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Golf's Hallowed Ground

St Andrews guards golf's legacy for the thousands of pilgrims who visit Scotland to pay their respects
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
William Shatner, Sept/Oct 2006

(continued from page 1)

All of this change would not likely have surprised Old Tom Morris. Morris was the legendary four-time British Open champion and ball maker who cared for and groomed the Old Course from 1865 to 1904 and who became the face of the game for St Andrews. During his time, there were great advances in the quality of golf balls and equipment, and he laid out and supervised the building of the New Course in 1895 (which therefore gave the original course the name of Old). Morris was a native St Andrean and liked to say of his townsfolk that "we are born wi' webbed feet and a golf club in our hand here."

It is a line that David Joy often repeats. Joy, a native St Andrean, is a painter, writer and actor who portrays Old Tom Morris on special occasions in one-man shows. Joy, speaking for Old Tom, says this about golf in St Andrews: "Living as he did through a time of great change in the game, I don't think he would be surprised at all to see what's gone on. Golf became popular during his lifetime and he was one of the reasons for it, so seeing so many people come to St Andrews to play would have been gratifying then and now. I suppose he would be surprised at the level of maintenance of the Old Course, which during his day was mostly khaki-colored with a tinge of green and certainly not mown with any regularity."

Joy also has this to say about the people of St Andrews: "The attitude of the locals has changed quite a bit. Visitors were looked upon as a nuisance until probably the mid-'70s. But we realized finally that they were putting a lot into our town. We started getting a better class of Americans. Before it was just tartan wearers coming to town on a bus tour. Now it's a big cross section of Americans coming in small groups to play golf, and to see our town. We have sort of resigned ourselves to more people and slower rounds during the high season. Thank God we have a bloody bad winter here or we would have a theme park."

The theme of golf in St Andrews is seasonal, thanks in large measure to the bloody bad winter. Yet in recent years that season has been stretched by the arrival of the new courses, particularly the two at the St Andrews Bay resort, owned by American Donald Panoz. "St Andrews Bay, because it has the ability to handle conferences and small conventions, has had an influence on the overall golf landscape in St Andrews," says Gordon Dalgleish, a native Scot who, along with his brother Colin, runs PerryGolf, a high-end travel company based in Atlanta that does considerable business in Scotland. "Getting people into St Andrews in February is no small chore, but St Andrews Bay has probably given the area an extra couple of months on either side of the summer. They have the two lovely courses there. Up the road is Kingsbarns, which has gained, and rightly so, a very strong reputation.

"Another factor in this, too, is the Links Clubhouse. Now, when they were proposing to build it in the early 1990s, the locals were hugely opposed to it. But it went through and now it gives players a place to change clothing, have a drink, a meal, all in a place overlooking the linksland. And now the locals quite embrace it themselves. The locals will look askance at change, but at the same time have come to realize that so much has been for their benefit."

The Old Course, and the family of courses it spawned, is one of the great municipal benefits in the world. Locals are entitled to buy a pass that allows them unlimited golf and guaranteed tee times on the Old Course and all others that the town owns. The cost: a little more than $200 per year, which is less than the cost of one round played by a visitor on the Old Course. Getting a tee time on the fabled layout can be a byzantine undertaking for a visitor during the high season, going through what's known as the ballot, in which names are drawn the day before.

Visitors are considerably down the pecking order. One way to ensure a tee time is by going to the St Andrews Links Trust Web site well in advance of your trip. You could also purchase a time as part of a golf tour such as those organized by PerryGolf or from the St Andrews—based Old Course Experience, but expect that the cost will be wallet-shrinking, though the experience is, to most, priceless. During the off-season, it's quite likely you could just walk up to the starter's hut and get sent off in a reasonable time.

With golf traffic increasing, there is rising pressure on the entirely satisfying New Course and the underrated Jubilee. That's why courses like Kingsbarns, the St Andrews Bay pair and The Duke's Course have been such key additions, and why the Links Trust is building the No. 7 course. No. 7 was designed by David McLay Kidd, whose reputation was ramped up miles by his Bandon Dunes links course in Oregon. While No. 7 doesn't sit on linksland, it does sit on a beautiful headland with a marvelous view of the town. It will have some links characteristics, with lumpy fairways and ambling greens. The ninth and 18th greens will be joined and overlook the water, just in front of the clubhouse.

This area to the east of town was first mined for golf by the Kingsbarns Golf Links. Designed by Kyle Phillips and one of the original investors, Mark Parsinen, Kingsbarns was a bland sloping site that once held a small course and where cattle and sheep grazed. But it also had a stupendous view across the Firth of Tay toward Dundee, Carnoustie and Arbroath. Phillips and Parsinen transformed the land into a true links layout with deft detailing and subtleties that gave it instant age and overwhelming approval. The course will become a final qualifying site for the 2010 British Open Championship at St Andrews. And get this: during the off-season there is very little play, even from the locals, who are charged only 12 pounds sterling (about $22).

The St Andrews Bay courses, designed by Sam Torrance and Bruce Devlin, are an entirely appropriate addition to the local golf, with the Devlin course particularly challenging from the back tees. You couldn't do wrong to play at St Andrews Bay during the high season if the Old Course, the New Course and Kingsbarns are jammed up. The Duke's Course, owned by the Old Course Hotel, has recently been renovated, but large white sand bunkers are glaring in the parkland layout and need to weather to gain a natural look.

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