From first sight, more than half a century ago, Arnold Palmer was entranced by both the Old Course and the ‘auld grey toun’ of St. Andrews. The King, so to speak, found himself very much at home at the Home of Golf in the Kingdom of Fife.
Palmer’s first appearance in the game’s oldest major championship, the [British] Open, was the occasion of its centenary during the summer of 1960. He finished runner-up to Australia’s Kel Nagle that year, yet to this day he believes his chances of victory were drowned by the vagaries of the inclement weather that descended that week upon the east coast of Scotland.
The final round, hitherto contested on Friday afternoons, was postponed for the first time till a Saturday due to the driving rain that deluged the course. Lesser men would have taken this as a signal never to come back: Not so Arnold Palmer.
He teed up in pursuit of the Claret Jug a further six times over the Old Course, culminating in an emotional farewell, aged 65, from the Swilcan Bridge in July 1995. That was it for Arnie as far as playing in The Open was concerned, though he has visited St. Andrews once or twice since in his capacity as a member of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club—the original organizers of The Open and proprietors of the imposing gray clubhouse that overlooks the iconic 1st tee and 18th green.
Earlier this year he returned to The Open for the first time in 15 years—with not one, but two major appointments in his diary. The second, mirroring his experiences of 50 years previously, was the Wednesday afternoon Champions Challenge that was regrettably, but sensibly, canceled because of a horrendous storm that swept in from the north just as the former champions were donning their rainwear.
The first, in brilliant sunshine the previous day, was an altogether more academic experience. Along with Tom Watson and Padraig Harrington, and a further two of the game’s more distinguished servants, Palmer was awarded an honorary Doctor of Law degree from St. Andrews University, an august establishment that celebrates its 600th anniversary in 2013.
Arnold Palmer (center) was joined by two other recipients of honorary law degrees in St. Andrews University’s Younger Hall—five-time British Open champion Tom Watson, left, and Ireland’s Padraig Harrington, who has won the Claret Jug twice in recent years
Before a capacity audience of more than 1,000 onlookers, this trio of Open champions received their degrees in Younger Hall. Also honored were Jim Farmer, honorary professional to the R&A, and Johann Rupert, CEO of luxury-goods company Richemont and sponsor of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
The degrees were conferred by the university’s chancellor, Sir Menzies Campbell, a former leader of Britain’s Liberal Democrat party and past Olympian.
In presenting Palmer’s degree, Professor Alan Cairns of the school of mathematics and statistics described him as an “iconic figure,” a name familiar to most people as one of the 20th century’s outstanding sportsmen whose charisma helped golf to develop into a major spectator sport by attracting extensive television coverage. Professor Cairns described the Palmer approach to the game as “trouble is bad to get into but fun to get out of. If you’re in trouble, 80 percent of the time there’s a way out. If you can see the ball, you can probably hit it; and if you can hit it, you can move it; and if you can move it, you might be able to knock it in the hole. At least it’s fun to try!”
Palmer told his audience: “I’m pleased to be here and thankful for the opportunity to see what I have seen today. Little did I think back in 1960 when I told my father and a friend that I was coming to The Open and they said ‘really, are you ready?’ what might happen 50 years later.
“It is a thrill to be back here and a real honor to be recognized by the University of St. Andrews. Walking down the street in St. Andrews, I feel like I’m at home. Thank you all.”
In an unexpected tribute to Palmer, Watson revealed that the King had been the inspiration for his legendary battles with Jack Nicklaus. Turning to Palmer, he said: “I want to tell you Arnold… the reason I beat Jack all those times was because he beat you too many times.”
Previous golfing recipients of honorary degrees at St. Andrews include Bobby Jones, Seve Ballesteros, Peter Thomson, Gary Player, Peter Alliss, Sir Michael Bonallack, Sir Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie and Laura Davies. And on alternative scales of human achievement, the names of Bob Dylan, Benjamin Franklin, Michael Douglas and the Dalai Lama also appear in the academic register.
Dr. Louise Richardson, the principal and vice-chancellor of St. Andrews University, said: “The five men we have just honored exemplify many of the qualities we try to impart to our students. Padraig Harrington’s discipline and hard work, Arnold Palmer’s gusto and determination, Tom Watson’s intensity and grace under pressure are all qualities that our students will need if they are to realise their ambitions.”
Dr. Richardson, a political scientist originally from Ireland and a former executive dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, hosted a reception for the newly anointed honorary graduates in the Principal’s garden immediately afterwards.
However, the next big event on her radar, unquestionably, is the university’s forthcoming anniversary. She only joined two years ago, but the university goes all the way back to 1413. The man in charge of delivering a successful celebration, and one that is also expected to generate a significant boost to the coffers, is Geoff Morris, who rejoices in the title of director of special projects and corporate relations.
Palmer celebrates, left, and Morris, right, is in charge of organizing the university’s 600th birthday
With a surname so suited to the history of St. Andrews (though neither ‘Old’ nor ‘Young’ Tom, he informs us, appears in his family tree), Morris has warmed swiftly to his task. “Almost as soon as I arrived, I was detailed to look after Arnold Palmer—in fact, we served his iced tea at the VIP reception,” he says. “It was a fantastic experience.” Morris, a self-confessed sports nut whose promising rugby career was ended by a back injury in the 1980s, talks a far better game than his golf handicap of 10 might suggest.
“My job is to organize the 600th anniversary—starting from next year and running through to 2013,” he adds. “I was recruited from Cambridge University where I was in charge of the 800th anniversary celebrations. You could say I’m a birthday party coordinator! Cambridge, Oxford and St. Andrews are the three oldest universities in the English-speaking world, so it’s a fantastic honor for me to help organize such milestone events at two of them. I spent just under three years at Cambridge before delivering their anniversary events during 2009-10.”
His work is cut out for him with the St. Andrews celebrations as the university is receiving more media attention than ever following the recent announcement of Prince William’s engagement. The prince met his fiancée Kate Middleton while attending St. Andrews, where she was also a student.
Morris is certainly up to the task. After working as a junior economist for the National Education Development Council in the United Kingdom, he underwent a Damascene career change in the mid-1980s when he joined Live Aid, and then Fashion Aid. He went on to work for rugby, mental health and children’s charities. He’s the first to admit that he’s a hard-nosed fund-raiser, but he’s well aware that: “You have to balance celebration with the academic pursuit of excellence. You mustn’t waste money but it’s still important to celebrate even if we’re in an economic downturn. The university’s goal is to become as self-sufficient and as independent as it can be.
“On the other hand, this town has a population of 20,000 people, 7,000 of whom are students and 2,000 of whom, in term-time, are employees of the university, so our need to be successful is the town’s need.
“St. Andrews is a much smaller university than Cambridge but it punches well above its weight. The breakdown of its personnel is one-third Scottish, one-third from elsewhere in the EU and one-third from outside the EU, so international relations are very important.
“Our major launch will be in the summer of 2011. During the week of graduations, the program will be about respecting the past and its achievements… Everything will take place in harmony with the town, to benefit the town.
Since his arrival from Cambridge, Morris wasted no time setting up a golf committee involving the university, the St. Andrews Links Trust and the R&A. “It’s chaired by Andy Mackenzie, a physics professor, a senior member of the University Court and, of course, a very keen golfer,” says Morris.
“To help us with our celebrations, the Links Trust has given us the use of the Old Course for an entire Sunday in June 2013 to stage a big golf event—an exceptional gesture bearing in mind that the Old Course is always closed on Sundays. Obviously we’d like the day to be a big income generator, but it also has to be a memorable occasion… We’d like to make it the cornerstone of a three-day event that would perhaps operate over other courses in the town.
“The university and the golf community sit side by side. Lots of people at the university play golf and lots of golfers send their children to St. Andrews. In the shorter term, the celebrations will kick off in 2011 with a new website and really come to the fore during graduations week with such activities as street banners, events on the West Sands and guided tours through secret gardens.”
And what about the weather? “Anyone thinking about taking a rain check had better think again!” Are you listening, Mr. Palmer?
New for Old?
There’s more to golf at St. Andrews than the Old Course. Not only is there the New, which is actually quite old, but there are many other young tracks on tap. The Castle, St. Andrews Links Trust’s newest course, is a mile southeast of the town on the headland where a medieval fortification known as Kinkell Castle once stood. Designed by David McLay Kidd, a Scot who established his reputation with links-style creations like Bandon Dunes in Oregon and Nanea on Hawaii’s Big Island, the Castle was built in the hope that one day it might be deemed worthy of admission to the roster for The Open. At present, that day would appear to be some way off, especially as the set-up of the course has attracted criticism in certain quarters for the extreme sloping of its greens and overgrown fairway mounds.
None of this, though, should detract from Kidd’s astonishing achievement in converting a flat site consisting originally of potato fields into an imaginatively shaped links overlooking St. Andrews Bay and the town’s ecclesiastical spires, replete with sinewy fairways, blind shots and more than a mile of rugged shoreline. In addition, a mosaic of natural habitats has encouraged a diverse wildlife to return to the site where the extensive meadow land is studded with colorful native flowers.
Kingsbarns Golf Links, six miles southeast of St. Andrews, dates from 1793 when golf was played over nine holes set tight to the North Sea as the land tugs in towards the Firth of Forth. In 1939 the site was commandeered for military purposes and, thereafter, it took more than half a century of special pleading to deliver the full 18 holes this sublime piece of coastline deserved. American designer Kyle Phillips sculpted and massaged the landscape into a course that follows links traditions and feels as if it’s been in place for centuries.
Halfway between St. Andrews and Kingsbarns is another ambitious project: The Fairmont St. Andrews. This $90 million, 5-star venue has two courses, the Torrance and Kittocks, perched commandingly on the clifftop overlooking the town. The Torrance, designed by former European Ryder Cup captain Sam Torrance, is the championship links with challenging bunkers, undulating fairways and rolling greens that, along with the occasional meandering stream, place a premium on precision, especially if a strong wind is blowing.
The other major ‘new’ course to open near St. Andrews in recent years is the Duke’s, named after The R&A’s 250th anniversary Captain, His Royal Highness, the Duke of York. Now 15 years old and firmly established as an integral part of the Old Course Hotel property now owned by Kohler Co., the Duke’s Course was originally designed by Peter Thomson as the region’s first heathland course and revised by American designer Tim Liddy in 2006. On a clear day, its views not only overlook St. Andrews but stretch across the Firth of Tay to Dundee, and Carnoustie beyond.
After a challenging round, there’s always a perch in the Dunvegan Hotel less than a well-struck wedge away from the 18th green of the Old Course. This is a popular haunt for caddies and anyone remotely connected with the game, including Arnold Palmer whenever he’s in town. Photographs of past Open champions—from ‘Old’ Tom Morris to Tiger Woods—grace the walls.
Texan Jack Willoughby and his Scottish wife Sheena started the Dunvegan in 1994. In the short time since, it has become a St. Andrews institution. “When we took over, this place was a boarding house. But we had the vision that it could become a great 19th hole,” says Jack. “We wanted to create a casual atmosphere where golfers could walk in wearing golf shoes and carrying their clubs to drink, eat and relax amongst fellow golfers.”
Venues for refreshment
Scorecards Bar and Chariots Bar—scoreshotel.co.uk
1 Golf Place— 1golfplace.com
Jigger Inn, Road Hole Bar—oldcoursehotel.kohler.com
Ogston’s Pilmour Sports Bar—ogstonsonpilmour.com
Where to Stay
Fairmont St. Andrews: A few miles southeast of St. Andrews, this 5-star resort features two 18-hole courses, five restaurants, six bars, spa, health club and indoor swimming pool.
Old Course Hotel: Located between the tee and the fairway of the Road Hole 17th on the Old Course, this 5-star resort has its own course, the Duke’s, along with four restaurants, two bars and Kohler Waters Spa.
Best Western Scores Hotel: Occupying two 19th century town houses, this 30-room hotel has two restaurants and commands views of St. Andrews Bay and West Sands beach which featured in the film Chariots of Fire.
St. Andrews Golf Hotel: A short distance further up The Scores (Road), this elegant 22-room hotel has a beautiful garden and is home to two restaurants and two cocktail bars in addition to Ma Bells.
Macdonald Rusacks Hotel: Looking across the 18th fairway of the Old Course and the Swilcan Bridge, this historic old establishment has recently opened a new restaurant, the Rocca Bar & Grill, and a gastro pub, the One Under.
Ardgowan Hotel: This 24-room hotel in North Street comprises two Georgian houses designed by Scottish architect Sir William Playfair. Its ground floor is home to the Playfair’s Restaurant/Bar.
John Knox’s firebrand preaching once incited a mob to vandalize St. Andrews
A Rule of History
Rumor has it that St. Andrews was founded in the 6th Century when a Greek monk called Rule (St. Regulus) had a vision telling him to take a cask containing the remains of the martyred St. Andrew (a few bones) to the land of Albion, and was washed up on this chilly stretch of Fife coastline. Not surprisingly, St. Andrews became the focus for Scotland’s religious life and in the 12th century the country’s biggest cathedral was built at the eastern end of the town.
It didn’t take long for St. Andrews to become a major trading centre, but at some point during the 16th century the cathedral burned down. Despite this, its ruins are still worth a visit; as is the graveyard where monuments and gravestones can be found commemorating many golfing heroes—most notably a memorial to ‘Young’ Tom Morris.
Play a round on the Himalayas, arguably the biggest and most exciting municipal putting green in the world; visit the British Golf Museum, just across the road from the Royal & Ancient Clubhouse, and see how they used to make hickory clubs; go into St. Salvator’s Church in North Street, which forms one side of the quadrangle of the university; and, finally, look up at the spire and commit it to memory. This is your line as you stand on the 15th tee on the Old Course. The Fifeshire Journal described the Old Course in the summer of 1850 as “every evening populated by hundreds of all sexes, sizes and grades, to witness or participate in what is going forward. Bowls, tossing the caber, putting the stone or iron ball, quoits, skittles, hammer-throwing, football, even cricket, were all going on at once, and tending to get mixed up with the golfers, and putting them off their aim.”
It’s a wonder that a stronger expression than ‘Fore’ didn’t emerge from those pioneer days! But the early golfers would have already felt that fate was on their side. If ever destiny deliberately chose a sporting birthplace, it was at St. Andrews.
By the 1400s, golf was reportedly being played on a track hacked through the bushes and heather on the common, and in 1457, King James II, who was educated in St. Andrews, banned the game because it was distracting young men from their archery practice.
Over the next three centuries, the game acquired numerous names—golff, gouff, goff, gowf, gow’lf, and even kolf. And during the Reformation, martyrs were burned at the stake and St. Andrews was vandalized by a mob incited by John Knox.
By the 18th century, though, things were calmer and in 1754 the club that became the most powerful in the world was formed. Called the Society of St. Andrews Golfers, it was originally composed of 22 noblemen, professors and landowners.
In 1834, the society changed its name when it was given royal patronage by King William IV and thenceforth was known as The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews.
The extraordinary fact about the Old Course is that no architect or designer has had a hand in its creation. It evolved naturally over six centuries and was, at some point, whittled down from 22 holes to 18.
General information: visitscotland.com