Monday, July 16, 2007

A day at the Old Course

I had always imagined what it would feel like to stand on the first tee at the Old Course at St. Andrews with a driver in my hands and the eyes of the townspeople and golf’s ghosts watching me.

Now I know.

I felt nervous. Excited but nervous.

And, not wanting to miss what appears to be the widest fairway in the world, I hit a 3-wood just to be safe.

After years of anticipation, I finally played the Old Course last Thursday and, having already fallen under the spell of St. Andrews during the 2005 Open Championship there, my affection for the place was deepened after a day ‘round the auld sod.

It’s no great revelation that the Old Course is a quirky place, a relatively flat, tree-less piece of linksland that starts and ends close enough to town that it’s possible to fire a golf ball into someone’s apartment.

Some people don’t like or don’t get the Old Course. The story goes that when Sam Snead first passed the place on a train, he remarked, “It looks like there used to be a golf course there.”

I loved it.

The humps. The bumps. The double greens. The gorse. The pot bunkers. The views of the town.

I loved it all.

It didn’t hurt that we caught it on a beautiful day, partly cloudy, temperatures in the upper 60s and barely a breeze until late in our round.

Playing the Old Course, especially for the first time, is about more than making pars and bogeys and (one) birdie. It’s about hearing the whispers of time and knowing you’re walking the most historic ground in the game.

It’s not the kind of golf we’re used to playing. You play the Old Course on the ground, bouncing shots into greens, watching them twist and turn on their way.

The fairways are not perfect. There’s no special grass on the greens. It’s just grass and it’s mowed shorter on the greens.

When you play the 17th – the famous Road Hole – it’s unnerving when you’re told to aim your tee shot over the ‘H’ in the Old Course Hotel script painted on the shed directly in front of you. But it’s a thrill when you do it and find your ball one foot off the fairway and an equally bigger thrill when you rip a 4-iron onto the front of the green while the people watching from the Jigger Inn alongside the fairway applaud you.

They didn’t applaud the three-putt that followed.

When you walk over the Swilcan Bridge on No. 18 and to the final green, tucked beside a street, you remember seeing Jack Nicklaus birdie the last hole he ever played in major championship golf.

You remember that Bobby Jones and Sam Snead and Seve Ballesteros and Tiger Woods have won the Open at St. Andrews.

I will remember more than my 81. I will remember the feeling.


Christopher Record said...

That must have been quite a thrill. Great job over there as usual!

Butch said...

I played The Old Course back in September 06 with my brother. My greatest thrill in golf!! I highly recommend golfers going ver and playing.

joe said...

You nailed it Ron. No bigger anticipatin than the 1st tee, no other finish in the world like 17 and 18.

It has to be the best experience a golfer can have, no matter what you shoot.