ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – In February I heard from my longtime friend David Mackintosh. KMOX listeners will know the name because David has been the source for all matters golf international and especially annually for the Open Championship.
He had decided to forego this year’s Open but had already booked accommodations at St. Andrews University, adjacent to the Old Course, and was encouraging me to buy the room and make the trip.
I attended one Open years earlier as a spectator and that trip came about because someone had encouraged me to rattle my cage a bit and find my way to St. Andrews, where every real golfer has to go at least once. My initial reaction to David’s offer was a no, but I was in that same break out of my routine mentality and leapt.
The trip has evolved into a week in Scotland, a week in Ireland, and a check mark in my box of major moments with a huge assist from a native of Scotland. Next week I will check in here as an advance on the St. Andrews 2015. This week let me jump back to 1983 and my first encounter.
My reasoning in ’83 was the Open was at Royal Birkdale in Southport, England and there would be no better time to find an opening at the Old Course than when the rest of the UK was looking at tournament week. It was a strategy that paid off.
I picked up my rental car in Edinburgh on Wednesday just as the agency was closing, and after inviting the wrath of every rush hour Scot as I tried to master a manual transmission on the other side of the car and the other side of the rode, I headed north across the fife to St. Andrews.
Much younger then, I booked very little and accepted the adventure. I had no room in St. Andrews, and when I got there just began looking for “To Let” signs. I came upon a very stately structure with castle turrets and the desired vacancy sign. When I asked the proprietor for a room he was strangely reluctant to accept me, but he discovered I was on my Old Course pilgrimage and relented even coaching me how to enroll in the draw for the next day. It was The Kinburn Hotel, (I still have a hanger from there), a pensioner’s hotel, and I didn’t fit the age profile which I discovered at breakfast the next morning.
I dropped my bags in my room and headed to the course. I don’t know if any of you have seen the musical Brigadoon, but arriving at the course as dusk was just starting to arrive and the lights on the old hotels and shops began to illuminate the closing holes, it was golf’s version of a religious moment – ‘Briga-Dan’. There were a few scattered families on the putting course and little else in the way of noise. The weather was uncommonly warm and I could not have scripted a better first meeting.
The next morning I arrived and waited on the bench until my name came up in the draw and headed to the first tee with three other Americans, one with an official caddy, one with a bag toter not expected to offer advice and one, like me, walking with his clubs on his shoulder.
I won’t detail the round with few exceptions. I found the fairway on one but that is like saying I found the ocean when I went to the beach. I dumped my approach in the burn and bogeyed the hole. I struggled with the myriad of fairway bunkers through much of the front nine but avoided big numbers with good putting. I birdied the ninth and played through that end of the course one under and headed home. The hotel at 17 intimidated me off the tee (It has changed slightly since). But even with a double there I broke 40 on the incoming nine with a score comfortably in the eighties.
The next morning it was further north and Carnoustie early in the morning. The starter building was not yet open but the invitation was to go out and play and have my greens fee collected when they arrived. St. Andrews was warm and sunny and calm. Carnoustie was grey and cold and windy. Early on I was the only person on the course, and if I hadn’t grabbed a layout map before teeing off I would have never played all the holes.
Two moments from Carnoustie. In the middle of the course I launched a shot from an old laminated four wood that, while well struck, was well off line and headed for a tractor driver. I yelled fore but he had no chance of hearing me and the ball caught him squarely on the hand. He responded as if he had been shot. We never came close to each other and I still feel guilty as I picture the shot today.
At eighteen I was down wind and with the fescue firm fairways I am sure my drive traveled over 300 yards. I parred the hole, a departure from the rest of the round.
From there it was on to Turnberry, where I checked into a room over a tavern and arrived for golf at 8 a.m. They were just getting ready to open and I was paired with a young Scot. What stands out about my Turnberry round is that I walked up on Saturday morning, got right on and paid a fee of twenty pounds which would have entitled me to golf all day.
Today you couldn’t buy a sleeve of balls for that figure, much less play the course.
When I left Turnberry I took the M south for a Sunday visit to the Open Championship at Birkdale, again with no room booked. I planned to jump off at Liverpool and take the first vacancy I would find and then commute to Southport. There were no
“To Let” signs by the time I ended up in the center of Southport.
My new strategy was to find the train station and circle out for blocks looking for a room. I was pretty much resigned to sleeping in the car when I found an opening. I was greeted at the door by a gentleman in a ‘wife-beater’ tee shirt and a beverage in hand. Like at St. Andrews, he was reluctant to offer me the room because he thought it was too much for such a short stay. My luck held, and he agreed to let me have the room, inviting me to watch the conclusion on the third round with him. I remember as we watched Tom Watson, on his way to his fifth and final claret jug, he said of Watson, “He has a lot of bottle.” And I knew what he meant.
The next day, I was in the throng that rushed the fairway on the 72nd hole with Watson, left Birkdale and closed my Scottish adventure, as I will again this year, headed to Ireland for more golf. I’ll need a little “bottle.”
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