Acquiring local knowledge in St. Andrews
Chad Conine is a sportswriter from Texas who spent the summer in Scotland and the town of St. Andrews. He chronicled his golf adventures before this year's British Open, held at the Old Course July 15-18.
As I stared across the putting green, adjacent to The Old Course at a couple of minutes before 6 a.m., this question came to mind:
The sun, which broke through the horizon over the North Sea more than an hour before, was rising higher above the water to the east and suddenly the answer to my question was clear.
The guy who arrived at the starter's box at 3 a.m. was more motivated than me. This is only partially because I was a sportswriter in Texas for 10 years, when I developed a lifestyle that dictated that I typically roll out of bed just in time for an early lunch. The real reason: that guy who beat me to the queue for golf has a much more limited opportunity to play The Old Course.
I've been here for two months now. I've looped the Old Lady three times and I intend to do it at least once more before she closes in preparation for The Open. Not this morning, though. I realize when I'm beaten, so I went back to bed.
However, while living in St. Andrews for this length of time has made me slightly more laid-back about playing The Old Course than most Americans in Scotland. On the flip side, I've done things I would not have made time for during a one- or even two-week stay. Three examples:
1.) A couple of weeks ago, I teamed with soon-to-be St. Andrews University graduate Lissa Eng, from Washington D.C., to make America proud by defeating Jonny Muir of Nottingham, England, and Kelly Yates of Belfast, Northern Ireland, in a putting match at The Himalayas, an 18-hole putting course sandwiched between the first green and second tee at The Old Course and the first tees of the New and Jubilee courses. Eng two-putted the final hole to secure a 1-up victory. It was the only frustration-free round of golf I've played since arriving in Scotland as not once did I pull a shot left of the fairway into a gorse bush.
2.) About once a week for the last month, I've popped into The Rule for the breakfast special — one sausage link, one slab of bacon, one egg, beans, hash browns, tomato, mushrooms, two pieces of toast and coffee for 3-pounds-50. If played correctly, The Rule breakfast can take me right through 18 holes of golf and keep me running until supper time. Hanging out with students points me in the direction of this type of thing. Others include the quiz at Drouthy's on Wednesday night, the music quiz at the student union building and football (read soccer) matches at every pub in town — England vs. Japan at Whey Pat, the Champions League final at Ma Belle's and, coming soon, England vs. U.S.A. in the World Cup at a site to be determined.
3.) I've established a usual Friday game with guys from St. Andrews Baptist Church on the Strathtyrum course. This game is a highlight of the week because I get to hang out with a group of a dozen-or-so jovial retirees who play golf with varying degrees of skill, but enjoy it equally. It also gives me a chance to take a weekly stab at breaking 80 on the 5,004-yard par-69 layout. Next week we're taking on Leven Baptist Church in a friendly competition. Results to follow.
So I'll get in line early enough to play The Old Course one day next week. Please forgive me if I'm not in too much of a rush, though.
(Photo: The Himalayas putting course offers a little practice on the short game and a lot of relaxed fun just beside the beating heart of The Old Course.)