Ah, it’s that time of the golfing calendar again. An Open at St Andrews, when the plaudits roll thick and fast from the world’s top golfers. Even from those who don’t care much for the Old Course but pretend it’s the greatest thing since... well, you know the rest.
Criticise the Mother of all golf courses at your peril. Just ask Lee Westwood.
We remember milestones in our lives: our first kiss, losing our virginity, our wedding day, the birth of our first child, and so it goes. Golf has it’s equivalents: that first time picking up a club, that first pure strike, breaking 100, first hole in one, and playing the Old Course.
Nothing can prepare many of us for seeing the Old Course for the first time. April 1985 was when I made my debut over the Old alongside my dad. That it was also my first time breaking triple figures makes the experience all the more memorable. For someone who learned to play on lush Canadian courses, rippling and rolling fairways, deep pits that were supposed to be bunkers and greens the size of hockey rinks were mesmerising. Think duck and water, and you’ll know how I took to it.
I’m fortunate enough to have played the Old many times since that memorable occasion. I still remember a few years later standing on the 16th tee and realising I was only four over, and thinking: I’ve got a chance to break 80 on the Old course! Wish I hadn’t paused to think. I promptly put two tee shots out of bounds, and then made seven on the Road Hole.
Who said the Old Course finds you out?
I eventually broke four score on the Old. More years later I scored 78. Call me sad, but I still have the scorecard on display in my office. It’s signed by Patricia Davies, then a golf correspondent for The Times, back in the day when the paper of Bernard Darwin had golf correspondents – three in those days: my how times have changed. Anyway, as I stood over my four-foot par putt on the 18th, I heard Daily Mirror golf correspondent Tony Stenson say to Patricia: “Didn’t Doug Sanders miss a putt of this length to lose The Open?”
Thanks Tony! Happily, I yipped in the putt for my 78th stroke.
I was fortunate to play the course the morning after the 2010 Open Championship. (Yes, it helps to have connections.) Can’t remember what I scored, but it was nowhere near what Louis Oosthuizen had returned over the previous four days. Did I care? Not really. I was playing the most famous golf course in the world the morning after the greatest golf tournament in the world.
It's a tough life, and all that…
But enough of me waxing lyrical about the Home of Golf. You’ll hear all and sundry praising the Old Woman of St Andrews as they traipse through the media centre this week, but here are a few of my favourites by former practitioners far more proficient than me in the art of guiding a small white ball over beautiful, brown and burnt out fields. Here’s the favourable, and sometimes poetic:
“If I had ever been set down in any one place and told I was to play there, and nowhere else, for the rest of my life, I should have chosen the Old course. … I could take out of my life everything except my experiences at St Andrews and I would still have a rich, full life,” Bobby Jones
“I wish that every man who plays golf should play St Andrews once,” Gene Sarazen
“St Andrews: A course that tells you no lies,” Andrew Kirkaldy
“This place is the very soul of golf,” Jose Maria Olazabal
“The reason the Road Hole at St Andrews is the greatest par four in the world is because it’s a par five,” Ben Crenshaw
“St Andrews? I feel like I’m back visiting an old grandmother. She’s crotchety and eccentric but also elegant. Anyone who doesn’t fall in love with her has no imagination,” Tony Lema
“Any golfer worth his salt has to cross the sea and try to win The Open at St Andrews,” Jack Nicklaus
“After one round I thought the Old Course was the worst I had ever known. On my second visit I played three rounds and ended by thinking it was quite a good course after all. On the third occasion I player there for a week and ended up concluding it was the most wonderful golf course in the world,” Bob Gardiner
“St Andrews has character and features that you get nowhere else. What I like about it is that you may play a very good shot there and find yourself in a very bad place. That is the real game of golf,” George Duncan
“It is the best course in the world and there is none like it. I am more convinced of that the more I play it,” Peter Thomson
And the not so favourable, blasphemers all of them:
“I don’t have any particular affection for the turf, in a sacred sense. I player here in the Walker Cup and thought there were 15 blind holes and wasn’t all that keen on the other three,” Mark James
“It wouldn’t be in my top 200 – in Fife!” Lee Westwood
“There’s nothing wrong with the St Andrews course that a hundred bulldozers couldn’t put right. The Old Course needs a dry clean and press,” Ed Furgol
“I hate its arrogant lumps and bumps and the times you must play shots with one leg up in the air,” Neil Coles
And finally, A.J. Dalconen summed up those who don’t get the Old Course when he said:
“Despite its almost mythical reputation, the Old Course is not universally like by everyone. … There are some who miss the point altogether. They are usually the ones who berate the venerable links for having too many blind shots, no buggy paths and not enough island greens!’
Spot. On. Couldn’t have said it better myself.
#JustSaying: “Curse be the hand that made these fatal holes,” William Shakespeare, Richard III