Scotland Days 2 and 3: St. Andrews and other stuff

As we were driving into St. Andrews along the winding and hilly roads, I had a weird sensation of finally visiting, for the very first time, a place I had known all my life.  A place I had grown up with.  One of my favorite yearly rituals, from when I was a kid up until just a couple years ago, was waking up at 5 a.m. (or earlier) for four days in July to watch the British Open golf tournament on TV.  Every year I was transported from my house in Titusville, or on a couple occasions I can remember my grandmother’s house in North Carolina, to Scotland…the old country…a magical land of rain- and windswept hills and golf with picturesque little towns along the sea.  Of course, the Old Course at St. Andrews was the crown jewel.  The unquestioned holy land of golf and the most familiar because the Open tended to visit every 5 years.  I knew practically every hole.  The double greens, the Swilken Bridge on the 18th fairway, the indomitable Road Hole 17th, the Road Hole Bunker, the Valley of Sin…all the history.  

Michelle in eskimo garb tending the flag at the "Road Hole"...number 17 at the Old Course

St. Andrew’s was my dream world.  I remember like it was yesterday when in 2000 Jack Nicklaus (my favorite player when I was a young kid) bade farewell to St. Andrews and Tiger dominated…posting a record 19 under par winning score.  That was a good weekend for me. 

It was against the backdrop that we finally arrived in the city of my dreams.  Needless to say…it had a lot to live up to.  Luckily, it exceeded my expectations.  First off, St. Andrews is a beautiful little town.  It’s difficult to appreciate on TV just how much the sea and the coastline affect the city and the golf course.  Second, while I had heard that the Old Course was pretty accessible, I was still pleasantly shocked to find that we could just walk out on the course (it was late afternoon and cold…so no one was out playing).  We walked along the 1st and 18th fairways and onto the famous 17th green and even into the Road Hole Bunker!  I had the feeling that we could have walked the entire course and no one would have cared…except perhaps Michelle and our travel companions (Donna and Greg), who might have murdered me on the spot if I had suggested it.  The whole experience is hard to describe…it was just really special.

As is often the case in life, as the years pass and we get older…the little things – like waking up early in July to watch and dream about another world – often lose their appeal and excitement.  Visiting St. Andrew’s took me back to that place and I’m grateful for that.  It also made me realize how lucky I am to be living in a place that I so often dreamed about as a child.  What I wonderful journey this has been and will continue to be…no matter what challenges I face with school or with homesickness.  And St. Andrews…I will be back and next time I’ll have my clubs in tow to take a real piece out of the Old Course!  Consider this an advance reconnaissance mission…

More posed flag tending on the Road Hole

The famous Road Hole Bunker

Waving to the crowd from the Swilken Bridge

The 18th green and the Valley of Sin

"Teeing off" on the 1st

The Road Hole green from behind

-  One thing I noticed while traveling in both Ireland and Scotland is that the British/Irish really hate top sheets on beds.  I’m pretty much committed from years of conditioning to lying on top of a sheet that covers the mattress and underneath the top sheet…with blankets or comforters on top, if necessary.  Having to go without my top sheet has been frankly upsetting.  Kind of takes me back to when I used to sleep over at Phat’s when we were kids and I noticed that he didn’t use a top sheet.  That was a real eye opener.  I was like…how awkward.  And it still is…

-  On the flip side, one thing the Scottish in particular really love is Bruce Springstein.  Either that or the pub staff just throw on the Boss’s greatest hits CD when they see Americans coming…just to make us feel comfortable.

-  We also visited the castle in the town of Stirling.  Very large and fairly intact castle that has been around in some form since the 12th century…I think.  Pretty impressive overall, but the refurbished…art deco-like building in the middle is a bit odd.  Not really my style.  However, the view of Stirling and the Scottish hill country was amazing.

View from Stirling Castle

The Castle (and the art deco interior)

-  And we finally made it home to Cambridge tonight.  Bill Bryson always says that the British have a way of terribly overestimating how long it takes to get from point A to point B in their homeland…but our experience today may explain their pessimism.  We pretty much did it all…from getting mired in an endless stream of one-way streets and traffic circles in Edinburgh to literally chasing a rogue cow down the tracks on our train ride south, it was a long and tiring journey.  But we made it…back to real life (kind of) now.