Our St. Andrews

If you have followed this blog or my social media posts, you’ll know I’m not spoiling the ending of A Course Called the Kingdom by telling you that I am writing this Open week post from a rainy Philadelphia.  For all my golf around the United Kingdom, searching out my best golf and the secret to the game, one of the things I learned is that I am precisely where I should be this week.  I made enough bogies to earn my spot here far from the first tee in St. Andrews–earned every one of them.  And tomorrow I’ll try my hand at qualifying for the Pennsylvania Open–no ancient jugs to hoist, but a golfing milieu more suited to my game and a more right-sized Open ambition.  Having survived the nerves of teeing it up after an R&A tee box introduction, I feel confident for tomorrow.  I’m pretty sure I won’t have to swing with breakfast in my throat, so my Scottish odyssey will have quickly paid a dividend.

This wasn’t to be my great St. Andrews week, because I already lived mine.  I know now that the two weeks I spent in what I think is the greatest town in the world (sorry Kinsale–you’re a close 1a for me) were my St. Andrews moment. And it was a great one.  I won’t watch this weekend’s events with any disappointment.  Instead I’ll be watching for shots of the town, hoping to grab a glimpse of the haunts where my family briefly became happy regulars.

We lived in a house in the heart of town, on South Street beside the centuries old Westgate.  The house was the birthplace of James Foulis, son of the foreman at Old Tom Morris’s club-making shop and the second winner of the US Open.  With the history came a playroom for my girls and a deep garden they still ask about, wondering when we are going back.  Across the street, I bought crumpets and pastries for the family each morning, before I set out for golf and they headed for a walk on the beach, or a visit to the castle ruins where Maggie and Caroline raced across the courtyard and ducked into the dungeons.  The castle in Frozen had nothing on the stones beneath their feet.

We dined in some of the best restaurants in Scotland, got used to paying for a bag at Tesco (Yanks are routinely reminded that bags are 5p, and we learned to have ours at the ready), got friendly with the cheese monger down the street, and drank coffee in the shop where Wills courted Kate during their university days (I wonder if he was nervous).  The genius of golf’s greatest town is that it is a great town first–it’s a university city, young and vibrant and international.  A few blocks from the tee boxes, golf becomes a part of St. Andrews but not its entire story.  You would think the home of golf might be only that–golf pubs, golf shops, golf museums.  St. Andrews has plenty of that, but it also has culture and history and learning–you stay there and feel like you’ve done more than chase a ball around, and your travels are better for it.

I will wish I was there this week, no doubt, but it will be for dinner at Forgan’s and pastries at MacArthur’s and fish ‘n chips at the Tailend–not to mention the dinner I somehow got invited to at the R&A, supping on beef Wellington within eye-shot of the Claret Jug.  I played the Old Course twice–once with my father-in-law and once with my dad, and both rounds shot to the top of my lifetime list, but I had no less joy off the links, walking the beach and climbing the ruins with Maggie and Caroline.

The best day to be in St. Andrews might be on a Sunday, when the Old Course is closed, and you can really feel how the course is woven into the town and the community, when you step off a side street and suddenly you’re crossing the most most famous thoroughfare in golf, the shared short grass of the 1st and 18th on the Old.  There isn’t another patch of earth like it anywhere, and my favorite shot out of many thousands was played off of the center of it, hitting up to 18 as two red-heads bounced around behind the green, waiting for their dad to come take them to dinner. I putted out and Maggie and Caroline walked down onto the green to hug me and their grandfather, with no understanding of the hallowed ground upon which they were standing.  And that is what is so perfect about St. Andrews.  It wears its lore effortlessly.  And it gave me my moment on 18–no matter who lifts the jug this Sunday, I’ll know a small piece of what they are feeling as they step to the green, understanding the perfection of a place.

(After so much links research this summer, I should make a pick for the Open: I’ll go with Brandt Snedeker.  I’ll be pulling for Spieth and the possibilities of a grand slam, but if I can offer any inside information, I heard on a number of occasions about how much Snedeker loved being in Scotland, and how much the locals appreciated that love.  An inordinate amount of Scots claimed to have bumped into him in the pub and shared a laugh with him as he had a pint and a burger between rounds.  The guy must love cheeseburgers.  In any event, he’ll be popular among the Scots this week, so I’ll make him my pick for karma’s sake.  But don’t put your house on it.)

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About Tom Coyne