Excerpts from St. Andrews Sojourn

One of the presents which my lovely wife gave me this past Christmas was St. Andrews Sojourn: Two years at Home on the Old Course by George Peper. I started reading it last week, and I thought I’d share a little bit from it – I’m enjoying it quite a bit so far! But first a little background… For you non-golfers who are reading this, the Old Course at St. Andrews is roughly equivalent to Mecca. Over 20 years ago, the author, who was then the editor-in-chief of Golf Magazine and his wife (who are American) bought a townhouse directly across the street from the 18th fairway of the Old Course. This transpired because of a terrible slice the author hit off the 18th tee (giving me a glimmer of hope). For years, they visited when George flew over to cover various tournaments and checked in on the place, which they rented out. However, in 2002, they decided to move there, do a lot of renovation, and live there for at least a couple of years – and that’s as far as I’ve gotten in the book (actually, they are “currently” living in the flat above theirs courtesy of their neighbors, who didn’t live there during that part of the year, since the contractors had only just finished the demolition phase of the remodeling by the time they arrived!)

Oh – and as an aside for Ben and any other lovers of PGW who are reading this: the only books Peper lists among the possessions he moved across the pond – besides all his golf-related books, that is – were all of the books by P.G. Wodehouse that he owned… (Of course, one could quite easily argue that many of Wodehouse’s books are golf-related!)

On to the quotes:

One of the first people I saw from [their upstairs neighbor’s] window (speaking of Andrews, saintly and otherwise) was Andrew Albert Christian Edward Mountbatten-Windsor–the Duke of York. At precisely eight o’clock on the morning of September 18,2003, His Royal Highness, fourth in line to the British throne, smoked a drive 275 yards down the first fairway of the Old Course as a small tee-side cannon unleashed a deafening blast. The occasion was the ritual “playing-in” of the captain of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, HRH becoming the sixth member of the royal family–and the first in sixty-six years–to assume the position.

That single stroke is the only one the captain plays… I wondered whether he’d been nervous standing up to that shot. He was a golfer about the same caliber as I, roughly a 7-handicap, and I was far from immune to the terror-induced top, snap-hook, push-slice, and whiff. moreover, he had known about his captaincy for several months and thus had had ample time to engender a full measure of paralytic fear. The history of the Royal & Ancient is full of tales of captains who’ve foozled their playing-ins, notably Andrew’s ancestor HRH the Prince of Wales, who in 1922 hit his tee shot onto the front of the 18th green [immediately to the left of the first tee!], less than fifty paces away. The newspapers of the day, somewhat more respectful than the current London tabloids, described the drive as “a bit to the left.” (p28)

No matter who you are, to stand for the first time on the 1st tee of the Old Course at St. Andrews is to experience the greatest natural laxative in golf. So intimidating is this opening shot that Dwight Eisenhower, a five-star general who once held the fate of the free world in his hands, couldn’t handle the pressure. He slinked to the second hole….

You feel the eyes of every golfer in your group, every golfer waiting to play, every lurking caddie, raking greenkeeper, and passing motorist, every shopkeeper, dog walker, street cleaner, beachcomber, and windsurfer, every gull, snipe, and pigeon, every fisherman on every trawler in the North Sea. most of all you feel the eyes of Old Tom Morris and Harry Vardon, of Henry Cotton and Bobby Jones–of every great player, live or dead, who has ever walked these fabled links. And you don’t want to disappoint them. (pp29-30)

The 18th green on the Old Course from across the 1st fairway.  The Peper’s flat is just outside of the frame to the right.  I took this picture when we visited Scotland in 2003.

The 18th green on the Old Course from across the 1st fairway. The Royal & Ancient clubhouse is just outside of the frame to the left. The Peper’s flat is just outside of the frame to the right. I took this picture when we visited Scotland in 2003.

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