The most famous, most written about and discussed course in the world. Not the best course as a pure test of golf but a must play for golfers everywhere.
The drive up from Edinburgh is not propitious. It is the sort of day Scotland does so well. Grey everywhere. Not 50 shades of grey!! One shade. Uniform greyness. And rain. Of course. Again without variation. Steady, unremitting rain.
I leave the city at 715 to make sure I am in St Andrews in good time. We are due to tee off at 10.00 but are having breakfast in the clubhouse beforehand.
My fellow players are:-
Mark Houston – Partner in charge of Johnston Carmichael’s Glasgow office. (I have played with Mark before – Turnberry Oh so pretty blog)
Niall Farquharson – Managing partner of JC in Aberdeen. Niall is a member of the R&A and is the host for the day.
David McEwing – Partner in Pinsent Mason Aberdeen
I try and keep myself optimistic all the way up. I have always been lucky playing the Old Course. Never been on it in really bad weather. Tell myself it will brighten!! Distract myself by listening to the initial analysis of the first referendum debate between Alec Salmon and Alistair Darling. Start on Radio 4 and then switch to Radio Scotland. Didn’t see it (playing bridge) but it sounds like Alistair Darling’s coaching paid off as most commentators feel he shaded the debate. (The whole issue will be a feature of a blog in due course. Independence / ABE.)
It is still raining heavily when I pull into the public car park just across and down from the clubhouse and the first person I see is Mark trying to unload his car without getting soaked in the process. I go through similar contortions with my clubs, other bags and umbrella and we manage to get into the clubhouse reasonably dry.
Niall and David are waiting and Niall is kind enough to take us on a short guided tour of the most prestigious setting in golf. (I have been here before but am still excited by the 100 years and more history of golf cascading over us from every corner. Makes me realise again just how lucky I am to play this game in such august surroundings.) As we are walking round we are asked if we can go out earlier but we have time to gulp a bacon roll before saddling up and donning our rain gear. David tells me my waterproofs make me look like a snowboarder which is an interesting contrast with the setting!! With the weather forecast bad with rain all day I am glad Niall suggested caddies. Even in clement conditions good caddies are worth at least 4 shots on a championship course and in the rain they are essential. We meet ours at the side of the first tee. Mine is Shaun – Irish – an ex pro trying to get back into the game through coaching and caddying meantime. He is encouraging and diplomatic throughout and quickly works out what I can and can’t do on a course.
The rain has eased a little but it is still very wet and the area round the tee and clubhouse is the quietest I have ever seen it. I first played the course as a teenager just before going to University in a junior competition with my pals from Carluke Golf Club (I think we had qualified in some sort of national team event). It was in the height of the season and I remember the large crowds round the first tee. I also remember whispering to my best friend, as a joke, that it would be really embarrassing to go out of bound right off the tee, getting a ‘look’ and then watching his drive set off for the beach. Reload!!!
I have been much more aware of the dangers of the tee shot since then but this is the widest fairway in golf. So even though no practice shots or warm up I stay positive. We all do. Four good drives as you would expect from handicaps of 3 Mark 5 Niall 8 me!! and 11 David. David is a bit right, stops short of the Swilcan burn but then puts his next in as I did first time, misjudging the carry and trying to just drop it over the water.
Niall flies it over the stick which is short front right. Mark and I have gone left from the tee. Two good 3 woods. I have 130 according to Shaun (no Bushnell this round) and he gives me pin high left where there is much more room. I obey and hit it there as does Mark. He and I are playing David and Niall. Niall putts dead. Mark hits a good putt which rattles the hole but goes 6 feet past. I don’t learn anything and go a similar distance by. Two missed putts later we are 1 down. Not quite the start I was looking for!!
And so begins one of the best, most fun matches I have played in for years. David, Mark and Niall play really well – no scratch that! Niall plays out his skin as does Mark. David is under his handicap and uses his shots very professionally. I am patchy. My putting is a mixture of brilliant on some holes from distance to abysmal on others (which unfortunately far outweighed the good ones) eg I hit the green on the second but at least a mile away from the hole on the upper level which is protected by the Alpine ridge which runs across the middle of the green. Out of 100 goes I would get down in two 1% of the time. But I do for my par!! Then on the short par 5 fifth hole I am 6 yds short in two but an approach putt plus 3 more gives me a terrible bogey. Mark hits it on in 2 but also 3 putts so we lose another hole to poor putting and are 3 down going to one of my favourites the 7th. Good drive over the dog leg, nice 9 iron then solid first putt for a winning 4. Lovely 6 iron to 8 ft at the next, the start of the loop, and two putts won the hole again. I parred 7 through to 12 -the loop ( but that is the easiest part of the course) then lost my putting again.
Match turns on two holes. We look like winning the difficult par 3 11th. David for once out of it and Niall in the bunker front left and dead!! Mark pin high left. I am just short but putt to 18 inches. Niall has no shot but he somehow gets up and down for an incredible par and a half to stay 1 up.
Then there were shenanigans at the 14th. Long. Good name for a hole. It is. But Mark on in two after fantastic drive and second. David and I out of it. Niall short in two and removed the metal hoops running down the right side of the approach to the green. Well all the hoops apart from one on the extreme right which wasn’t in play. Or so we thought! Hit his first poor shot. Pushed chip which clangs into the remaining hoop and bounces onto the green to save par and give him a nett birdie. Mark putted to two feet and his fellow partner made him hole it for the half!! (I said I would record this in my blog so the world would know just how outrageous a half this was).
We / I still had chances. We pull back to all square on 15. Mark drove out of bounds on 16 – his only real mistake in the round. Pressure – which I responded to by hitting mine a bit tight to the OB as well but luckily the slope of the ground throws it back into the perfect position in the middle of the fairway. 9 iron left. David and Niall well down the left so I need to hit the green, not the next tee!! Great putt back got to 4 ft so could still get the half but hit it through the break.
Then – Then. The most famous finish in golf. Road Hole looking back to town. Rain now stopped and a bit of sunshine to greet our return. Town looking fantastic as we stand on the 17 tee. This is what defines the course. Playing back into the heart of the town. Nothing else in golf like it. All hit good drives but Mark is a bit left and I am a little cautious leaving a long shot in. Running, hooking rescue is the call and I hit it!! On the front middle just below the slope to the main part of the green with the flag at the back end. Niall makes a mistake. Unbelievable. Goes OB over the road. !! David hits a good shot but it lacks pace and runs behind the road bunker. Mark plays the sensible shot short left as he has no direct approach. We are favourites to snatch the hole and get back to all square. Well, we are before I 4 putt. David plays sensibly away from trouble and Mark can’t get down on two. My fault completely.
Last – can we get a 3 to rescue the match? Wind against. I hit it well just short of the road then try and cut a 6 iron in against the wind. Hit a horrendous pull into the valley of sins for obvious 3 putt. Mark pitches on long but Niall hits a fantastic approach to 6 feet using the contours of the green to bring it down from the right hand side. Mark’s putt just misses. Niall’s approach is a true members shot and deserves to be the winning one.
Fantastic game and round. Great company and even better golf from my companions.
I shot 84 against a par of 72. Not good but not terrible in bad early conditions.
Greens in regulation 11/18 = 61% not as impressive as it looks given all the double greens
Fairways in regulation 9/18 =50% again widest fairways in golf
Putts 40 yes 40!!! No comment
Pars 8 bogies 8 d bogies 2
Strange round. Some bad shots – otherwise steady but 40 putts!! Even on the Old Course greens a disaster.