ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Dunvegan co-owner Sheena Willoughby looked on, quietly smiling in a raucous room.
In front of her, New Orleans native and lifelong Saints fan Tom Slattery — a postgraduate student at the University of St. Andrews — stood with his arms raised, hollering “Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?”
A moment later, Willoughby tried to shush a foursome of fellow Scotsmen, who had broken into song in another corner of the pub. But the jolly Scots couldn’t be muffled at the end of the game, despite having very little knowledge of American football. No matter, though, by game’s end at 3 a.m. everyone was smiling in The Dunvegan, a pub that sits about 100 yards from the 18th green at the Old Course. The room was still packed when the Saints stopped the Colts on a fourth-and-goal from inside the 5 in the fourth quarter. Considering the fact that Willoughby had written “Oh how I want to be in that number, when the Saints win the Super Bowl” on the menu board at the entrance to the pub, it had been a pretty successful night.
Sheena is married to Jack Willoughby, an American transplant who grew up near Houston. They bought The Dunvegan in 1994 and have been hosting Super Bowl parties for the past 16 years.
“We used to be the only pub in town that stayed open to show the Super Bowl, so it would get packed in here,” Jack Willoughby said. “Now some of the other pubs do it and the BBC picked up the game, so people can watch it at home. It used to be crazy, but this is better. It’s full, mostly Americans. I don’t recognize hardly anybody.”
For me, just getting to St. Andrews on Sunday marked a major point in my current adventure.
Early last fall, I started to fiddle with an idea that first hit me in 2007. That year, while sitting on the porch of a bed and breakfast on South Street in St. Andrews, nibbling on a chocolate chip muffin shortly before heading out to the first round of the Open Championship a few miles up the road in Carnoustie, I decided I’d like — maybe that I needed — to live in St. Andrews for an extended period.
I’ve covered sports, mostly football with some golf on the side, for the past 10 years in Texas, and I’ve loved it for the most part. But as I went through the usual drills of football season last September and October, the possibility of making a big jump, leaving my job and spending a big chunk of 2010 in Scotland, seemed less like a pipe dream and more like a possibility.
Lately, many of my friends in the sportswriting business had either been cut loose from their newspaper jobs or had started blogging for this or that Web site. So, with the Open celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, and with the tournament taking place in St. Andrews and Tiger (hopefully) aiming for his third title on the Old Course, all signs pointed to Scotland.
A couple of months of planning, a stop in London on Friday, a train ride up from Sheffield, England, to Edinburgh, Scotland, with my traveling companion — my friend Jessica Peters is a fellow Texan and a student in Sheffield — a semi-harrowing journey in a rental car from Edinburgh to St. Andrews, and here we are. At the moment, I’m scouting out a few items before I return in mid-March to stay until August. So I’m back at The Dunvegan, which is my favorite, and I’d argue the best, little watering hole in golf.
Watching the Super Bowl at the pub confirmed that belief.
We arrived early, chomped on a burger and quickly made friends with two doctoral students. Tommy Sturgeon, from Northern Ireland, and Jeppe Dalgaard Balle, from Denmark, sat down beside us and asked who we were supporting. “The Colts, I guess,” I said. Balle scoffed and waved his hands with mock disgust at me, while Sturgeon pumped his fist in agreement since he’d put money on the Colts.
A group of American students came in early, at 10:45, to stake their claim to a table near the entrance; the game didn’t kick off until 11:25 p.m. local time. Noor Qadri, a graduate student from Baltimore, introduced me to three of his friends who were in St. Andrews as part of an exchange program between Emory University in Atlanta and the University of St. Andrews called the Bobby Jones Scholarship. Joel Leogrande, Katie Sheehan and Marie Walters, the Bobby Jones Scholars, watched the Super Bowl a few feet away from a photo of Jones, which hung on the wall directly under the television.
Golf photos cover the walls in The Dunvegan. Some of them come from Open Championships played a short walk down the road. Others show Jack or Sheena or both with some of the many golfers and celebrities who have taken a burger and a beer at The Dunvegan. Jack Willoughby is a Texas A&M Aggie, so Sheena is wearing an Aggie sweatshirt as she stands by former president George H.W. Bush in the photo above the entrance.
The place exudes golf and sports in general. It’s easy to imagine all the golfers who have rehashed their rounds at the tables and couches in the comfortable room.
My summer promises to include a few more packed nights at the pub near the 18th at the Old Course. But at the end of the night, as we walked toward our rental car parked near the Royal and Ancient Clubhouse, it was hard to imagine a more lively scene than watching the Super Bowl at The Dunvegan.