Is there a Mecca for golf? A place where, if you’ve studied, practiced, applied yourself and achieved even a modicum of proficiency, you can access the holiest of holies? I’ve been there.
But how can I, an infrequent player, a duffer with the sticks, a guy whose swing is 70% luck and 30% skill even dream of setting foot in such a place, in a hadj to the birthplace of modern golf? And where is this hallowed place?
Although a golf-like game called colf existed in the Netherlands of 1297, Scotland claims it’s the birthplace of the modern 18 hole form. History suggests golf was introduced to Scotland in the 1420’s. It was periodically banned, as guys would rather play than do their militia’s archery practice, or because it caused problems when they played it in the streets.
But where is this so-called Mecca? It’s the Old Course at St. Andrews, on the southeast coast of Scotland, about 40 miles from Edinburgh. The course has existed for at least 470 years – in 1552 Archbishop Hamilton’s Charter recognized the right of the people of St Andrews to play golf at the Links. Nobility may have played there for over 100 years before that.
You dang near have to be nobility to play there now. Green fees even in the winter season start at $120, and are double that in the summer months. Getting on the course is another challenge, reservations fill up fast. 2019 is already fully booked, March through November. You can try doing a walk-on, hoping to fill out a foursome, but there’s no guarantee.
If you really have to justify hauling a bag full of clubs through the airport, there are six more golf courses around St. Andrews if the Old Course isn’t available. You can still say you played golf at St. Andrews…
Looking down the fairways of the Old Course and noting a complete lack of trees, it seems like this would be an easy course to play. Or at least a less likely place to lose golf balls. But I hear rumors about how treacherous the wind can become. Some would say it’s the offshore breezes. Personally, I think it’s the breezes swirling in from certain streets in town…
Of course, there are standards. They don’t let just any riff-raff play. If you’re a guy, you need no worse than a 24 handicap to play the Old Course, for women, 36. That rules me out.
Even so, I was there. These pictures (and my souvenir golf towel) prove it. But even if I had time (and I didn’t) I am not worthy to walk the full path of the Mecca of golf.
* * * * *
St. Andrews is more than just a place for golf fanatics to achieve nirvana. (Note: achieving nirvana in golf is usually a transient phase, it often disappears when you see the results of your next shot.) It’s also the home of Scotland’s oldest university (Est 1413). Our tour guide tells us that in addition to its long history of academia, it’s the place where England’s Prince William became besotted with his future wife Kate. For us, it was a place to hunt down lunch and scope out the ruins of St. Andrews Cathedral.
Building on the cathedral started in 1160, but it took over 150 years of construction and setbacks before they consecrated it in 1318. But in 1561 the Protestant Reformation kicked in in full force. The Cathedral was stripped of its valuables, abandoned, and left to collapse.
So say a prayer for the ruins of the cathedral, and its uncommon resemblance to the way I ruin a golf swing. For both of us, bad timing seems to be an issue.
But worthy golf swing or not, for golf there is a Mecca, and I have performed my Hadj.