a good addition to the town and the visitors certainly like it. But what the focus should be is on maintaining all of our courses to the highest standard and keeping them available for the locals to play, and not being in competition for business with the town."
Gordon Murray is more gregarious than most St Andreans, but you are likely to get yourself into a conversation anywhere in the burgh about anything, be it golf, the country's new smoking ban, the United States's and England's stand in Iraq, or the quality of the pastries at Fisher & Donaldson. A frequent meeting place for locals and visitors is the Lounge Bar of The Dunvegan Hotel, just up Pilmour Place from the 18th green of the Old Course. Golf is the motif of this intimate pub, with pictures of such greats as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Arnold Palmer adorning the walls. The Dunvegan is run by Jack Willoughby, a Texan and Texas A&M graduate, and his Scottish wife, Sheena. "I worked in the oil business in Aberdeen, met my wife there, and we used to come to St Andrews to play golf," says Willoughby. "I just always hated to leave the place; it was so magical and it changed my life. There's been a lot of change here, a lot of it commercially driven. Everyone wants a piece of the St Andrews pie. The price of the tee times on the Old Course has really gone up and especially if you get them through the Old Course Experience. My heart says these changes aren't so good, being kind of a purist about these things. But my head says that they are inevitable. I don't really think the visitor sees these things; it's the locals that notice them. It's still a wonderful place."
While the Old Course Hotel, MacDonald Rusacks Hotel, St Andrews Golf Hotel, Rufflets Country House Hotel, St Andrews Bay Resort & Spa, The Dunvegan Hotel and a myriad of smaller hotels, guesthouses and B&Bs offer a wide range of accommodation and comfort, there is no more special place to stay in golf than Ann's house. Straight up the street known as The Scores, just past the little Catholic church, 464 yards from the first tee of the Old Course, is Ann Hippisley's house, formerly known as the Rockview Coach House. The three-story, gray stone home and its carriage house sit on the bluff above St Andrews Bay. From the window seat in the drawing room, the view takes in the West Sands, a goodly portion of the Jubilee and New courses, and upwards of 30 miles across the Firth of Tay. Ann runs the home as a B&B in the truest sense. Pay for a room, get a full breakfast and have pretty much the run of a house that sits on one of the most magnificent sites in the world. You can also get into a discussion with Ann about religion, the university, her life in America and Russia, and any number of topics that don't include golf, a sport of which she has only the vaguest idea, despite the fact that golfers make up virtually all of her summer clientele.
That's part and parcel of St Andrews' charm and of Mike DiCarlo's observation that golf revolves around St Andrews and not the other way around. "The university is the 400-pound gorilla here, not the golf," says DiCarlo. "That makes for a really well-rounded experience for anyone here. This town is a center of learning, a center of culture and the worldwide center of golf. Doesn't get much better than that."
Bobby Jones became a legend in St Andrews after he won the 1927 Open Championship and the 1930 Amateur Championship on the Old Course. In 1958, he was made Honorary Burgess of the Borough, becoming the first American since Benjamin Franklin to receive the Freedom of the City award. As part of his exceedingly gracious acceptance speech, Jones said: "I could take out of my life everything except my experiences at St Andrews and I would still have a rich, full life." It's Sunday afternoon and the Old Course is closed, as it always is. Old Tom Morris thought the course needed a day's rest each week, and Sunday was a day's rest for most. On the first and 18th fairways, children kick soccer balls, fly kites and play with their dogs. The curious, golfers or not, inspect the Valley of Sin in front of the 18th green and ogle the R&A clubhouse. At any time on a fine day, there might be 50 people traversing the most revered ground in golf without so much as a putter in their hands. It is then you understand that golf is a brightly colored thread woven into the large and comfortable tartan that is St Andrews.
Jeff Williams is a Cigar Aficionado contributing editor.
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