Thursday, September 01, 2005

A New Trip at the Old Course

August 22 – bus from St. Andrews to Glascow
If you had to place a ball marker at the site of the renaissance of my year, it would be awfully close to the 17th green of the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland.

Travel is a sport of expectations and when your taste for “attractions” has been withered by seven months of temples, churches, galleries and vistas, you stop even bothering to formulate expectations.

So it was sunset in St. Andrews and Jennifer was walking me around town. We passed the Art History building at the University of St. Andrews, where she studied with Prince William until he graduated a few months ago. Behind the building the land fell off to the sea and the beach in the distance was framed by evening mist. You knew it looked familiar even before Jennifer said it was where they shot the beach scene in Chariots of Fire.

Beyond the beach were the little perfect hills of the Old Course, abutting the shore. We walked on down the hill and found a row of buildings lined up perfectly to the south. The north edge of town was bound by the North Sea, and to the east the Royal and Ancient Golf Club helped form a square. Slipped into this box—instead of a statue, or park, or town square—was the 18th green.

You’ve seen the Old Course on TV, maybe just last month when it hosted the British Open. The view from the parking lot of the Royal and Ancient shows you the giant 18th green, with the fairway behind it and the rest of the course stretching out in the distance. The first tee is to the right with the ocean crashing behind it. When you keep walking through town along the course, the 18th fairway is just a makeable putt to your right. There are people crossing the fairway on the path from town to the ocean.

After three-hundred fifty yards you reach the 18th tee and then the 17th green. Our walking path cuts so close to the green, and the pin is cut so close to the path, that the hole is about 15 feet away.

The sun is sitting low now and the long straw grass is casting longer shadows around the Atkins-skinny fairways. For the first time in months you’re excited to be seeing something. Big Ben is just a clock, and St. Andrews is just a golf course, but when you stumble onto something by accident you have an honest response to it. It isn’t colored by the expectations of guidebook blurbs or the recommendations of other travelers. It’s yours. So you write about it yourself which ruins it for everyone who reads what you wrote, and makes them wonder why you spoke so highly of the place.

For you, St. Andrews won’t rank with the Parthenon and the Taj Mahal. But it did for me.


Post a Comment

<< Home