By Anita Draycott
There comes a time when every passionate golfer longs to take a swing in the fair land where the game was born. And, trust me, once you’ve had a taste of true Scottish links, you’re spoiled for life.
Last summer, my husband and I set off for a Celtic tour of some of Scotland’s most storied courses, beginning predictably at St. Andrews. We were drawn immediately to the Old Course where there’s always a gallery behind the first tees watching the constant parade of golfers praying for a decent drive. No other course in the Kingdom of Golf holds a candle to the Old because no other starts and finishes before the front terrace of the Royal and Ancient where no doubt members, ensconced in leather armchairs, are sipping their whiskeys and surveying the scene.
Even though the Old Course sees more than 42,000 rounds per year and getting a tee time is tough, the course remains accessible to we golf pilgrims who’ve come to pay homage. Local guide Jim Bowie leads visitors on a short walking tour of the Old Course at St. Andrews Links, the largest municipal public golf facility in the world consisting of the Old, New, Jubilee, Eden, Strathyrum and Castle eighteen-hole courses, plus the Balgove nine-hole for beginners and kids. It’s a chance to tread upon the first fairway in the footsteps of Hagan, Jones, Hogan and so many more legends, contemplate the Road Hole bunker and pose for posterity on the Swilcan Bridge.
Golf is said to have been played on the St. Andrews Links since the fifteenth century. In 1457 James II of Scotland banned the game because it distracted his subjects from archery practice. The first greens keepers were rabbits and sheep. James lifted his ban in 1502 after succumbing to the game himself.
After your game, head to snug Jigger Inn (circa 1850) for a wee dram, then cap off your day with dinner at the Road Hole Grill in the adjoining Old Course Hotel where floor-to-ceiling windows afford panoramic views of golf Mecca and the beach where the movie Chariots of Fire was filmed. Trust me, this is pure unadulterated golf as it was meant to be played. Warning: it may become habit forming.
Do not plan on playing the Old Course on Sunday. On the Sabbath, it’s a public park. In fact, Up until 1974 residents had the right to wash their clothes in the Swilcan Burn (stream) and dry them on the first fairway, according to local bylaws. They didn’t of course, but it begs the question—do you get a free drop if you ball lands in a pair of boxer shorts?