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. This is the last post in his series.
This Auld Grey Toon is certainly old and full of tradition and history, but it's also new.
Every week, golfers from around the world, but mostly from the United States it seems, arrive in Saint Andrews, Scotland. They play golf on The Old Course, they take pictures on the Swilcan Bridge, they eat and drink in the pubs and stay in the hotels and guest houses and B&Bs. They fill out their golfing schedules with rounds at The New Course or Kingsbarns or Carnoustie or The Castle — usually a combination of any or all of those with a few other fine possibilities thrown in. Then they go home having been converted from people who say "I want to play golf in Scotland once in my life" to people who vow "I'll be back here." Bucket-listers become regulars.
I am one of the latter. I came to Scotland with my dad for a week in 2004, and then I came back with both parents for two weeks in 2007. And then I packed up my life and brought it to Saint Andrews almost 18 weeks ago.
I like to say that it started one morning in 2007 when I sat on the curb, waiting for my parents to get ready to drive up the coast to Carnoustie for the third round of the British Open. I ate a muffin and sipped on coffee and thought maybe I could live here, maybe in 2010 when The Open came back. It was a pipe dream, but now it's been a dream realized. I thought that I could play a heck of a lot of golf while sinking my teeth into this town to learn all about what makes it so special.
What I've learned is that four months wasn't long enough to unpack all that is Saint Andrews. But as I sit here, having earned at least a little street cred as a semi-local, I feel I've absorbed some of Saint Andrews' ethos. It seems that new and old form something of yin and yang here.
Saint Andrews University, for example, is old. In three years it will celebrate it's 600th birthday. But Saint Andrews University keeps the town of Saint Andrews young as the streets bustle with students both day and night. It's an old town in history, but it's a young town in motion.
Golf is old here. It's not the birthplace of golf, not necessarily, but it's where the heart of golf began to beat and still beats. The history of the game envelops every golfer the first time he or she puts a peg in the ground at the first tee in the shadow of the Royal and Ancient Clubhouse. But golf is new here as well. That foreign golfers flock here to play The Old Course is a relatively new trend, one that doesn't seem to have reached its peak. The Saint Andrews Links Trust, the body that runs The Old Course and its family of links, recently added a course — The Castle — in an effort to give those visiting golfers one more loop to battle. Even in the pub where I spend most of my nights, The Dunvegan, it's easy to see how new the game of golf is here in this town. Nightly, I sit on my stool beside golfers — who, by the way, rehash their round with their caddies or chat with R&A members and fourth-generation Saint Andreans — and listen to stories of discovery. Each one of them, it seems, believes he's discovered this place. You would think Jim Bob from Tallahassee and Arnold Palmer are the only two people ever to cross the Swilcan Bridge. I admit that it annoys me sometimes. But, as I look back now, I suppose it's endearing proof of how this place is old and new, the old holes stir the imagination on a daily basis.
Old Tom Morris's name implies longevity. Old Tom went from the post of apprentice golf ball maker to grand old man of the game here, outliving his family and most of his peers here. But Old Tom ushered the game through waves of modernization. My friend David Joy, the local expert on Old Tom who dons makeup and costume to become the reincarnation of the man, delivers a stirring performance. In it, the character of Old Tom chuckles softly and deeply reflects on how the game changed from the mid-19th to the early-20th centuries.
Those pilgrims who trek out to the cemetery to visit Old Tom's grave find another case of young-and-old symmetry. Old Tom's grave is simple and understated. Next to it, though, the life of Young Tom Morris, four-time Open champion and eternal holder of the championship belt, is celebrated by a tombstone that retells the accomplishments and character of the former champion, who died at the age of 24.
The British Open brought out the old and new as well. John Daly gave golf fans a thrill in the first round as the lovable anti-hero went low with a 6-under-par 66. Then 50-year-old Mark Calcavecchia climbed the leaderboard on Friday, moving to 7-under for the tournament. But Daly and Calcavecchia faded and a new star, 27-year-old Louis Oosthuizen, smiled in the spotlight.
As for my golf, it's not worth writing about. I'm not that good. But I was lucky enough to play with golfers from all over the world like Boris Balkarov and Liza Nikulina from Russia; Magnus Jepson, Kjetil Nilsen Kaland and Anders Hvoslef from Norway; and David Moe from Illinois. I was even luckier to have usual golfing buddies. Jamie Moore from Northern Ireland and Jon Muir from Nottingham, both Saint Andrews University students, kept me laughing during our regular rounds. Meanwhile the group of retired gentlemen from Saint Andrews Baptist Church took me in like I was one of them during their Friday game.
This town is full of good people who have been here for years and even some whose families have lived here for generations. It's also full of good people who just got here.
Old is new every day in Saint Andrews. And so, as I head back to my native Texas, I'm thankful for my new home away from home — The Auld Grey Toon.
(Photo courtesy of Chad Conine.)