To quickly recap from Part 1 of my 2022 Scottish trip blog: I started in the Perth area (golf at Gleneagles PGA Centenary, Craigie Hill and King James VI), then drove south-west across the country to the Kintyre Peninsula (Dunaverty, Machrihanish, and Shiskine on the Isle of Arran) and then to Ayrshire (Kilmarnock Barassie).
I had intended to see more of the Western Isles of Scotland and also Ayrshire (think Turnberry, Royal Troon, Prestwick, Dondonald and the like), but the 150th Open Championship was about to begin at St Andrews and I was offered a ticket for round 1, which I couldn’t knock back.
So I set out early on Thursday, round 1 of the Open, to catch the first of the morning field from 6:30am. I was to meet my Kintyre friend Robbie (his Instagram page @linksrobbie is worth a follow for the golf and historical content), then later my Perth pal and host Mark, who was driving courtesy cars for the event. Mark (how’s this for an envious job!) transported some of the most well-known names of golf that week. Thanks to Mark I now have one of Lee Trevino’s famous black “Tex Mex” caps, a couple of Mr Trevino’s mini whisky bottles of local scotch and his leftover golf balls from his trip – part of the golfing legend’s generous tip for a 3am St Andrews to Edinburgh Airport pickup.
Pictures below 1. Lee Trevino’s Hat | 2. Front of St Andrews Golf Club | 3. St Andrews Golf Club Interior.
First on the Open agenda was breakfast. Robbie had driven 4 plus hours from the west to St Andrews starting his day around 1am; such is the Scottish peoples’ love of the game they created! On Robbie’s suggestion, we walked into Greggs, a British mainstay of quick, satisfying greasy goodness. Greggs St Andrews is on Market Street, a short walk from the Old Course. Food can be expensive in Scotland’s tourist areas, but not Greggs. After a glorious hot filled roll and some surprisingly good pizza by the slice, we were ready for watching some real golfers play for the greatest trophy in the game.
No visit to the Open is complete without a visit to the merchandise tent, and I stocked up with some souvenirs and gifts for golf mates back home. Make sure you get there early if you go, as the best gear sells out quickly.
A pal of Robbie happened to be a member of the St Andrews Golf Club, located alongside the famous 18th green. We were kindly invited into this private club for a mini tour. Inside the walls are lined with club and historical golf memorabilia and the tartan carpet staircase takes you to the upper levels. We were fortunate enough to watch some golf from the top floor loft, usually reserved for members only. What was already to be a memorable day became a lot more special after visiting this club and seeing the home of golf from a new angle.
We then walked outward from the 1st hole and away from the town, watching as Aussies Min Woo Lee and Lucas Herbert started their campaigns. It was heartening to see a talented pro like Lucas thin his opening iron shot well left of the tee near the burn (Scottish word for creek) on the 18th fairway, after feeling the nerves on that tee myself during my 2018 visit! You sense that even the best in the business view this place as something special, and different from anywhere else.
Eventually I made my way outward through the front 9 and followed various groups (traditional links courses like St Andrews usually feature an ‘outward’ front 9 holes that take you away from the clubhouse, town or village, then an ‘inward’ 9 coming back, unlike a lot of modern courses where the 9th hole finishes by the clubhouse).
At the 10th hole I found Cameron Smith, Australia’s best rated chance at that Open, and followed him through to the 15th hole. He was looking in control and he clearly was in the zone after not responding to my “Queenslander!” call from 10 metres away following his tee shot on 10 (for the non-rugby league initiated, this is the famous call of the Queensland State of Origin teams of the past, knowing Cam is a mad Queensland and Broncos supporter). Not even changing into my Broncos jersey in support was going to change Cam’s focus; thankfully he meant business and would shoot a 5 under score of 67 that day.
Walking the Old Course is special. Everyone who has seen the course on a screen but never visited in person will recognise the back to back 1st and 18th holes, in the shadow of the Royal and Ancient Golf Clubhouse and along the buildings of the “Auld Grey Toon” (say it with a Scottish accent) as it’s known, and no location in golf is more iconic. The equally famous stone Swilcan Bridge over the burn on the 18th is 600 plus years old and was used by shepherds to move their sheep before the golf course was created, and is the photo opportunity that everyone wants when they visit. The 17th or “Road Hole” is also well known and requires a blind tee shot over the roof of the Old Course Hotel and features a narrow road that borders the green. Modern golf architects wouldn’t be permitted to produce a design like that now!
By the afternoon Mark and I caught up and found seats behind the par 4 10th green and watched as most of the pros reached the green with their tee shot. As happens in links golf, a cool change came over the course and the sky resembled the epic moody skies that I grew up watching on tv during so many classic Opens. The cold air finally won and we called it a day. Another memorable experience, but this time extra special watching the best major tournament in golf, at the home of golf.
I was able to watch Cam Smith win his first major over the weekend in daylight on a Sunday afternoon. Although it was on tv rather than at the course, it was a surreal experience after watching so many Opens late at night or in the early hours of the morning In Australia. Plenty of banter ensued the following week whenever someone heard my accent, as most of the Scottish and Irish were supporting Rory McIlroy who narrowly avoided a win on the Old Course.
The day after the final round, I travelled to Monifieth Golf Club, north of St Andrews and between the city of Dundee and the famous Carnoustie links. Monifieth (circa 1848) has two courses; the Medal and the Ashludie. I played the latter course (with a new friend made on Instagram, an English painter/artist and fellow Scottish golf enthusiast, Jonothan (check out his page @by_jonothan on Instagram to see his brilliant artwork).
The day we played the Ashludie, the UK was hit with a heatwave and we walked the course at around 37 degrees (Celsius), not unfamiliar heat for an Aussie but well above average for Scotland. Luckily the Ashludie is a shorter course than most and was another example of affordable and accessible golf in the heart of one of Scotland’s main golf regions. James Braid, one of Scotland’s most prolific golf architects, designed the first 9 holes of the Ashludie in 1912. The afternoon at Monifieth finished over a late lunch and cool drink at the clubhouse while looking through some of Jonothan’s portfolio of original artworks.
I finished the day with a visit to the nearby Carnoustie links to try and catch up with my caddy pal Dave (there’ll more about Dave in a later blog), who was carrying a tourist’s bag for a late afternoon round there. I rolled a few putts and had a blether (Scottish word for chat) with some locals on the practice green, with plenty of sunshine left at 8:00pm.
In planning this trip I decided that I wanted to include a side trip to Ireland, which would turn out to be in in the middle of the holiday, meaning I would return to Scotland after. This involved a bit of extra planning and logistics (including returning a hire car, and booking another one for the return to Scotland for starters) but worked out to be the best option. Like Scotland, the main golf regions and courses of Ireland can book out up to a year or more in advance and I chose the remote north-west of Ireland for an 11 day mini trip, again solo.
In Part 3 of my trip blog, I’ll cover my visit to Ireland.
Pictures below: 1. 1st Hole Looking Over to 18th hole | 2. The 10th Green Grandstand | 3. Summer Evening at Carnoustie