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A road trip to St. Andrews

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In 2017, my son Brian and his wife Lauren, proposed a family trip to Scotland. Both of them have traveled a surprising amount for a couple barely 30 years old, but for us it would be a huge trip. We couldn’t get it scheduled for 2018 but everything lined up for October, 2019, a trip that might even include playing the Old Course in St. Andrews, if we got lucky. The amazing Lauren made all the arrangements, beginning with multiple email exchanges with the staff at the Old Course, who were extremely gracious and encouraging in their communications.

Unlike most other courses, in order to play the Old Course, you have three options: One is to book a very expensive trip through a travel broker who will guarantee a tee time. This is the only way to make your arrangements in advance, but you’re paying thousands for the package, which would include at least three other days of golf. Sounds great but above our budget. Secondly, you can take a real gamble and just show up at the starter’s window the day you are hoping to play, and get in line as early as 3 a.m., put your name on the list and then wait, maybe all day, maybe hopelessly. It’s no way to budget an entire day on your vacation. The third way is to use what is called the “ballot system,” submitting your request for a tee time via email to standrews.com, 48 hours ahead and hopefully getting a spot.

Now, it’s not as grim a prospect as it may sound for planning to play golf in St. Andrews. The above only applies to getting onto the Old Course. We were able to make a tee time for the Jubilee Course, one of six other courses (Jubilee, Castle, New Course, Eden, Strathtyrum, and Balgove), all part of the St. Andrews Links complex, “The Home of Golf” as their brochure proclaims. Since we were scheduling our trip for the tail-end of the golf season, the gentleman from St. Andrews wrote that he was cautiously optimistic we would be successful using the ballot system.

This wasn’t just a golfing vacation, the five us had an outstanding time touring the west coast of Scotland, including the Oban Whisky distillery, the Harry Potter train in Glencoe, Ben Nevis—the highest peak in the UK, Fort William, and the spectacular Highlands, the town of St. Andrews, and finally the marvelous city of Edinburgh. We ended up spending one night in St. Andrews, at The Saint, a lovely four-room hotel, a 10-minute walk from the Old Course. That evening, walking down cobblestone streets, with the R&A clubhouse coming into view, was like walking in a dream.

Our day started out by driving directly to the new Links Clubhouse, which has wonderful views of the courses from the restaurant. We had lunch, and I must admit to being a bit nervous over my chicken bacon mayo sandwich. We’d parked our bags in the locker room down below, it’s just what you’d expect in terms of world-class accommodations and feel. I could just imagine the pros suiting up there as they prepare to play in The Open.

Our day of golf at the Jubilee Course was spectacular, although it got off to a rainy start, but the weather cleared by the fourth hole. Mary, Jill, and Lauren formed our gallery as we teed off, then they went for a walk around the lovely town. I parred the first hole and told Brian that made my entire trip to Scotland. I was on fire, shooting 42 on the front nine but hitting only three fairways and two greens in regulation. Brian shot 45. We’d decided on match play, and I was up by three on the 11th hole. Brian then said the fateful words, “You haven’t hit into a pot bunker all day!” Which I promptly did. My game immediately tanked while he proceeded to make a total of nine pars, shooting 42 on the back, and won the match 2 & 1. Our gallery re-appeared on the 17th hole, the sun was shining, and we were in golf heaven! We ended the day with a pint at the famous Dunvegan Pub by the R&A clubhouse.

Earlier in the day, Brian had received an email from St. Andrews, unfortunately stating that we had not been selected for the ballot to play on the Old Course the next day. He resubmitted our request for the following day with fingers crossed. We headed to our next stop, Edinburgh, looking forward to exploring this ancient yet cosmopolitan city. During our walking tour, Brian received the email notification that we’d scored an 11 a.m. tee time on the Old Course for Friday. He and I would be making a road trip back north while the ladies spent the day in Edinburgh.

It was about an hour ride back to St. Andrews but traffic was quite manageable and we arrived at 9:30, plenty of time for breakfast at the Links Clubhouse. I felt that anticipatory excitement I always have right before marshaling at a big event, like a U.S. Open, where the atmosphere of the place is nearly overwhelming. Not really nervousness, but we were about to play the Old Course! Isn’t that every golfer’s dream? To say Brian was wound up tight would be an understatement, he could barely choke down half a scone. The walk over toward the starters shack, where we would meet our caddies, with the R&A clubhouse right there at the first tee was unreal.

The clerk was so gracious, taking our 130 Scottish pounds green fee (about $160), and handing us a very nice valuables pouch complete with an amazingly detailed yardage book, tees, pencils, divot tool, and scorecard. We were then approached by our two caddies, who between them had nearly 30 years of caddying experience. I got John, whose personality was perfect for me, quiet, calm, not too chatty, yet personable. Brian’s guy, Steve was just right for him as well, right from central casting with a thick Scottish brogue. He instantly bonded with Brian to become his playing partner/coach, which was just what he needed to get over the first tee jitters.

The starter, Richard, approached us as we made our way over to the first tee, greeting us much like you see them do at the start of the Open Championship. He made our presence there seem extra special, despite the fact he’d probably done the same routine 10 thousand times. He even took our picture. We were then introduced to our two other playing partners, both former members of the course, so they didn’t need caddies to show them the way. These guys were hilarious, self-deprecating, with brogues so thick I could understand maybe one word in three, not the best golfers by any stretch, which was somehow quite reassuring and certainly less intimidating. Brian proved to be the best golfer in our foursome by far although he had a rough start, hitting his drive into the Swilcan Burn.

I was really calm on the tee, it helped that there were very few spectators as it was drizzling and maybe 50 degrees. John told me where to aim, (“at that gorse bush off in the distance”) and I was able to do exactly that. As we walked off the first tee Steve said “now you can all breathe again!” I found having a caddy to be such a wonderful added dimension to this whole experience—not just as a guide to point out where in the world I should be aiming on this alien golf layout, but also to set an expectation for me on each shot which I then tried my best to fulfill. The greens weren’t too scary as I felt used to the speeds having played Jubilee, but having John read the subtle breaks and provide aiming points was terrific.

I played bogey golf through the first 12 holes but the rain only intensified and despite John’s best effort to keep things dry, the final 6 holes were a mess. Brian was one up on our match at the turn, then went on to win decisively at 5 up, with a total for the day of 5 pars and a birdie, including par on 17, the famous Road Hole. As the day went on, we found ourselves saying over and over to each other, what a wonderful experience this was despite the conditions. Steve took the traditional picture of us on the Swilcan Bridge, on our way to finishing on 18, which Brian almost parred. He later said he had such a tremendous feeling of accomplishment, having conquered the Old Course.

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  1. drjacko

    Feb 25, 2020 at 6:39 am

    Pounds are the same unit of currency all over the United Kingdom. When I read ‘Scottish Pounds’, my guess is you were using bank notes printed by the Bank of Scotland.

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A trip down Magnolia Memory Lane: 1970s Masters fashion

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Recently, we covered some of the best fans outfits from the 1991 Masters Tournament won by Ian Woosnam (Patron Fashion at the ’91 Masters). Now, it’s time to look back on what many call the height of all golf fashion: the 1970s.

This era in sport, not just golf, was pre-large-scale commercialization. Certainly, sponsorships were a part of golf but not in the way it is today. Each break in the action or reply wasn’t brought to you by “brand X” and clothing, and fashion followed a similar minimalistic trend. There was no scripting, there were no special edition brand activations, and shirts were mostly devoid of sponsors unlike there are today—most players didn’t even wear hats.

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1974

Dave Stockton wore a beautiful yellow ensemble, which included matching white belt and shoes. If you’re going to go full yellow – this is the way to do it. Take note, 2006 Hoylake Sergio Garcia.

You don’t need the graphic to recognize the full head of hear belonging to two-time Masters champ Ben Crenshaw. His patterned polo went along very nicely with a pair of matching solid-colored pants.

Tom Weiskopf never won a green jacket, but as far as the Masters is concerned, he could easily go down as one of the best dressed throughout his career. These pants alone belong in the hall of fame.

Green always looks good on the grounds of Augusta National, and Jim Colbert showcases one of the finest ways to work the pallet. Extra points for the bucket hat.

Jack Nicklaus is arguably the greatest golfer to ever play the game, and if we only take into account Green Jackets, then he’s number 1. Jack also ranks very high as far as outfits go, and always looked classy while strolling the rolling hills of Augusta, almost always in a signature thin horizontal striped shirt.

1975

Johnny Miller is another man that never won the Masters, but it certainly wasn’t for lack of close calls. He came second in 1975 but his outfit could have been considered the clubhouse leader, thanks to a well-fit solid blue stiff-collar polo that also went well with his flowing blonde locks. Now I know I said I would leave the patrons alone for this, but I have to ask “what the heck is that pink thing on that woman’s head behind Miller on the tee box?” I’m extremely thankful this was broadcast in color.

Thanks to the signature glasses, Hale Irwin is easy to spot, and as mentioned already, green also looks good inside the ropes at Augusta. The long button closure was a telltale sign of the times and few pulled this look off as well as Hale. Also, one more patron to point out: the man in the full yellow pants, jacket, and hat (this is the outfit of the guy she told you not to worry about).

Tom Weiskopf, a towering man from Ohio, made clothing look good. His 1975 final round lilac sweater would have fit very nicely under a green jacket along with the high collar white shirt. This look was as classic then, as it is today.

1976

Raymond Floyd won the green jacket this year and the collar on his shirt could be considered a premonition for the culminating events. Raymond’s pants were also well-tailored to show off his brown and white saddle shoes.

Ben Crenshaw once again made color look good in 1976 with a striped yellow and red shirt to go along with a red belt, and yellow pants. This Texas Longhorn even coordinated his glove for the occasion.

 

*Featured image courtesy of Masters.com, and yes, that’s current ANGC chair and then amateur sensation Fred Ridley strolling the fairway with Jack Nicklaus. 

 

 

 

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