A trip to the Old Course
August 18, 2000
When my wife and I returned from vacation recently, the mail included a new book sent to me to review: Wry Stories on The Road Hole, by Sydney Matthew (Sleeping Bear Press, $22 SRP). We had just visited the book’s subject, the famous 17th hole at St. Andrews, Scotland.
I wonder if I will enjoy the book as much as I enjoyed the trip.
While in Edinburgh, we rented a Vauxhall for the 55-mile ride to St. Andrews along the Fife Tourist Route. The morning traffic gave me a chance to adapt to the left-handed manual transmission, but driving on the left side remained a bit disorienting.
The many roundabouts and traffic circles along the way also presented a challenge or two. I missed a turn on a traffic circle about halfway there and lost sight of the signs for St. Andrews. I pressed on, convinced we could somehow find our way.
Several miles later, the signs for St. Andrews reappeared. My wife asked, “Do you have a homing device for golf courses?”
Shortly after entering the city, we turned a corner, and the Old Course suddenly appeared on the left. It really is an integral part of St. Andrews. Visitors and residents can walk down the street and watch golfers tee off on the first tee, while others finish their round on the adjacent 18th hole.
The course is closed to golfers on Sunday, but open to non-golfers desiring to walk the course at any time. The park-like setting and its accessibility are certainly among the charming aspects of the Old Course.
We first visited the nearby British Golf Museum. Open from April to October, the modern facility featured hundreds of golf memorabilia, from old clubs and balls to autographed gloves by John Daly and Nick Faldo. Interactive displays, posters, and other artwork also filled the halls. The entrance fee was reasonable (£3.50 ($5.60 US) for adults), considering all that the museum offered.
We then walked across the street to the front of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club building, and watched several foursomes start their round. Scaffolding and other signs of the recent British Open remained in place.
After seeing so many other walkers out on the course, we strolled to the south side and followed the pavement to the Road Hole. Two park benches in the right rough about 75 yards from the 17th green gave us a great vantage point to watch the golfers struggle.
The 6-foot deep greenside bunker was cordoned off as Ground Under Repair, saving some golfers several shots.
One Scot skulled his approach shot across the green, down the embankment, and across the road, stopping about two feet from the stone wall that is the formidable backdrop to the hole. He muttered, “Ahh, nooll” (“Oh, no,” I think).
The Scot then calmly putted back across the blacktop, up the tightly-mown slope, and across the green, where his ball stopped within a foot of the hole. The twenty or so witnesses all clapped, and as he raised his hands he asked us, “Where’re yer cam’ras?”
Not much could have topped that performance, so we then set off to explore other parts of the town. We highly recommend a visit to the St. Andrews Castle and the nearby Cathedral. The two medieval sites are well worth the short walk from the center of town, especially at the combined ticket price of £3.50 ($5.60 US).
Two famous British Open winners, Tom Morris, Sr. and his son, Tom, Jr., are buried in the Cathedral Cemetery. Golfers left tees and other golf equipment at these graves, along with the more traditional flowers.
We also visited portions of St. Andrews University, founded in 1410. The college buildings are mixed among the shops and homes, forming an integral part of the town.
After a bite to eat at a local pub, we headed back to Edinburgh along the Tourist Route. The countryside was magnificent, and the views of the Firth of Forth were equally stunning.
Next time, I’m going to play the Old Course. For once, I will not care what I score.