ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — The Writers Cup, an informal match-play event between eight-person teams of American and European golf writers, looked suspiciously like the Ryder Cup.
The Europeans won all four four-ball and foursomes sessions and built a 10.5-5.5 lead. Sound familiar? Despite a brief American comeback in singles, the European writers captured the cup fairly easily by a 14-10 margin. Yes, that sounds all too familiar.
There were great shots, bad shots and lucky shots — one Euro bounced a shot off the ocean-side rocks onto the green while playing one of Kingsbarns’ par 3s to leave himself a tap-in birdie. He is now simply known as Rocky.
There were toasts, there was sportsmanship and there was camaraderie. And there were some things you just don’t see at the Ryder Cup since these were, after all, amateur golfers. I am withholding the names to protect the innocent.
Here are three examples:
1. In one foursomes match — that’s alternate shot played by two-man teams — one American team member played the wrong ball from the fairway. You could see that happening in a four-ball match, with four balls lying near each other, but in alternate shot?
2. In another foursomes match, two Americans played to a halve with their European counterparts. Or so they thought. When they heard their opponents discussing their victory during a round of drinks in the Dukes Course clubhouse afterward, they were surprised and quickly corrected them. Upon further review, the Europeans had actually won the match, 1-up. The stunned Americans hadn’t written down the hole-by-hole scores. They’d merely kept track in their heads and had somehow missed a hole won by the Euros on the back nine.
“I would’ve played the last few holes differently if I’d known we were behind,” one American said.
3. In foursomes play, one American twosome won a hole with a triple bogey.
Other observations from a survivor of the Writers Cup:
• Scotland is the home of utterly unpredictable weather. Monday morning’s singles matches at the Old Course were beset by high winds and driving rain. And something else. The lead group was playing the seventh hole, at the farthest point from the Old Course’s clubhouse and right next to the ocean, when the sideways rain suddenly turned to pelting hail for a moment. The other groups knew nothing about it. It only rained on their holes.
• I had read the glowing reviews of Kingsbarns, a relatively new course on the ocean a few miles east of St. Andrews, but had no idea just how good it was until I played there on a sunny, beautiful day that may have been the beginning and end of Scotland’s summer. Kingsbarns combines the rolling terrain and scenic views of Turnberry with the linksy charms of the Old Course.
If you could play just one course in the area, well, it would be a difficult choice. No course in the world has the history or the charm of the Old Course, located between the ocean and the middle of town in St. Andrews, but Kingsbarns’ beauty is striking. You don’t need a camera at the Old Course once you’ve snapped the obligatory first-tee photo with the clubhouse in the background, but at Kingsbarns you need a camera for nearly every hole. You can debate whether it’s the best course in St. Andrews, but it is unquestionably the prettiest.
• When you play 18 holes in a serious rain in Scotland, or anywhere else, there’s no such thing as waterproof. The water will find its way in sooner or later no matter how good or expensive your raingear. My rain suit did a superlative job of keeping me dry but, oddly enough, rain eventually began to puddle in both my pants and jacket pockets. I had to pull the pockets inside out every few holes to drain them, giving new meaning to the phrase, “raining sideways.”
• Another course near the top of the most-fun list is the Torrance Course at the Fairmont Resort, formerly known as St. Andrews Bay. It’s a links-looking track lined with fescue that’s thick enough to be a problem but usually not so thick that you can’t find your ball — although I did manage to lose one in the rough. Perched on a ridge several miles to the east, the Torrance Course offers magnificent views of the town of St. Andrews below and to the west. The sun was out and we could see a white line far across the bay — the corporate tents at Carnoustie for the British Open.
• Everyone in our group who was susceptible to allergies was sneezing and red-eyed by the time we finished playing at the renovated, and nicely improved, Dukes Course. There must be something on the Dukes track that isn’t at the other layouts — hay fever medication should be on your list of must-bring items.
• The Old Course Hotel truly has become a luxury hotel, instead of just an expensive one, since Whistling Straits founder Herb Kohler bought it a few years ago. The guest rooms are lavishly furnished, and the bathrooms feature the finest fixtures, tubs and showers that the Kohler Company can produce. The Hotel has also added a spa. The exchange rate means a room costs around $500 a night, but the Old Course Hotel has turned into a real experience.
• When you play in a 35-mph wind, it even affects your chipping.
• The St. Andrews Links Trust oversees a collection of six courses, including the Old Course, the New Course and Jubilee. A seventh course, located next to Fairmont, is nearing completion and is scheduled to open in ’08. The writers got a mini-tour of the course, which features lots of fescue and shot-repelling mounds with fescue on top. The well-placed grasses give the layout an intimidating look. The signature hole is sure to be the par-3 17th, played across a ravine on a bluff above the ocean. The green slopes sharply from left to right, so much so that the savvy player will aim at a bunker on the left, not the green, and wait for his mid-iron shot to bounce down the slope onto the putting surface. The course, designed by David McLay Kidd, a Scot, has a ragged, ancient look to it. It should be an entertaining addition.
• Scottish caddie-speak for “You’re away” is “Just yourself.” Just so you know.