You asleep, pal? Not me. I can never sleep on these dang 12-
hour flights. Couldn't sleep anyway, I'm so excited.
I can tell by the way you've tilted your seat back and pulled
the blanket over your head that you're in the mood to hear a
good story. And, boy, have I got a beaut!
Have you ever played the Road Hole? It's not much, really, only
the hardest, orneriest, confoundingest, quirkiest, most
discombobulating, unparrable golf hole in the world. It doesn't
have much history, except that every time the British Open comes
to the Old Course at St. Andrews, like this week, it decides the
winner. Did you know Tom Watson is buried there? Seve
Ballesteros was practically invented on it. Arnold Palmer once
said he should have played it "in an ambulance." There's nothing
very interesting about it, except that you must negotiate one
railway shed, one hotel, one road, one wall, a few donkeys and
the Leona Helmsley of bunkers--old, mean and impossible to escape.
Do you realize people were making 6s on this hole before the
piano was invented? In fact, the world's best golfers have gone
there every year for the last 10 to play the Dunhill Cup, and in
all those 10 years, playing round after round, the Road Hole has
been witness to a total of 28 birdies. Oh, and 486 bogeys, 90
double bogeys, 21 triple bogeys, two quadruple bogeys, two
quintuple bogeys, two sextuple bogeys, a few thousand cases of
acid indigestion and about 14 divorced six-irons.
July 23, 1995
Ben Crenshaw once said, "The reason the Road Hole is the hardest
par-4 in the world is because it's a par-5.'' My good friend Two
Down O'Connor, the world's most avid golf gambler, thought it
really was a par-5, and when I told him, No, it was a 4, he
said, "O.K., I bet you can't spend a week in St. Andrews and
make one single par on it; loser has to walk into McDonald's
wearing a kilt and order a Happy Meal."
And so I booked the bet and a flight and a room at the Old
Course Hotel, overlooking all 461 yards of the 17th, from its
tiny tee box to its long, skinny green, no wider than the deck
of a sailboat and twice as likely to make you seasick. In
contention during the third round of the 1978 British Open,
Tommy Nakajima knocked his second shot on that green, putted off
it and into that nasty Road Bunker, left it in the bunker three
times, got it out on the fourth and two-putted for his 9. Now
that bunker is known as the Sands of Nakajima.
A bellhop told me when I checked in Thursday night that Open
fans love fairway-side rooms like mine because they can watch a
man hit his tee shot on the telly, then rush to the window and
have the ball whiz by their very noses. But if I were a player,
I would draw the blinds. Getting a room overlooking the Road
Hole is like getting one overlooking your favorite Mafia-hit
restaurant. Most of what you see is historically significant but
Five-time British Open champion J.H. Taylor made a 13 there one
Open and blew his chance to win. David Ayton came there on the
final round of the 1885 Open with a five-shot lead and made an
11. He lost by two. Years later his son made a 15 there in a
monthly medal. Definitely not an Ayton family favorite.
When the Scottish sun came bounding up at 4:30 Friday morning
and I got my first real look at the Road Hole, I really saw no
problems. All you have to do is cold-bust a drive over the
hotel--actually, the hotel's storage shed, built to look exactly
like the original coal sheds that were torn down in the early
'60s. Hit it about 250 yards, usually into the wind to a blind
fairway, so that you'll have about a five-iron into the green.
Of course, you would be a sap to take the ball right at the
green, because it runs diagonally away from you, right to left,
sort of like a tilted driveway painted green, and the flag is
almost always hidden behind the bunker on the left, which works
like a cushion in your couch: It'll suck up anything anywhere
near it. You don't want to be long, because the back of the
green runs down a weedy four-foot bank onto a paved road that
people and tourists and dogs walk on and that you must play
off-no free drops. Beyond the road is an old stone wall and
beyond that is O.B. You usually can find some mules grazing
there, when they're not giving kids rides on the beach during
the summer. You'd know this beach. It's the one where Chariots
of Fire was filmed.
Anyway, I calculated I would have four chances at a 4 during the
week, figuring for jet leg and the fact that the course is
closed on Sunday and that I had exactly zero tee times set up.
Four days to make one 4. Could it be that hard?
That first day, Friday, as I stood on the 17th tee for the first
time, I had my answer. Sure, you can take one hard over the
shed, unless you 1) hit it too far right, in which case you are
in the hotel courtyard, and I know that whole 747s of people do
that because the guy who mows the lawn there won't do it without
a hard hat; or 2) hit it too low, in which case you'll hit that
shed and be O.B., too. Besides, most golfers have a gene that
makes it biologically impossible to hit a shot over 150 yards of
just plain out-of-bounds earth at a fairway you can't even see,
especially when you are playing good, the way I was. So,
understandably, I bailed out left into the heather and had no
chance of getting near the green in 2 and, in fact, wasn't even
there in 3, and chipped over the green onto the road and scuffed
one short into the bank and chipped up and made a lovely snowman
that put a serious chap on my day.
Naturally, I did what anyone would do after having made an 8 at
17. I went to find Tip Anderson.
Tip Anderson just happens to be the greatest living caddie in
Scotland. Tip is the man who, during one stretch of British
Opens, finished second with Arnold Palmer in 1960, won with
Arnold in 1961, won with Arnold in 1962, finished 26th in 1963,
and then won with Tony Lema in 1964 at St. Andrews, only because
Arnie didn't play that year. "My caddie deserves more than half
the credit," Lema said that day. I had to find Tip. He would
tell me how to make a 4.
"Tip doesn't have a phone," one of the caddies told me, "but
you'll find him drinking at the Jigger Inn.''
Gee, that was too bad. The Jigger Inn may just be the finest
little drinking pub in all of Scotland. It is just off the 17th
fairway, dwarfed by the hotel but, thankfully, never torn down
by it. It's the old stationmaster's house, a 150-year-old white
stone cottage with ceilings that can't be higher than eight feet
and a real dartboard with real locals throwing at it and real
caddies holding down stools at the ridiculously cozy bar. The
Jigger has been the traditional choice for snowman-makers for
years, mostly because it is so convenient. You simply putt out
at 17 and walk the 50 or so yards and say, "Pour me a
Caffrey's," which is a beer that is really too good for words,
"and keep them coming."
Unfortunately, Tip wasn't in the Jigger, so I stayed for just a
few hours and then left, but not before being schooled by some
dart throwers on how to play the Road Hole. "Play it the way the
Irish play it,'' said one woman with a froth of Caffrey's on her
lip. It seems the Irish--like all law-abiding Irish
citizens--drive on the left. They take it so far left off the
tee, in fact, that they play up the second fairway and left of
the green. Not only does this take the hotel and the shed and a
possible heart attack out of play, but there is also plenty of
room left, including the 18th tee. And, besides, it makes sense.
The 17th green was originally the 1st green at St. Andrews. It
was just a straightforward par-4 from a tee box near the
clubhouse, over a wee burn, with the greenside bunker easily
avoided on the right. Only later were the holes rearranged, and
17 became harder than trigonometry.
Of course, that is not why the Irish are famous in St. Andrews.
They are famous for the way they celebrated their 1993 Dunhill
Cup semifinal loss at the Jigger, as the Irish love to celebrate
losses. The only difference between an Irish wedding and an
Irish wake is one guest, you know. On the way back to his hotel,
one of the team members and a local lass couldn't resist and
enjoyed a carnal up-and-down in the Road Bunker. I know this
only because the player told me about it. "'Tis damn sure the
only fun anybody's ever had in that bunker," he said. (Big rake
I hope you don't mind me shaking you like that, pal, but I think
you fell asleep for a second there, and I didn't want you to
miss this next part. Besides, they'll be bringing breakfast in
an hour and a half.
So, the next morning I played again and must've had my swing
abducted by aliens because if I could've parred the last two
holes, I would've shot 76, which is like headlining Lollapalooza
for me. So I was not in the mood for any risks and suddenly felt
very Irish. I played it down the left, which turned out to be a
lousy idea since my second shot caught the wee burn, and I made
a 6. "Curious idea," grumbled my caddie for the week, Dod. I was
so torqued, I did the smart thing, which was knock it O.B. on
18--only the widest fairway in the world. I made a 7 and shot 81.
That night I did what anybody would do after making a 6 on the
Road Hole. I went looking for Tip Anderson. "If he's not at the
Jigger, he'll be drinkin' at the Cross Keys,'' Dod said. I went
to the Cross Keys and found only a picture of Tip as a lad,
holding the trophy as the junior area champion. "Tip was quite a
player," said the bartender. "His father was a caddie here for
40 years, too. Caddied for Henry Cotton and Walter Hagen." The
place didn't offer much except Caffrey's and Scotch and a nest
of storytelling caddies, so I just stayed another three or four
hours and then left, but not before I learned a few more ways to
play the Road Hole. "Y'must play it the way of Bob Jones and
Jack Nicklaus," said a red-faced little guy trying to set a
record for ear hair. "Drive with your three-wood over the shed,
then hit a wee chase shot up the right side so that it ends on
the right side of the green. Then y'merely two-putt for your 4."
The Scottish sun pried open my eyelids again at 4:30, so, with
nothing else to do and time running out, I had an even curiouser
idea. I sneaked on the 17th. I don't recall Two Down mentioning
anything about the course being open when I made my 4.
I crept down into the lobby in my socks, with my shoes in my
right hand and my bag slung over my left shoulder. The night
porter was sitting at a desk in front of the main door, so I
turned quickly around and went down a few halls and out a door
that maybe I shouldn't have, only because it said EMERGENCY EXIT
ONLY. You don't think wearing a kilt into McDonald's is an
emergency? I walked around behind the hotel, behind the famous
fake green shed, hopped the old wall and teed one up. They do
not remove the flagsticks at St. Andrews at night, and there are
no walls or fences to keep you off the course. How could there
be? The public road cuts right through it, both across 18 and 1
and behind 17. It's as much a part of town as the graveyard and
I decided the time had come for some Nicklaus and Jones, only
the two greatest players in history. I would cream one over the
hotel and hit a "chase" into the green, a low skipping shot that
would land 50 yards short and follow the contours of the fairway
onto the green. Also known in America as a no-good, lucky
The chase shot is the very shot that cost Watson the 1984
British Open here. He came to the 17th tee that Sunday with a
chance to do what only Harry Vardon had done--win a sixth British
Open. He was tied for the lead with Ballesteros, who had made a
magnificent par on 17 just ahead of him. It was Seve's first 4
there all week, which was good, because he had vowed to come
back Monday and try again if he didn't par it at least once. "I
aimed to the right of the bunker and tried not to hit it too
hard," Ballesteros would say that day. "Too far is the road, and
the road is no good."
Tell it to Watson. He hit a wonderful drive and had only 183
yards left, but hit a two-iron. Now any St. Andrews caddie will
tell you that a four-iron, at most, would have done. "I hit a
high shot because I didn't think, with the little upslope I was
on, that I could punch it in there," Watson explains today. "I
just pushed it." He blew the green and the road and wound up on
a sliver of grass 18 inches from the wall. He took a seven-iron
and jabbed it onto the green, but because he couldn't line the
shot up at the hole, it ended up 35 feet away. As he was about
to putt, there was a huge roar. Ballesteros had birdied the
18th. Watson needed to hole this putt and birdie the last to
tie. He came nowhere near and--so unlike him--refused to come to
the press tent afterward. It was a killer loss, and something
about Tom Watson changed that day. He hasn't won a full-field
PGA Tour event since. But he has learned one extra shot. "I
didn't know that chase shot then," he says today. "I know it
As I stood alone at the 17th tee on a still, frigid morning in
St. Andrews, only three creatures were stirring: me, the night
porter and my three-wood-and the three-wood had to be pulled
screaming from its head cover. To pay me back, it put a Chi Chi
whip-slice on my poor little ball, so that it banged
cartoonishly off a balcony of the hotel, making all kinds of
racket, and dropped out of sight, a second after which there
came the sound of shattering glass.
Panicked, I hopped the hotel fence and ran in a crouch to the
side door, only to find that it doesn't open from the outside. I
had no choice but to walk past the aroused night porter in my
socks, lugging my bag and smiling hugely.
"Can I help you, sir?" he said. He was a fresh-faced,
black-haired twentysomething with freckles and a nameplate that
looked like it said WHITMAN.
"No,'' I said. "Just, uh, trying to get a feel for what it's
going to be like to, uh, you know, walk the golf course today.''
"Wearing a golf glove, sir?'' he said.
"Uh, well, it's pretty cold out,'' I said. Yes, there is nothing
that retains the heat on extremely cold days like the golf glove.
"The course is closed on Sundays, sir,'' said Whitman.
"On Monday, it will reopen,'' he said.
"But not until seven.''
Later that day I tried to be inconspicuous as I sipped my high
tea in the conservatory, the glass-enclosed gazebo that sits in
harm's way 75 yards behind the shed. As I sat down I noticed
that nearly every pane of glass in the roof was broken. "We wait
until they're all broken before we call the repairman,'' said my
waitress. "It happens so often."
"Some people, huh?'' I said, swallowing.
I spent the rest of Sunday trying to find Tip Anderson. He was
not at the Jigger or the Cross Keys. "He'll be at Champ's," said
Dod. But he wasn't there, either. I also went to the Niblick
restaurant, the town square and the bookstore. And I noticed a
funny thing was happening to me. In my searches for Tip I had
come to know the little town-from the college kids studying in
the pubs to the mothers fearlessly walking their infants in
strollers across the 18th fairway to the midnight lines at the
Baked Potato Shop on South Street. I began to feel as at home in
the home of golf as I did in my own hometown. People began to
know me. "Parred it yet?'' caddies would ask me. "Found Tip
yet?'' bank tellers would inquire. Sadly, the answer was always
A bartender told me that in Tip's 48 years as a St. Andrews
caddie, he has made about 10,500 loops. He also said that this
British Open will be the last for Tip and Arnie. Tip is 63;
Arnie is 65. They will go out together.
As for me, it was looking like I would go out an utter failure.
No Tip. No 4. No pants.
On Monday morning I hit a good drive over the shed--there's more
room to the right than you think--but sliced my six-iron onto the
road, and as anyone will tell you, "the road is no good."
Another good round ended up as Road kill.
And like that, my last tee time, 1:10 on Tuesday, had arrived.
Again I was playing well for me, yet the dread of the Road Hole
was always there. Every golfing gene in my body was screaming,
"Fellas, couldn't we just play 16 twice?"
Still, I hit the most beautiful drive, right over the O in the
gold lettering on the shed that reads ST. ANDREWS OLD COURSE
hotel, right down the right side of the fairway. Then I hit a
perfect little chase five-iron right at the right edge of the
green and watched it skitter its dimpled little soul right to
left until it settled about 20 feet from the cup. A rhesus
monkey could two-putt from there, I thought. As I walked, with
Dod suddenly walking brightly along, his shoulders held back
sturdily, I thought of all the clever things I would say to Two
Down as he slumped into McDonald's in his kilt that fine day.
Maybe something like, "Why not try our new McHaggus?"
Unfortunately, my first putt took far too much break and left me
with a six-footer, which lipped tragically out. Defeated, I
retired to the Dunvegan bar, not even a good wedge from the 18th
hole and owned by a Texan to boot. I wanted something with some
American in it. Suddenly I hated the Road Hole. Hated the Old
Course. Hated the town. I tried to order a Bud and got ready to
feel mad and homesick until my flight the next morning.
And right about then, Dod laid an elbow into my biceps. "That's
Tip!" he whispered. "That's Tip right next to you."
The legend himself.
"Mr. Anderson,'' I said, grinning. "May I buy you a lager?''
"I don't see why not," he said, turning uneasily on his stool.
The legend was maybe a little worse for wear, with a red sweater
and a red nose and a topcoat and a rain jacket on. He looked
like a man who might've woken up in a bunker himself. But he was
nonetheless Tip Anderson, shoulder to history.
I let him take a good long sip of a Caffrey's. And then I asked,
"Mr. Anderson, can you tell me how to make a 4 at 17?''
He took another long sip and then looked at me sideways through
his red-soaked blue eyes. "If you play it for a 4, you'll make a
7,'' he said, wetting his lips. "But if you play it for a 5, you
might just make a 4.''
He turned away, and I sat for a long time thinking about what he
had said. And even as I strolled back to my hotel, walking on
the moonlit road that would take me past the Tom Morris Golf
Shop and the Old Woolen Mill and, eventually, the 17th, it hit
me. Play it for a 5, you might just make a 4. Wasn't that like
the Old Course itself? Sure, it's unfair. Sure, you can hit the
perfect drive and end up in some unseen bunker. Sure, 17 was
never meant to be played from its current tee, but it is. St.
Andrews wasn't meant to be fair. Golf wasn't meant to be fair.
It just is. The Road Hole couldn't be built now if Jack Nicklaus
promised to live in the shed. And yet there it is. What Tip was
saying was, Respect it. A hole this old owes you nothing. And I
remembered that in 1990 Nick Faldo made three 5s there--tried to
make 5s--and won in a runaway. If 5 was good enough for Nick
Faldo, it damn well ought to be good enough for me.
And just then I realized how much I loved the town, the course,
It was 10:45. There wasn't much light left, but there was
enough. I wanted to play the Road Hole one more time without
fighting it. Whitman wouldn't be pulling up to the hotel for his
11-to-7 shift for a few minutes yet. I still had my bag on my
shoulder and my golf shoes in my hand. I took a hard right past
the green and ran along the back of the hotel, past last call at
the Jigger, past the conservatory and the shed. Play it for a 5,
you might just make a 4.
I massaged a three-wood just over the corner of the shed, not
too bold, but not too stupid. Then I hit a punch five-iron aimed
for the right corner of the green, thinking that even if I
flushed it, it wouldn't make the putting surface. And though I
never saw it leave the club, it felt as soft as forgotten
margarine. When I arrived at the green, the ball was sitting 25
feet from the flag. Not asking for anything more than a
three-putt, I was about to putt when I saw Whitman coming at me
from the car park. I jabbed the thing, and it went harder than I
wanted and right through the break and left me an 18-inch putt,
which I thumped in before Whitman could snatch my ball.
And, lemme tell you, the sound of that ball hitting that
flagstick--that clear, beautiful dink--was one of the sweetest
sounds I ever heard. I may never be allowed back, but I made my
4 at the Road Hole.
Hey, pal, why you looking at me crazy like that? Whaddya mean
two-shot penalty?... Just for hitting the flagstick?... Well,
you don't have to laugh so long.... I mean ... can't you see I'm
trying to sleep here?