An Open Championship at St. Andrews Is Unbeatable; So Is the View Beyond the Grandstands

July 15, 2015

There’s the hour I spent watching a clubmaker apply whipping thread to wooden drivers in the windowed workshop at Auchterlonies. (“Makers of Fine Golf Clubs Since 1895.”) And lest you think I neglect my sportswriting duties, I fondly remember a dalliance with the lawn bowlers of Kinburn Park on a sunny Thursday afternoon.

St. Andrews is unique in this regard. Its medieval core holds the Old Course in a close urban embrace, granting shops, pubs, hotels and residences the kind of proximity that high rollers pay thousands for at other golf venues. That narrow street that runs tight alongside the 18th hole? It’s called The Links, and it provides an unobstructed view of the action to hundreds of spectators who pay…nothing. Even better viewing can be had at the very private St. Andrews Golf Club, where the upper-floor windows overlook the 18th green and 1st tee. That’s where I was in ’95 when Costantino Rocca holed a 60-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole. Rocca dropped to his knees and pounded his fists on the ground. I nodded appreciatively, plucked a bacon-wrapped scallop from a passing tray, and got ready for Rocca’s four-hole playoff with John Daly.

Watching the Open from The Links is special, but napping there is even better. One year, our Sports Illustrated advance team put us in a four-story townhouse belonging to George Peper, then Golf Magazine’s managing editor. Whenever I got drowsy, I’d leave my seat in the press tent, cross the first and 18th fairways to the townhouse, and then nod off on a sofa to the lullaby lilt of Peter Allis on the telly. (“Oh dear. I imagine he’d like to play that one again.”) Peper’s pied-à-terre was so sublimely situated that we had a ground-level view of the players and caddies from his basement apartment, interrupted only by the occasional illegally-parked car.

Since 2000, SI writers and photographers have spent Open week at Cleveden House, a charming B&B just off The Scores, the street that runs from the Royal & Ancient up to the cathedral ruins. Napping at Cleveden House, I can hear the grandstand applause through the open window a fraction before it comes through the little television speaker. After dark, the roars are replaced by the clattering plates and conversational buzz from the restaurant across the alley—which may explain why I need so many naps.

Here’s another thing that’s unique about St. Andrews: It’s the only Open venue where I shop. Last time, while figuring out how to pronounce “Oosthuizen,” I bought a Sunderland of Scotland rain jacket from a retailer on St. Mary’s Place. In 2005, the year Jack Nicklaus waved goodbye from the Swilcan Bridge, I dropped by the Royal Bank of Scotland’s South Street branch to purchase four commemorative five-pound notes bearing the great man’s likeness. And I always buy a pair of size-14 walking shoes, black or brown, from the Clarks shop on Market Street. My Clarks last for years, and I think of St. Andrews every time I lace them up.

But it’s the people-watching that really sets St. Andrews apart. Laughing au pairs pedal by on rented bicycles. Elderly women poke the produce at Sainsbury’s. John Daly, pursued by autograph seekers, trudges up the hill to the Scores Hotel. A bride waves from a touring car.

It’s Brigadoon on the five-year plan, an auld grey toon that exists in the hearts and minds of golfers everywhere. And with apologies to a certain deceased caddie, it’s more than a’right for pros and tourists alike.

St. Andrews, the week of the Open, is damn near perfect.

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