Category: St. Andrews

June 04, 2010

Acquiring local knowledge in St. Andrews

Posted at 7:47 PM by Chad Conine

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:

"Why did I get up this early?"Puttingcourse

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.)

May 25, 2010

The New, and others, become familiar

Posted at 4:55 PM by Chad Conine

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.

I don't think I have enough club in my bag to reach the par-3 9th hole at The New Course. But I'm going to continue researching this point as long as it takes.

I've played the hole in question seven times so far in my first seven weeks in St. Andrews and so far, the mean result is that I hit driver on the 182-yard uphill par-3 (I know, that's a short drive, but somehow it's always into a stiff breeze) to an area between 10 and 15 yards short of the top of a bowl that holds the green in the bottom. From there, I typically roll a bump-and-run shot to the top of the bowl and let it trickle down to somewhere in the vicinity of the cup, then walk away with a par or bogey. 525new

Now, you might be wondering why you should care how an 18-handicapper like me plays the 9th hole on The New Course. You shouldn't. My larger point, though, is worth noting and that's this: St. Andrews offers the best, most accessible golf in the world, especially for its residents but also, really, for anyone. So a long-term visitor like me has the chance to play these courses enough to study and learn every hole and maybe even every shot.

Of course, it would be nice to land permanent-resident status or enroll in St. Andrews University. Residents of St. Andrews and students at St. Andrews University have the opportunity to purchase a yearly ticket and join a club all for about 250 pounds (about $375 at the current exchange rate). That includes all the golf they care to play on The Old Course as well as the New, Castle, Jubilee, Eden, Strathtyrum and Balgove courses.

Because I'm neither a voting resident or a student, I can't purchase a yearly ticket. But I'm far from left out in the cold. I can purchase a 7-day ticket (which I have several times now) for 290 pounds. That sounds like a lot, but it allows me to play all the golf I want on the New, Jubilee, Eden, Strathtyrum or Balgove on any of the seven days while the ticket is still valid. What's more, the seven days on the ticket can be used over a period of two weeks, so I have golf availability for up to 14 days at a cost of about 40 pounds per day. For example, if I buy a ticket on Monday and use it to play The New in the morning and the Jubilee in the afternoon, take Tuesday and Wednesday off to rest my feet, play the Jubilee again on Thursday and the New and Eden on Friday, then take Saturday off or play somewhere else in the area, I'll still have four days left on the ticket to use the following week.

If you're not crazy like me, and you've only got a week in St. Andrews, a 3-day ticket is available for 145 pounds and it works basically the same way — you've got a week to play 3 days.

This is how I'm learning to navigate several St. Andrews Links courses as if they were my home course. Along with my seven rounds on The New, I've also played five times on Jubilee, seven on Eden and six on Strathtyrum. You can't play The Old Course on a 3- or 7-day ticket, which is the one downside. But if you play your ticket right, you can play the other courses for 30 percent off retail price or better.

As a bonus, I can now play any of these courses in my head, too. And this has helped me develop preferences, such as my top 5 favorite holes (not on The Old Course).

5. Eden No. 4, 251-yard par-4 — This short par 4 put a hex on me the second or third time I played it, when my drive settled about 40 yards short of the green, but because I went slightly to the right, I had an uphill pitch at the whale's back green. I left the pitch short, so my ball rolled all the way down a 30-foot bank, leaving me essentially back where I started.

4. Jubilee No. 8, 344-yard par-4 — This is the toughest tee shot on the Jubilee and among the hardest in all of St. Andrews. Hit it left and it's dead, hit it right and you're going away from the green. But hit it just right — say, a fade that comes back to the left side of the fairway or, even better, a draw that runs up the middle toward the green — and it's an easy finish. A huge plateau on the right side of the green funnels approach shots toward the center of the green.

3. New No. 18, 405-yard par-4 — Like many of the St. Andrews Links courses, the tee shot sets up with The Auld Grey Toon in the background. But this one is special because it finishes on a long, slender, superbly shaped green right in front of The Links Clubhouse. No matter how bad I've played for 18 and 1/2 holes, I try to look like I know what I'm doing on this green in case anyone in the dining room is watching.

2. Jubilee No. 15, 346-yard par-4 — The approach shot on the most talked-about hole on the Jubilee requires that you split two huge dunes which rise about 50 yards in front of the green, then land at least on the middle of the green or the ball will roll back into the deep valley in front.

1. New No. 8, 472-yard par-5 — A good tee shot renders two huge fairway bunkers mostly harmless and makes it possible to get home in two if you can split the two dunes that guard the green. Of course, local knowledge helps here too, because as you're climbing the uphill par 5, you have to remember that the green runs away downhill from front to back. It'd be a shame to get home in two only to find you had hit the ball through the green and into the gorse at the back. I've escaped such a fate so far, but it's been close.

(Photo: From the Links Clubhouse balcony, golfers waiting to tee off can study the first fairway on The New [left] the first fairway on the Jubilee [right] and the 18th green of The New.)

May 15, 2010

The low down on the extra 40 at the Road Hole

Posted at 10:40 PM by Chad Conine

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.

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Tell the average golfer, upon approaching the 17th at The Old Course, that he must back up 40 yards, and he would probably break out in nervous perspiration.

It is, after all, one of the most infamously difficult holes in golf.

But when the pros learned of the change for this summer's Open Championship — they will tee off squarely behind the Old Course Hotel — most of them likely shrugged and thought, "same difference." Some perhaps even breathed a sigh of relief when they heard the whole story.

When the Associated Press reported on the lengthening of the 17th late last month, the move was characterized as a potentially controversial one that could make the Road Hole an absolute circus. It will now play 490 yards and will still include the perils of the Road Hole bunker and the road itself.

But here in St. Andrews, those in the know figure the change will not make much difference. Instead of hitting a 3- or 4-iron off the tee, the pros could hit driver to the same spot. In fact, the change came about not as a way to make the hole more difficult, but as a way to create more give and take.

In 2005, the rough on the right, near the Jigger Inn and adjacent to the typical landing area, was grown out. According to Gordon Moir, director of greenkeeping for St. Andrews Links, the pros didn't like it.

"The players were critical of 17 in 2005 in the fact that to try to get golfers to keep left, the rough on the right hand side, (the R&A) asked us to let that grow," Moir said. "So when we let it grow, it became thick and lush. It was a lost ball if you were in there. By the time we saw that was a problem, it was too late in the day to do anything about it."

The players figured out that hitting the ball in the right rough could mean re-teeing, so they just avoided the potential problem.

On a course walk sometime after the 2005 Open, Moir suggested to R&A secretary Peter Dawson that the tee could be moved back and the rough on the right could be kept at bay — give and take. Less risk to the right, more players hitting driver off the tee, more excitement in general.

"Eventually (Dawson) came to us on one of our walks and said, 'I'm really considering doing that,'" Moir said. "He wanted to get some opinion from some players. That started the process. He canvased opinion off a couple of players, and their feedback was fairly positive. After The Dunhill Cup, it was all systems go to build that tee box."

All systems go for pros to smash a driver off the tee. And just in case, the R&A helped The Old Course Hotel put in errant-Titleist-proof glass in the suites that face the 17th tee. But if the players can avoid bouncing one off the hotel, the extra 40 yards on the 17th will mostly mean a little longer walk.

And, by the way, it's still not a good idea to go left.

"The rough on the left side will be as it's always been," Moir said. "But we'll make sure there's enough fairway on the left side because they've got 40 yards longer to hit the ball."

Then the real fun will begin as the players make the critical choice of playing to the front of the green or challenging the Road Hole bunker — and maybe the road — by taking a shot at the pin tucked on the left side of the green.

"It'll all be risk and reward," Moir said. "We're lucky because we've got the Dunhill Championship, so you can see the top players play it every year. The thing that's become obvious in the last four or five years is that, while some people are still going in the bunker, very few people are going on the road. The distance control with the shorter clubs is so much better."

The more things change, the more the Road Hole will battle players as it always has.

April 29, 2010

Getting in character with Old Tom Morris

Posted at 8:51 AM by Chad Conine

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.

I had one line. All I needed to do was hold a set of hickories and successfully deliver my one line when Old Tom Morris, played by David Joy, gave me the cue.

But somehow this still made me slightly nervous as a I drove to Joy's house just outside of St. Andrews to pick him up for our performance. I told Joy I wanted to see his Old Tom Morris one-man show and he responded by recruiting me to play Old Tom's caddie and two-time Open champion Bob Martin for a show at the Links Clubhouse. Not only would I be the straight man in the show, I also served as driver as Joy either doesn't own a car or strongly prefers not to drive. Either way, I drove to his house just 5 minutes from the St. Andrews city centre, parked and walked through the garden and around to the alley to his back door. But when I came around the corner, I wasn't greeted by Joy, I was greeted by Old Tom Morris. This both startled me and eased my nerves.

A few days later I would try to discuss method acting at The Dunvegan, the pub where Joy and I are frequent patrons, with Joy. But I couldn't remember the phrase "method acting" and Joy didn't have a clue what I was talking about. Nevertheless, Joy is sort of an intermittent method actor. Probably St. Andrews' most respected golf historian, artist and actor, Joy doesn't really talk about Old Tom. He just goes into the character of Old Tom. I've heard Old Tom's opinion on various golf events from Old Tom himself, sort of. But my previous encounters with Joy as Old Tom in the pub hardly prepared me for meeting the man himself.

Joy didn't look like himself dressed as Old Tom. He looked like Old Tom. It takes him about 90 minutes to put on the makeup and hair he uses for the part. After that, it's just a matter of getting into 19th century garb, then he's in character. Up close, his hair and beard are grayish-blonde, which makes them appear more authentically grey to the audience, I suppose. Maybe that's why Joy's transformation surprised me. Perhaps I suspected the costume to be a little more department-store-Santa-esque. It didn't. It looked real. It felt like coming around the corner and meeting Old Tom.

Though Joy performed for only about 20 minutes that evening, it's easy to see how his one-man show could be entertaining for hours. He delivers the story of golf as a burgeoning sport, the birth of The Open Championship, the death of Young Tom Morris and the rise of competitive golf with first-person details and palpable realism. He punctuates his stories with a gentle, reflective chuckle that give the character a sort of burdened depth. But he's also quick with a clever line and physical comedy. At one point, he dropped a plastic "Whiffle" golf ball on the carpet of the dining room and gave it a whack with a rutting iron. Just in case any of the members of the audience missed it, or couldn't believe what they had just seen, he dropped another one and sent it sailing toward the 18th green on the New Course, just outside the clubhouse window. He must regularly put on his show at this clubhouse because none of the staff seemed to bristle about his using the carpet as a makeshift fairway and, luckily, his rutting iron shot didn't break anything.

And speaking of smooth sailing, I delivered my one line just as rehearsed.

"When did you win The Open, Bob?" Old Tom asked.

"Aye, 1876 and 1885," I said. And with no more than a four-word sentence, I could sort of fake a Scottish brogue.

From there, my only job was to hand Old Tom the club he wanted and answer "Aye" to any further questions.

And that's where Joy and I took off. He would ramble through an elaborate question for Bob, to which Bob would reply with a deadpan "Aye." By the second time I uttered a one-word line, the audience giggled. By the fourth time, it was a running joke and, apparently, hilarious. The audience laughed and that caused me to almost break the serious character I was attempting to portray.

Alas, it will probably be my last performance as Bob Martin. Joy claims I was trying to upstage him.

April 23, 2010

The Duke's Course offers another quality option in St. Andrews

Posted at 11:20 PM by Chad Conine

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.

Standing at the sink in a public restroom might not be the most likely place for a golf fan to begin thinking about two of this season's remaining majors. But if that sink happens to have "Kohler" written on it, then perhaps it should inspire such thoughts. Scotland

Kohler is most commonly known as a manufacturer of plumbing products. But the Kohler company also happens to be building a pretty darn impressive collection of golf holdings.

The Old Course Hotel in St. Andrews, for one. Obviously, it will be the place to be when The Open Championship comes to The Old Course in July. Whistling Straits, for another, site of the PGA Championship come August.

What's more, the Old Course Hotel's Suite Golf Package, which I've been sampling this week, includes a round on The Duke's Course in St. Andrews — that's right, another Kohler holding. (Also, Kohler has bought Hamilton Hall, the big red building just beyond the 18th green at The Old Course and is in the process of remodeling the property to offer apartment leases.)

So, on Day 3 of my stay at OCH, I added The Duke's to my Scottish golf list.

Earlier this month, The Duke's Course earned the distinction of 2010 "Golf Club of the Year" as presented by the UK's Awards for Business Ltd. The award took into account more than just the quality of the golf course, considering all aspects of the club. David Scott, the club manager, and golf pro Ayden Roberts-Jones both spoke with me at length about how important they feel customer service is in establishing The Duke's among Scotland's premiere golf stops.

Roberts-Jones said when it comes to taking care of members, he believes providing free amenities, such as range balls and the like, add value to the membership that exceed their costs. A good number of American clubs would do well to get closer to Roberts-Jones's philosophy.

It's easy to see that The Duke's would be a rewarding place for St. Andrews residents to own a membership. The course staff revamped most of the back nine to make the holes more playable, and also pushed back the high, eat-your-ball rough on many of the holes. The golf course is still "a beast" as Roberts-Jones put it, especially from the back tees. But golfers of any handicap can still have fun on the course without being beaten to death.

And while it will feel more like an American course to Americans who play there — Scott and I cruised along in a buggy (Scottish for golf cart) during our round — it's easy to remember that The Duke's sits on, or at least near, hallowed golf ground. The course's more scenic views feature The Auld Grey Toon and the sea just off to the north.

That's why it might be the perfect place to play during The Open this summer. A golfer who's lucky enough to book a morning round at The Duke's could play 18 holes before noon while riding along in a buggy, thus saving his or her legs for trekking around The Old Course while watching the pros the rest of the day.

(Photo: The Duke's Course feels like an American course, but in case the golfer forgets, there's an impressive view of St. Andrews and the sea from the 18th green.)

April 21, 2010

No easy way to storm this 'Castle'

Posted at 6:39 PM by Chad Conine

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.

In a way, it fits to think of The New Course, Jubilee, Eden and Strathtyrum as children of The Old Course. OK, it's a weird metaphor, but you see where I'm going. Castle17

So on Tuesday morning, I set out from The Old Course Hotel on the short drive that's necessary to play St. Andrews Links Trust's newest jewel -- The Castle Course. For those who traveled to St. Andrews before The Castle's opening in 2008, it's easy to find. It's just a five-minute drive from the North Street-South Street turnaround on the road to Kingsbarns. The Castle, designed by David Kidd, gives St. Andrews Links Trust a course that rivals the beauty of its coastal neighbors while maintaining the form and function of the other six courses in the Old Course family.

But The Castle puts up a different kind of fight.

While The Old and New offer subtle challenges steeped in golf tradition, the Castle will just kick your butt. After a challenging front nine on which a first-time player starts to gain a feel for the severely undulating greens, The Castle throws a serious punch with the 10th, 11th and 12th ascending the hill. And even if a golfer manages to storm The Castle through that stretch, he or she still has to survive a brilliant finishing stretch.

The view from the tee at the par-3 17th should inspire a heroic golf shot. Though, take it from me, it doesn't always work out that way. The story goes that if the wind is roaring toward the tee, even the biggest hitters would struggle to carry a driver over the 174-yard gap.

The 18th lives up to The Old Course family tradition of fantastic finishing holes. The view from the fairway entices an attacking shot into the green, but beware, the ridges on the green make The Valley of Sin seem like a walk in the park.

And at the end of the day, as much as the panoramic view of the sea from The Castle Course nourished my soul in the morning, I welcomed the golfer's massage at The Old Course Hotel Kohler Waters Spa to soothe my aching body.

I finished the day with dinner at The Road Hole restaurant on the top floor at The Old Course Hotel -- part of the OCH's Suite Golf Package. I ate with OCH PGA Pro David Scott and enjoyed Scotch from the OCH's bar, which earned the title of world's best whiskey bar in 2008. David and I watched golfers finish playing The Old Course at dusk, then admired the Royal and Ancient Clubhouse lit up by its nightly spotlight.

(Photo: The 174-yard par-3 17th at The Castle.)

April 16, 2010

Taking in St. Andrews from the Old Course Hotel

Posted at 2:45 PM by Chad Conine

Chad Conine is a sportswriter from Texas who is spending the summer in Scotland and the town of St. Andrews. He'll be chronicling his golf adventures as we approach this year's British Open, to be held at the Old Course July 15-18.

The farther we walked down the elegant halls of The Old Course Hotel, I knew the closer we were to the garden spot.Roomwithview

David Scott, the PGA pro at the hotel, showed me to my suite right after I checked in for a two-night, three-rounds-of-golf stay. I'm not sure if the Old Course Hotel folks know this or not, but I'd have been plenty happy with a room overlooking the car park. As it is, I'm a little overwhelmed.

Scott opened the door to my suite at the end of the hall and I instantly recognized the location. It's right on the corner of the hotel, looking directly down on the 17th tee — The Road Hole. Oh, it also had a brilliant view of The Auld Grey Toon, St. Andrews that is, back to the northeast, and the rest of the Old Course to the northwest. I could sit in the living room of that suite and watch golfers play the 16th and 17th holes all day. I might've, but I had a tee time on The Old Course just after noon. The next day, I was scheduled to play the newest loop at St. Andrews, The Castle.

I can't imagine who might be staying here in the middle of July for The Open. A sultan? Perhaps. Someone with a private jet and helicopter rather than a hired Hyundai i10? More than likely.

But right then, it was me, a temporary transplant from Texas. I arrived in St. Andrews about two weeks ago, and I'll stay until August. That moment, sitting there looking out at the "Old Lady," as the locals call it, and the sea beyond, had to be the highlight of the trip so far. It certainly outranks anything I managed to do on the links.

My best accomplishment was curling my tee ball around my hotel room on the 17th, instead of putting it in my suitcase — a distinct and scary possibility.

Here's the thing: there are plenty of places for golfers to stay in St. Andrews. The town and the people here stay ready to host golfers from around the world. After my two night stay at The Old Course Hotel, I've returned to a lovely bed-and-breakfast outside of town. If you want simplicity, it's here. If you want luxury, well, that's here too. From the 14th fairway, I lined up a shot on the Fairmont Hotel way off on the horizon. And, of course, The Old Course Hotel provides 5-star luxury in, like I said, the garden spot. After pulling my clubs out of my compact car there, I looked around for the golf concierge for a ride to the first tee. Then I realized I was a knock-down pitching wedge from the 17th green and a five-minute walk from the first tee.

It's too much for me, really. I like to grind a little. I expect things to be difficult. Luxury kind of freaks me out. Ahh, but then I began my round of golf and I was back in my element. The Old Course didn't pamper me.

Photo: View from the Old Course Hotel. (Chad Conine)

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