In the midst of exploring Scotland, I have a few minutes now in my hostel in Oban to write about my experience at St. Andrew’s. A friend and I got tickets for the final Sunday in late May, but due to the high winds of Saturday and the rain of Friday, the final Sunday turned out to only be the 3rd round. That would be the only disappointment of the day.
Before I get to the golf, it’s worth mentioning how terrific the public transportation was getting there. We were staying in Edinburgh – which isn’t all that close – but there were many comfortable trains to Leuchars Station, which is about 5 miles away from the Old Course. I was expecting to catch a local bus, but instead, when we arrived at the station, there was an army of close to 20 busses waiting for us. For only five pounds, we got a round-trip fare on these busses that not only were conveniently located and ran every couple minutes, but also had a police escort. Seeing the four policemen pull out in front of the bus on their motorcycle and lead us through the rain by beautiful Scottish scenery was the perfect prelude.
The course was so peaceful and quiet when we arrived that when we first followed signs for the 1st hole and crossed a fairway, I had no idea that the players on the green nearby were playing for real. I thought it had to be practice. However, moments later, Lee Westwood and his caddie walked right by me and suddenly I realized I had just crossed the famed 17th fairway and was right next to the 3rd. There was very little separation. Moments later, Ernie Els was teeing off right behind me. This was too cool.
After getting our bearings and checking out the 1st hole, we decided to follow Jim Furyk for a little while. Because it was early in the morning and the contenders weren’t starting for another five hours or so, we were able to follow Furyk’s every shot without having to fight any crowds. I was first struck by how difficult it was to keep track of what was going on, but once I got the hang of the course, it was quite fun. We left him at the 7th to watch Rickie Fowler, who drew a much bigger crowd. By this point, there were noticeably more people there, but it still was easy to get right next to him for each shot.
The course itself was stunningly beautiful. So green after a particularly wet season, the grass looked as pristine as The Emirate’s. And but for one mid-day shower, the weather held up. It was constantly changing from warm to windy to cold and back, but I had enough layers to always be comfortable.
Once the crowds arrived in full, we followed Phil Mickelson around for a while with all the Americans. The atmosphere was a lot more boisterous around Phil. But even for him, people stayed silent with no exceptions from the moment he took his club out of the bag to when his shot had landed. Much like at Wimbledon, the silence showed how invested the crowd was in watching the golf. Nobody shouted “get in the hole” or anything like that.
We left Phil for Jordan Spieth and Sergio Garcia, stopping to see a few of the players behind them on our way back up the course. By this time, the crowds were so thick that it was hard to get places, especially at the far end of the course where so many holes are close together. But by the time we found Spieth, the atmosphere was electric. We were able to get to good spots for many of his shots, and it was incredibly exciting. I loved the wait to see if the putt was going to drop.
At this point, watching the leaderboard became as much of the experience as watching the golf. The collective awe as players posted birdie after birdie enhanced the buzz and pressure everywhere. So eventually we went ahead of Spieth to get a spot on the 17th green, which ended up being the perfect place to end the day. There, we watched everybody come in – seeing their approaches and putts on 17 from barely 10 yards away, then seeing the tee-shots on 18.
We ended up seeing the final players a little further back up the course to allow us to beat the traffic, but we were able to see every player we wanted to see hit at least one shot. I felt myself rooting for everybody except Dustin Johnson. By the end of the day, I had spent 10 hours watching these guys. It was a full-day sporting experience like none other. I can’t say I predicted Zach Johnson’s victory the next day, but the way he and everyone else was playing, I would have been happy with anybody winning.
Now, I’ve never been to any professional golf events, so I’m not sure if what I liked about Royal St. Andrew’s was unique to the course or simply just watching golf. But I can’t imagine there’s a course that does it much better. It was beautiful, intense, and wonderfully old-school. Instead of big-screens everywhere were the old buildings that surround the course. But it was the silent intensity and the leaderboard watching I loved most. I left wanting more, hoping one day I could return to this course. At the very least, I now feel like a real golf fan.The Masters now sits atop my bucket list.