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. The week after the British Open hit St. Andrews with a latently depressing thud.
An event that everyone around here anticipated with ever-growing enthusiasm through May, June and July had suddenly come and gone and left town with a South African guy called Louis Oosthuizen, whose name no one is really sure how to pronounce even now, waltzing away with the Claret Jug under his arm. By Wednesday, golf fans were replaced by non-golfing Fifers walking slowly down South Street as they shopped and generally got in my way. My bar-tending buddy Lindsay Allan, who has the bar-tending gift of being able to look directly into my soul, asked me what was wrong, and I had no other answer than to say it felt like it was almost time to go home to Texas.
When my caddie friend Bruce Sorley handed me a four-day ticket to the British Senior Open at Carnoustie, I thanked him with appropriate enthusiasm, but inwardly gave only a half-hearted commitment to use it. My friend Kevin McKenna and I had discussed the possibility of making it up to Carnoustie for the event, so we made further tentative plans to go up on Friday.
We both had our reservations. As it turned out, though, it taught me another valuable lesson about the golf season that is summer in Scotland. Sure, the British Open is massive and world-renowned and sort of electric in its own way. When it comes to bang-for-buck, though, the Senior Open is great as well. McKenna and I arrived at the golf course to find only a smattering of patrons, then realized we could leap-frog around the course and sit close enough to reach out and touch golf stars Tom Watson, Bernhard Langer, Tom Lehman, Craig Stadler, Fred Funk and Sandy Lyle.
The Old Course is special, but for watching golf its layout keeps spectators at a distance for most of if not all of the loop. Carnoustie is more accessible, especially with the limited amount of grandstands to get in the way. Of the maybe 2,000 golf fans present on Friday afternoon, the majority followed Watson around the course. That was few enough that when Watson hit his approach shot short of the second green, directly beneath the ropes on the left side of the fairway, McKenna and I moved a few steps in that direction to get an up-close-and-personal view of a legend hitting his chip shot. Watson walked up and briefly teased a 12-year-old kid in shorts and a T-shirt, asking why the lad was out of breath. "I rushed up hear to see you," the boy said with endearing honesty.
To make matters even better, the sunny day and blue skies at Carnoustie meant it was better weather for golf than we had a week earlier at The Old Course. An hour into our adventure, McKenna texted his girlfriend, a sweet waitress called Catherine Farrell from our favorite watering hole, The Dunvegan, that the golf was "Actually amazing!" That pretty much hit it exactly. In fact, the loudest cheer this old sportswriter let loose in two weeks came when Fred Funk drained a 35-foot birdie putt at No. 2.
I think we would've been satisfied with a great day of golf, but then we heard word on the street, or fairway so to speak, that Lehman and Funk had booked a table at The Dunvegan restaurant. Not missing a beat, McKenna and I booked a table there too.
Instead of bugging the pros sitting a few feet away, McKenna and I talked about American football and only casually overheard the guys talking about their rounds, which was still quite a thrill. Lehman and Funk were each gracious enough to carry on a short conversation with us before handshakes were exchanged and they left to get ready for the third round. McKenna and I headed back into the pub where we celebrated a fantastic day.
So I think I can manage to stick around Scotland for a couple more weeks.