6 FEB 06
Today you are in for a treat. I present to you my first guest blogger, Dr. Bill. He’s shopping out this article he wrote about our excursion to the Old Course at St. Andrews, and it’s good stuff.
St. Andrews on the Fly
At first it sounded like a great idea – a weekend with the fellas playing the oldest and most famous golf course in the world, trying haggis and 25-year old Scotch whisky, and seeing the spectacle of grown men in skirts. But aboard the flight to Scotland on a brisk and rainy early May day, I had second thoughts. What was I doing playing at this level? My pals minus one were accomplished, low-handicapped players. They had all the latest in cavity-backed, graphite, and titanium technology and the requisite high-end accoutrements that accompany the seasoned golfer. I who was raised on sun-parched community courses and played with hand-me-down ladies clubs until I was 14, toted low-end Dunlops and an ancient putter. Moreover, I hadn’t swung a club for over a year.
We arrived in Glasgow and rented a car to take us another 2 more hours to St Andrews where we were to then learn of our tee time – presently unknown based on the lottery system of bids, but presumably sometime the next day. The landscape was beautiful and raw. Brilliant yellow blossoms covered gorse thickets and dappled the slate gray horizon and brown earth with brilliant contrast. I had the leisure of enjoying the passing countyside while Tom, the other unpolished golfer nervously piloted the British-spec car from the passenger seat and along the wrong side of the road, narrowly missing curbs and parking meters. His perspective was off. I would soon discover that mine was too.
Arriving just before 2 PM, we were greeted urgently by the hotel owner who had submitted our foursome bid.
“You have ten minutes to make your tee time!”
After a 3-hour flight, 2-hour drive, and stiff with travel, there was no leisurely easing into our lodgings and grabbing a bite to eat. Instead we found ourselves racing to the clubhouse and scrambling to meet the Starter who stood in a crowd of waiting foursomes frowning and threatening a forfeiture of our tee-time. At the moment, I felt a flutter of relief. Generally good-natured and not minding being the source of a comic scene, somehow now appearing as an American hillbilly with laughable equipment, I didn’t want to be the seared memory of countless Scotsmen as “The Yankee clown who worm-burned his drive 30 yards off the tee box”. Our country already had enough negative press with the recent invasion of Iraq, and I didn’t want to feed the head-shaking judgment. But my relief was short-lived.
“We’re up!” said Chuck.
Rob was already on the tee. One after another, they all hit perfect drives. Then I, with a yellowing ball in hand mounted the tee, removed the moth-eaten head cover from my 3-wood, took one practice swing, and then stood tentatively over the ball. The drizzle was nearly horizontal and the raincoat flapped furiously against my sides. If I was a praying man, this was the time to summon the mercy of the Almighty. I had absolutely no feel for my swing. My arms felt like vestigial appendages lacking any functionality. I mechanically raised the club back with shaking confidence and concentration and then lunged.
Whack! The first fear gone in an instant. I had hit the ball solidly. There was no arm-jolting thud of turf and embarrassment or swoosh of pure air and a miss. I looked up to see the white pill rocketing straight down the middle of the fairway, somehow miraculously resisting my faithful hard slice.
“Nice shot,” said Rob as we picked up and moved toward our drives. I did have a guardian angel.
But the angel granted only so much. By the next shot, my old game was back. I duffed a couple fairway irons, sculled my approach across the fast moving green, and 3-putted after getting on in 5. It didn’t matter. We were playing St. Andrews, The Old Course.
Not intent on playing well, I was then able to enjoy walking the course. For those who don’t know St. Andrews, there are some characteristics that deserve mention. St. Andrews defined the game of golf. The naturally short grass became fairways and putting green, and the sheep created bunkers by burrowing into a rise to seek shelter from the elements. On television, one does not truly appreciate the bizarre undulating landscape that recalls the pock-marked Verdun battlefield or moguls of black-diamond ski trails. Blind shots from the fairway or story-high traps are frequent and meddlesome. To play St. Andrews without a caddy is like driving at night without headlights. Unlike where I caddied as a kid, these caddies were knowledgeable and essential. Our caddy was a colorful veteran who spoke plainly and with humor. He directed my better companions like a maestro, but knew better than to waste time with me. I got to know him better only after the round as we sat in the warm pub with pints of ale. But I wasn’t the only one who played badly. After a promising start, Tom contracted a bad case of the shanks which sent his balls frequently into impenetrable gorse – a brambly thicket impossible to traverse. At one time, a spectacular approach shank unleashed from him a torrent of colloquial references to intercourse and a 30-yard helicoptering of his pitching wedge. An unglued moment of frustration. But memorable. The iffy weather in Scotland is well-known, and in our case was true to form. All afternoon, the stiff off-shore wind sprayed icy drizzle on numb hands, and it fogged and speckled my eyeglasses. We could all blame our game on the weather. That was fine with me. As I recall the outing, I had only one other timely episode of Providential deliverance. On the Old Course at least, there are some putting greens that are shared with another hole. On one occasion we were tending our pin with another foursome tending a different one. What’s the etiquette in that case? They courteously stood by as I had honors, being naturally farthest from either pin. I belted my 100-ft putt over hill and dale, and by God, it looked like it was going to drop! Oohh, just lipped the cup. Much applause and ill-informed admiration from the other unsuspecting golfers. They didn’t know I was putting for a quadruple bogey.
By the famous 18th, even my feet were soaked and numb. I couldn’t feel my hands, and my glasses were so irretrievably fogged, I might as well have been playing without them. My last drive was such a spectacular slice that it threatened to loop around us like a boomerang. But it wasn’t just heading toward the busy street, it was heading for the upper floors of the buildings aligning it! I braced to listen for the tell-tale shatter of glass or cry of human impact, but I heard nothing. After we all hit, I walked sheepishly down my line of flight fully expecting to see carnage or an outraged, finger-wagging civilian approaching, but again, I had a pleasant surprise. My ball was propped innocently on short grass with a clear shot to the green. Evidently, I had played a bank shot.
In the end, my weekend at St. Andrews was as rich and memorable as I could’ve wanted. Over the next 48 hours, we laughed, we drank, we ate well, and we experienced a taste to relish of small town Scotland. My pals will remember their games which were more than respectable given the adverse conditions. But I think my most enduring memory will be that of my substandard equipment, my preposterously unpracticed game, and the worst tally I have accrued since I was 12 (I shot a 115). I was a Hack on the most famous golf course in the world, and I got away with it.