SMITH COLUMN: Reminiscing about the British Open

Published 10:30 am Thursday, July 21, 2022

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St. Andrews is a place I love and not just for the Open Championship which comes about every half dozen years or so. This year was the first time that I have missed the championship at the home of golf since 1971.

At that time, I never gave much thought about visiting the “Auld Grey Toon,” as this Scottish enclave is called, and consider it a highlight every time I have had the good fortune to return.

Owing to a number of circumstances, I did not make the trip to the championship and the Old Course this summer. Regrettably. Since 1978, the Open dates were a fixture on my annual calendar until COVID brought about a cancelation of the tournament in 2020.

Throughout the tournament last week, there were flashbacks to past tournaments at St. Andrews and other times, where there was an opportunity to visit the home of the St. Andrews University, play the Old Course and visit friends.

The first trip to St. Andrews came about in 1978 in which I took the “Flying Scotsman” up from London and then booked a local train on into St. Andrews.

I was mesmerized by everything British, especially the lager and the Scottish accents. It would be a few more trips before I adventured into haggis and single malt, the later I could not get enough of once I tried it.

As a traveler, I have never met a landscape I didn’t like, but it was nice to take leave of the desert after a brief stay. All the great Renaissance artists who painted the varied landscapes and horns of plenty would have been at home in the fields, and among the flora and fauna of Scotland.

There is nothing about Scotland not to enjoy from the train rides to the quaint pubs to the golf courses off the beaten path like North Berwick in Edinburgh.

Having played the Old Course would have been uplifting even if I had scored double bogey on each hole. Fortunately, my first time there, I caught the wind on a day when it was benign, and my scorecard became a keepsake with a score to brag about.

Like so many, I had a caddy story to treasure. Sydney Rutherford wore a tie. He had played 18 holes in the morning and toted my bag in the afternoon. He was 82 years old.

“Hit it towards the steeple on the left, sir,” he might say.  Or “Hit it in the direction of the gorse bush near the left side of the fairway.”

Said the distinguished golf writer, Herbert Warren Wind, that to play St. Andrews without a local caddy, “…is to deny oneself the wine of the country.”

There was a time I have followed golfing icons such as Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, when they were leading, every step of the final found in which they won the Open championship.

As the years fast forwarded, and I mean that literally, Open week offered side trips to places like Stirling castle, which is less than an hour away.  During the Open, you can play a round of golf at some nearby course in the morning and then take in the championship in the afternoon.

You never tire of spending time in the cemetery at St. Andrews where you can find your way to the grave of the legendary Old Tom Morris. You can find a marker for his grandson who was born in Darien, Georgia.

He died at birth when his mother and father, Old Tom’s daughter and son-in-law lived there, but his remains were taken back to St. Andrews.

The greatest high has to be for those fortunate enough to hoist the silver chalice which goes to the winner of the championship. For the legions of the unwashed, the next best thing is to be the beneficiary of a media credential and to walk the fairways with champions who enjoy that experience.

Last week, the course seemed longer, the birdies more numerous, and the crowds bigger. The champions seem younger, too. Cameron Smith is a fine player as his record attests, but I don’t think he is likely to play another major with a hotter hand when it comes to putting.