Wednesday, July 14, 2010

An Evening In St. Andrews

Late Tuesday afternoon, I was leaving the media centre (that's the way they spell it over here) which is adjacent to the 18th hole at the Old Course. There was a small crowd gathered along the fence that parallels the fairway and they were watching a photo shoot.

Most of the former Open champions were gathered for a portrait together prior to their annual dinner in the Royal and Ancient clubhouse behind them. There was Arnold Palmer seated on the front row between Roberto de Vicenzo and Peter Thomson.

Gary Player and Tom Watson were there. So were Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Justin Leonard, Mark O'Meara, David Duval, Tom Lehman and others. John Daly was easy to spot. In a crowd of dark jackets, Daly wore a lime green and black paisley jacket apparently crafted by the same folks who make his pants. I'm sure the R&A appreciated his choice of attire.

There were some notable absences. Seve Ballesteros, who wanted to be here, was in Spain, too frail to travel. Jack Nicklaus didn't make the trip, saying he said his farewell to St. Andrews five years ago. It means he won't play in today's exhibition with the other former champions, a disappointment.

Still, it was see the group gathered together on the edge of the first tee.

A couple of hours later, as darkness was finally falling shortly before 10 p.m., I walked down the 18th fairway to the famous Road Hole. Because the Old Course is a public park, people are allowed to walk on the course after play concludes each day though there are security guards to make sure no one walks on the greens.

There were people taking photos on the famous Swilcan Bridge and one overzealous man broad jumping over the Swilcan Burn.

Davis Love III, playing in his 24th straight Open, was out there in his jeans and hooded sweatshirt, bundled up against a chill that felt like Charlotte in December. Walking down the fairway on the Road Hole, probably the most famous par-4 in the world, I asked Davis if he'd ever been asked to design anything like it.

"They'd think I was crazy if I tried something like this," he said, walking toward the hotel the hole bends around.

Defending champion Stewart Cink was walking back from the champions' dinner and posed for a photo with some fans beside the Road Hole bunker. Cink was carrying with him a sterling silver replica of the original belt buckle that went to the winner of the first eight Open championships.

"This is really cool," Cink said, opening the box to show the buckle.

A moment later, Duval walked up carrying his new keepsake.

In the Jigger Inn, the cozy bar off the 17th fairway, Rory McIlroy's parents -- Gerry and Rosie -- were in there. They told me about watching Rory's win at the Quail Hollow Championship from a resort in Ireland where the celebration was so big a bit of remodeling was necessary the next morning.

Brian Gay, who won the Verizon Heritage by 10 shots two years ago, stopped in and told the story of a late-night visit to the cemetery on the edge of town a few years ago. Several of them went to the gravesite of Old Tom Morris and his son, Young Tom Morris, near midnight. When someone began reading the inscription on Old Tom's gravestone, CBS golf announcer Jim Nantz was called out of the group to give it a proper reading.

By 10:30, it was dark. I walked back toward town, alongside the 18th fairway, toward the famous clubhouse, lit by yellowish light in the chilly evening.

It somehow felt warmer than it was.


The Armchair Golfer said...

What a treat to walk around the Old Course and town and bump into players and fans and swap stories. It's like a living outdoor golf museum.

Anonymous said...

So envious. I played the Old Course 6 years ago and the place is fantastic. St Andrews is one of my favorite places.