Stranded golfers (from left) Bill Henry, Ramsey McCreary, Mike Schwartz and Mac McCreary enjoyed a bonus round on The Old Course on Tuesday morning.
Courtesy of Chad Conine
Wednesday, April 21, 2010

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — With a howling wind at his back, Ramsey McCreary nailed a drive well past Granny Clark's Wynd, about 25 yards short of the 18th green, on Tuesday morning at The Old Course in St. Andrews.

McCreary scooted a putt from the fairway, through the Valley of Sin and about 20 feet short of the cup. He missed the birdie putt, but took a gimme par to finish his seventh round on The Old Course in the last 10 days.

It was also his third "bonus" round there after volcanic ash from Iceland left McCreary and his father, Mac, stranded in the home of golf.

"I called my wife and said, 'We have good news and bad news,'" said Mac, a Houston retiree who was scheduled to fly home on Sunday. "'The bad news is our flight's been canceled because of the volcanic ash. We don't know what we're going to do. The good news is we're stranded in St. Andrews.' She just kind of laughed and said stay and play golf."

Somewhere — in lots of places actually — stranded travelers have spent days looking at their watches, scratching their heads and wondering when they would be able to leave their economy hotels near shut-down airports. The flight cancellations and airport closures forced by the ash spewed from an Icelandic volcano have created travel chaos.

But for travelers stuck in St. Andrews, it doesn't seem all that chaotic.

Here, chaos played out like this — Norwegian golfers Magnus Jepson, Kjetil Nilsen-Kaland and Anders Hvoslef, who arrived in St. Andrews on last Wednesday, April 14, for a long-weekend bachelor party, played 36 holes of golf at Jubilee and The New Course, then relaxed on a sofa in the clubhouse and watched the sunset over the links.

"We come over here quite often, but we will normally come over on Thursday," Nilsen-Kaland said. "This time we decided to make it one day longer. We were lucky because if we had tried to leave on Thursday, we wouldn't have been able to get on the plane."

It seems the worst travel discomfort Nilsen-Kaland and Hvoslef faced on Monday was enduring a lashing from Jepson on The New Course. Jepson, a slender 6-foot-5 bomber, drilled massive drives and sank a kilometer's worth of putts on his way to a 3-under-par 68.

The latest news as of Monday afternoon had the Norwegians believing they would hop a flight home on Tuesday evening. Not before they squeezed in one more round of golf in St. Andrews, however.

For the McCrearys, another day in St. Andrews on Tuesday — Ramsey is booked for a flight home on Thursday while Mac will head back to Texas on Friday, assuming the airports remain open — meant another round of golf with newfound friends. On Sunday, the McCrearys ventured north to play Carnoustie, the spectacular Open rotation course they wouldn't have played if not for the volcano. There they joined up with Bill Henry from Calgary and Mike Schwartz from Philadelphia. After tackling Carnoustie, the McCrearys convinced Henry and Schwartz to come south to St. Andrews with them so they could all play more golf and relax at The Dunvegan, a pub and hotel that sits about 100 yards from the 18th green at The Old Course.

"I was supposed to leave three days ago, same as everybody else," Henry said. "I've had an extra three rounds, two on The Old Course, one at Carnoustie."

Another pair of golf pilgrims had settled in at The Dunvegan as well. Evan Inkmann from Chicago and Susan Noble of Austin, Texas, traveled to St. Andrews together, like the McCrearys, to play in a week-long competition last week put on by a golf tourism company, Links Golf St. Andrews. Inkmann and Noble were supposed to go home on Saturday but instead spent much of the weekend and the early part of this week touring the town of St. Andrews and playing a card game called "golf" at The Dunvegan while waiting for a possible flight home on Wednesday.

"We came here to be introduced to the birthplace of golf," Noble said. "To be stranded here on top of it, it's been fun. The whole thing has been fun. It's easy to be relaxed because everyone here is so relaxed."

Inkmann and Noble made The Dunvegan their home away from home, staying in the hotel there as well.

"The owners, Sheena and Jack Willoughby, here at the hotel, have been great," Inkmann said. "It's like a family."

The Dunvegan, which has room for about 16 guests, has been a gathering place for stranded golfers the last few days. Sheena Willoughby scrambled to help accommodate a group of 16 Swedish golfers who had planned to go home Saturday.

The Swedes eventually found a bus to leave at 3 a.m. Monday, taking them to London, then another bus to ferry them across to mainland Europe, where they could rent a car for a long drive home.

However, Willoughby wasn't sure why they were in such a rush to get out of town.

"I don't know why anyone would complain about being stuck in St. Andrews," she said. "They would just be back at their desk wishing they were in St. Andrews.

"It's going to cost them about 3,000 pounds, and it's a two-day journey back. To me, if they're spending 3,000 pounds, it makes more sense to stay here and play some more golf. But they have to get back to work commitments and stuff.

Having the Swedes stay an extra night, and booking in Inkmann and Noble, helped The Dunvegan offset four cancelled reservations this week. Sadly, for every golfer who took advantage of a few extra days in the home of golf, as many had their travel plans to Scotland wiped out or at least postponed.

The St. Andrews Links Trust reported that all of its courses were quiet and numbers were down slightly on the ballots this week. The same went for most of the popular courses in the region as they attempted to reschedule tee times for disappointed would-be travelers.

After all their bonus golf, Ramsey and Mac McCreary, Schwartz and Henry sat in the bar at the Rusacks Hotel, watching other golfers play the 18th hole in the brutal wind. Tuesday's round had been their first in the infamous Scottish wind, and they all agreed that they loved the battle.

A golfer stuck in St. Andrews is like a fat guy stranded at an IHOP. Still, the golfers seemed ready to catch a plane, go home and tell the stories to their friends.

"It was fun for the first three days," Ramsey McCreary said. "Now it's time to go home."

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.

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