Street. Andrews, Scotland – As you roam the city, here in St Andrews, the accents begin to change. The closer you get to the old stadium, the more Americans you hear. More Australians and kiwis. Canadians too. Every visitor seems drawn by the allure of golf towards the greatest works of art by Tom Morris.
For the same reasons that tourists feel compelled to visit the Mona Lisa in Paris, visitors to St Andrews feel compelled to encroach on the ancient path, often for the same purpose: just a look. It’s a normal thing to do in a town of about 20,000, but it’s also the smartest thing you can do as a visiting golfer. Stop here first and spend at least an hour, but maybe six. I made it a daily chore. You can learn a lot just by watching.
Simple things like your intended goal away from the first, lonelier bell bush ever was out there. Your target at 18, about four hours later, is the big clock behind you, above the R&A building.
R&A’s exterior fender has just been repainted in time for The Open, in a classic dark blue. The balcony front of the Old Course Shop, about 50 yards away, has been undergoing a facelift as well. In between duties, workers sneak into approach shots at age 18, because golfers can’t help but watch other golfers play. It’s the same reason when you take a bad shot at range – your first instinct is to peek in to make sure no one’s watching. People are always watching.
It is tradition per se for golfers to watch golfers on the old course, but unlike other courses where this might be normal, I watched golfers watch golfers at 6:40 am and I watched golfers watch golfers at 10 pm Any point in between, dozens stand along the fence line, or fall for a golf lunch on the grassy hill. An audience of 20 or so, caught aimlessly as amateurs grind over 6 feet for stealth.
Not only is it acceptable for golfers to sip on this view, but it is best served with a drink in hand. The pro move is clearly taking up small pints from the nearby Dunvegan Bar. Nobody visits Pinehurst or Pebble Beach just to watch.
A couple of weeks ago, if you watched the night, you would have caught the magical Ewan Smith 71 and the tee ball in the 18 that bounced three times on the road before somehow back on the track. He equalized from there, on his first run at the old level. It took him 91 attempts to do so, as a four-year student at the University of St Andrews. “I almost cried,” he said, when the ball was back in play. Do the golf gods live on The Links Trail? They just might. Tom Morris basically died there, falling to the steps of the new club.
It is from those large windows inside The New Club that lies one of the best views of the action in the Old. Spend an afternoon there and you’ll realize how frequent the tee shots will end up on the road. You can basically stumble – and I’m sure many have done so – right outside the new club in the 18th lane. Same for St Andrews Golf Club and St Rolle Golf Club (ladies only). Their members are the lucky ones who own the links ticket, and can spend time throughout the year with no restrictions. They’ll tell you about the switch that flipped in the first week of May, when St Andrews transformed from a college town, once again, to a golf utopia. Students moved out of the dorms and golfers moved in.
In the lead up to the 150th Open Championship, the demand for tee times couldn’t be greater. The cycle is hosting more corporate outings than usual, which means last week a lineup of influencers. TikTok-ers, as one of the course moderators called them, took parkour hops and whirlpools over Swilcan Burn.
But even with 12 hours of tee times, searching for one of them is a bit messy for the last 11 days before being shut down for a month. Visitors line up earlier than ever the night before they sleep comfortably on the sidewalk or in the parking lot just to ensure a tee time. While it might usually be the middle of the night or the middle of the night, one golfer started waiting at 7 p.m. last week. A father and son joined him at 8pm, followed by two more at 8:30. They snuck quilts and pillows out of their hotel rooms, and put sleeping bags on top of yoga mats. I found the group at 5:30 in the morning, sheltered from the wind blowing from the sea. Temperature: 45 degrees. Feel: cooler.
Thirteen hours later, I walked into Old for the first time since I arrived, and despite seeing it in 2018, I was surprised by how much I forgot the property. Like how big the lead-out hump is in the second green. Or how the pins folded back 3 sit right in a small bowl. Or how there is an evil groove before the fifth green, you better carry it. Or that at 12, no matter how many bunkers you think are on the right track, there’s definitely more. One of the caddies said to me, “You can’t see them from the tee, so ‘Just drive the driver away.’ Act like they’re not even there. All the great notes for a course I won’t play for another 10 days. Now that it’s posted, I’ll probably remember it.”
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The thing I’m obsessed with right now in St. Andrews: racy street signs
I commemorate this trip with my biweekly appreciation for the little things in town that help explain life in St Andrews, some of its simplicity, its intricacies, and things you might otherwise miss (when gravitating toward golf). For starters, we have these dynamic street banners.
I’ve seen it now – the first picture I took upon my arrival: a picture of the “seniors” sign that I lovingly sent to my parents. Some of the things I like:
1. Words the elderly not enough. We must make these people a look the elderly. Give the man sugar cane! The numbers are more vibrant than their strict American counterparts.
2. This is similar to the “slow, kids playing” signs found in residential neighborhoods across the states. Only those feel more noisy. more lively. They definitely get the point across more.
In fairness, the tags seem essential. The roads are narrow here, and cars are parked everywhere. My neighborhood is on the outskirts of town, where many elderly locals and families live. I hope they read along.