In the middle of town, archaeologists patiently dig in Louden's Close, a quiet enclosure. On the edge of town, less patient golfers dig into more pliant soil; once the British Open championship starts there next week, they'll be watched by hordes, kept informed by modern scoreboards.
The players, having driven on the home hole, will cross a small stream, the Swilcan Burn, over a narrow arched bridge of uneven stones. Hundreds of years before golf was played here, pack-laden donkeys crossed the Swilcan on that bridge. Since golfs advent, the feet of all the game's great men have gone over the bridge—some in happy stride, some just plodding to get a sad round done. One lady visitor with twisted ideas of history wondered "why the Romans would build such a bridge on a golf course."
Old and new, side by side.
The contrast is more pointed when you drive toward the town. Tall spires in the distance, surmounting gray stone buildings, beckon you on. Then, of a sudden, there are ultramodern structures on both sides of the road—additions to the university, a hotel looking not unlike a giant's dresser with the drawers open.
July 9, 1978
On into the city, you choose a route through the West Port. You may have to wait your turn because, while this ancient gateway, built in 1589, was meant for two-way traffic, only one modern vehicle at a time can pass through. Sometimes a lorry decommissions the West Port for two or three weeks. Not far away is a small supermarket.
Past and present. St. Andrews. The Kingdom of Fife, in a nook of the east coast of Scotland, along a broad bay of the North Sea. St. Andrews, the old gray town. The Mecca of golf. The cradle of golf. A city of many facets, of unsuspected charm.
"Cradle of golf was not coined by Madison Avenue, although Madison Avenue would be proud to have invented such an attraction. St. Andrews was not invented. It evolved; with it, the beguiling game of golf; from it, golf spread to many lands.
The Scots have a splendid way of celebrating events in verse, and when the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews had its bicentennial in 1954 Dr. J. B. Salmond wrote these lines:
So this then for a toast, the written story
Of twice a hundred years of this fair scene,
All of Elysium. To them the glory
Who fostered for us fairway, bunker, green,
Who spread Golf's Empire all across the world,
And ruled with justice and with equity.
No one knows precisely when and where golf began. More than 500 years ago in Scotland it distracted men from archery and other military activities. Starting in 1457, the Parliaments of three successive Scottish kings prohibited golf. The bug bit the third king, James IV; he became a golfer.
In the smallish community of St. Andrews, golf had a warm, natural home for its nurture. It was a game of people, lairds, nobility; Mary Queen of Scots played at St. Andrews. In 1754 the first semblance of organization came with the formation of The Society of St. Andrews Golfers, the second golf club in Britain, the first being the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, founded 10 years earlier. With the approval of William IV, the name was changed in 1834 to The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. Today the R&A is a worldwide club of 1,800 members of which no more than 1,050 may live in Britain and Ireland; of the rest, 275 may reside in the U.S. Six continents are often represented at the club's Autumn Meeting.
There are anomalies. The R&A, a private club, does not own a golf course. It helps support and has privileges over the four St. Andrews courses, which are open to the public. There are five men's clubs and two for women. The R&A, by common consent, has conducted the British Open and Amateur championships since 1920, although both championships were originated by other clubs—the Open by Prestwick (1860), the Amateur by Hoylake (1885). The R&A, one single club, and the United States Golf Association, comprising nearly 5,000 clubs, jointly make the rules for the world of golf.
From that wide world of golf, devotees pour into St. Andrews every summer. Last year 140,000 rounds were played over the four courses, but the Old Course is the real magnet. The worshiper has not made a proper pilgrimage if he does not play the Old Course, the championship course.
It is a course that tries men's souls. It is peculiar by modern standards: hidden bunkers, unforgiving whins and heather, unexpected bounces, double putting greens for 14 of the 18 holes—that is, two holes are cut in each of seven huge greens, the largest almost an acre. A fascinating course. If you don't come to love it, you probably don't understand it. As exacting as the Old Course is, it was first holed in 79 almost 120 years ago by Allan Robertson, the first great golfer and leading maker of "featherie" balls. Now the record is Neil Coles' 65.
Great players have won the Open on the Old Course. The Americans include Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus. In 1930 Jones began his Grand Slam there, winning the British Amateur, then going on to win the British Open and the American Open and Amateur. Jones is a demigod still worshiped in the old gray town. They named the 10th hole for him. They made him a Freeman of the Burgh 28 years after he retired, the first American so honored since Benjamin Franklin. When Jones died they held a memorial service in the Town Kirk, which now has an organ division given by his family and a plaque hailing him as a citizen of Atlanta and St. Andrews. A memorial scholarship fund named for him finances student exchanges between the University of St. Andrews and Emory University in Atlanta, where Bob earned his law degree.
Sir Guy Campbell once heard the Old Course speak in verse, partly this way:
So it was and has been; so it is and will be.
I abide unchallenged, and peerless is my Name.
History behind me, I give all who find me
Welcome and a Blessing, to the Glory of the Game.
A less rhapsodic American student, R. F. Murray, thought of it thus:
Would you like to see a city given over
Soul and body to a tyrannising game?
Tyrannizing? Today you see a schoolboy pedaling his bicycle to the links, a little golf bag slung over his shoulder. At 7 p.m. you may see men arrive pulling golf-bag carriers attached to their bicycles—it is still light at St. Andrews in the summer at 10 p.m. Leaving the cycles, off they start on a late round.
But St. Andrews is vastly more than the tyrant golf. Golf has been the beneficiary of several converging influences in the old gray town. Climate, education, perhaps religion, have lovingly rocked the cradle.
The climate is superior to that sometimes found on an unlucky quick visit. On the average, there are four-plus hours of sunshine daily throughout the year, seven hours in summer. Average annual rainfall of 26 inches compares with 43 inches in Nassau County, Long Island. Summer spawns stretches of balmy bright days and light atmosphere. So St. Andrews has long been a holiday resort. In the summer, its normal population of 13,000, excluding students, swells to about 23,000. When the Lammas Market invades the town early in August, some 15,000 out-of-towners visit the stalls and booths along two main streets, Market and South; it is a hodgepodge carnival of medieval origin.
The rectitude of the code of golf could well have had its beginnings in the religious bent of old St. Andrews. Start with the very name: Andrew, a fisherman in the Sea of Galilee, one of the first Apostles called by Jesus and brother of Simon Peter. How did Andrew go in name and spirit to the remote coast of what is now Scotland?
Andrew is said to have carried the Gospel to Russia, Greece, Asia Minor and Turkey; in Patras, Greece, on refusing the Roman proconsul's order to lead the people in sacrifice to heathen gods, Andrew suffered a martyr's death in 69 A.D., when quite old. His cross was X-shaped, crux decussata; it is said that he was fastened to it by cords, not nails, so that his death was lingering, perhaps over two days, and all the while he preached.
Legend holds that his remains were moved to Constantinople and it continues as follows, although historians do not validate it: Andrew's body remained there until 369. Then the Abbot Regulus, or St. Rule, took relics (an arm bone, three fingers, three toes) on a missionary journey. He was shipwrecked off what is now Fife. Regulus and a few monks escaped, buried the bones of St. Andrew, built a chapel in his honor, and converted the Pict king, who erected a costly church on the chapel site. The place was named St. Andrews.
The St. Andrews cross, white against a blue background, is the national symbol of Scotland.
One historian says Andrew's relics were brought to the place about 736, some 150 years after a monastery arose there. Certain it is that a great cathedral, the largest in Scotland, was founded in 1160 and consecrated in 1318. It has long lain in ruins, still fascinating, with a large graveyard adjacent.
Nearby, overlooking the bay, is the castle, built about 1200 as a fortified palace for the Catholic bishops. It has a bloody history—besieged, wrecked, rebuilt, retaken. At the instance of Cardinal Beaton, who looked on, the reformer George Wishart was burned to death in front of the castle in 1546; less than three months later, Beaton was murdered by reformers who broke into the castle. The great John Knox, priest turned reformer, took refuge in the castle for a while, until troops from a French fleet assaulted it in 1547 and carried him to France. He pulled an oar in French galleys for a time before returning to Scotland to help establish Protestantism in the British Isles. The castle has a grisly Bottle Dungeon, so called because of its configuration.
One of the loveliest edifices in St. Andrews is the Church of the Holy Trinity, the Town Kirk. Founded in 1412, it was restored and reopened late in 1909, a center of Presbyterian faith. Today there are ten churches in the city, representing seven denominations of Christianity.
The question lingers: Could the bloody history of religion have had any effect on the nurture of early golf, aside from so-called rectitude, which sometimes was mere mulishness?
From earliest times education was at the heart of St. Andrews, and so it is today. The University of St. Andrews is the oldest in Scotland, chartered in 1412 and given university status in 1414. A prime function was to educate the clergy. Today the university has 3,600 students, of whom 1,950 are male. The institution is a centerpiece of St. Andrews life.
A colorful centerpiece it is. Many students go about the town in red gowns, long a university hallmark. They may be worn at any time. Female heads sometimes are adorned with mortarboards (trencher caps) but not about town. Tassels of differing colors denote their years.
The main disciplines are science (including pre-medical), arts and divinity, and they attract students from many countries. Tuition and living expenses are very low by American standards; government allowances subsidize some British students. Rudyard Kipling was Rector of the University from 1922 to 1925.
Marvelous style distinguishes many old university buildings. The University Chapel contains the pulpit from which John Knox once fulminated. But women's lib has overtaken the chapel: male and female students no longer sit on separate sides.
So university life is not as encrusted as in the day of a certain aged professor who, after approving a mixture of common table beer and strong ale, deliberated whether the beer should be poured into the ale or the ale into the beer; said he, "If the small beer should be poured into the ale it would make the ale worse, but if the ale should be poured into the beer it would make the beer better."
The visitor to St. Andrews should resist the tendency to become preoccupied with the great edifices, for he will find much else to captivate him—the residences, be they small or large; the golf-club-makers' shops; the parks; the old harbor, no longer a fishing center except for a few lobster pots; the seals cavorting in the estuary of the River Eden; the broad beaches; the craggy cliffs; the narrow wynds or lanes. St. Andrews is a treasure hunt for the diligent seeker, with things of interest to be found in unlikely places.
St. Andrews has examples of every type of house since the 12th century. Most domestic buildings date from the 16th, 17th and early 18th centuries; Queen Mary's house, 1523. Gray stone predominates. Sometimes it is dull gray, but the smallest garden plot in front has colorful plantings. A large house with a facade squarely on the street has a huge garden in the rear.
Glimpse the charming home of Mrs. Jean Tynte. The street side of the three-storied house was built in 1668, the last additions about 1820. The back opens onto a very large garden, with pear trees older than the house still bearing fruit. Mrs. Tynte says, "Mary of Guise brought pear trees to St. Andrews in 1538, and they were planted by monks as an avenue between St. Mary's and St. Leonard's chapels. There is a stream running underground below the pear trees, which presumably has kept them going all these years, and my great-uncle, Captain W. H. Burn, always told me that the largest was about 400 years old." Captain Burn was chairman of the R&A Rules of Golf Committee.
Ever hear of "marriage lintels"? Some doorways are decorated with the initials of the owner and his wife and the date of building. Homes in old St. Andrews invariably give the impression of solidity and loving care. Many are gems, no matter the size.
For all its fame and history, its architecture, its golf, its things, St. Andrews is lovable primarily for its people. They are, of course, of varying degrees of education and differing tastes. Almost without exception, they are warm, friendly, convivial, not intrusive, courteous in the extreme, not outwardly demonstrative, with fine humor and a sense of the Tightness and the fitness of things. They make do with relatively much less of the world's goods than Americans, and they make do wonderfully well, thanks to their sense of values.
Some years ago I had a touching insight into their faith and affection. Wandering through the old cathedral graveyard, I came quite by chance upon an epitaph to a departed spouse. This is what it said:
Then steal away.
Give little warning.
Say not good night,
But in some higher clime
Bid me good morning.