The Open 2015: The town of St Andrews is readyJuly, 2015
The Auld Grey Toun's residents are ready for the Open discovers Karl Hansell
From end to end, this corner of Scotland measures around a mile and there’s a resident population of just 17,000.
Anywhere else in the world and this would be no more than your average seaside resort.
But there’s a buzz in the town, said the ladies behind the counter at the souvenir shop.
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The atmosphere is electric and there’s a palpable sense of excitement.
Because this is St Andrews and – I’m going to get it out the way nice and early – this is the Home of Golf.
Never has a town been so defined by a single sport and with the Open fast approaching, the residents are hard at work ensuring the 200,000 spectators, 2,000 media and 156 golfers see the town at its finest.
On North Street, one of the town’s main thoroughfares, there’s a cafÃ© called North Point, which proudly proclaims to be the place where Will and Kate met for a coffee on their first date while students in the town.
It’s a claim to fame that has the till ringing non-stop as the local meeting house has become a hotspot for tourists hoping for a hint of that royal romance.
Lisa Lynch is a waitress. She and her husband are trying for a baby – one they hope will grow up to be a successful golfer.
“This town would be a ghost town without golf and the Open,” she said. “Business picks up when then event is on. We get a lot of players’ wives in here and you know who they are because they’re quite braggy, talking about their husbands.”
Lynch doesn’t play golf herself, but as a resident of St Andrews she is an owner of the course itself, thanks to the 1894 Links Act of Parliament.
This law means the links are public land, open to all, and it’s not unusual to see a resident walking their dog across Grannie Clark’s Wynd, a single-track road that traverses the two most famous fairways in golf.
Even before golf really took off with the advent of the railways, St Andrews was a tourist destination. The Gulf Stream pulls warm moist air north of here, over the Cairngorms and the town benefits from a microclimate that has made it an attractive prospect to tourists for centuries.
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The dry air means a lack of pests such as midges in summer, and the links remain in pristine condition throughout the winter.
Its a climate appreciated by the St Andrews in Bloom group, which is planning to feature 70 additional planters and hanging baskets around the town centre, including an Open floral feature on the A91, where a life-sized wicker golfer welcomes visitors.
Secretary Patrick Laughlin also runs a charity called the St Andrews Partnership and said that when the Open is on, day-to-day life is surprisingly unaffected.
“The town centre is quieter during the day than it would normally be during July, because everybody is on the golf course,” he said. “In Open Championship years, we get fewer ordinary tourists than normal, perhaps because they fear St Andrews will be packed out. But, counterintuitively, it is a very good time to see the sights and go shopping.”
Mark Richardson is secretary of the New Golf Club of St Andrews, established by Old Tom Morris in 1902. We sit in a bay window that overlooks the Old Course, where a large magnifying glass is trained on the 1st green. Another was directed towards the 18th green, but having been installed with the opening of the clubhouse 113 years ago, it has eroded and is no longer in place.
It was in this building that Tom Morris suffered the tragic fall on May 24, 1908, that led to his death, but during the Open more than 700 people will pass through the building each day.
This town would be a ghost town without golf and the Open A month before the event takes place, the Old Course closes, while a portion of the Jubilee is the practice area for the professionals. But rather than complain about the disruption, the members still feel privileged that the Open returns to their course.
“The buzz inside the club during Open week, you could almost say it’s shaking the foundations,” Richardson said, while gazing out over the fairway towards the grandstands.
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“As soon as that first stand goes up, you realise it’s just around the corner. There’s nowhere like St Andrews when the Open is on.”
The only thing missing, as it has been since 1921 when Jock Hutchinson claimed the Claret Jug, is a home-grown hero challenging for the title.
With 7,500 active golfers and schools where golf is on the curriculum, it is almost unthinkable that the town has gone so long without success.
“There’s always a dream that one of these days a St Andrews club will produce a kid that will follow in the footsteps of Tom Morris,” says Richardson.
“But the kids who come here go to great schools, so if they don’t see themselves getting to the very top of the game, they quickly learn to use their brains instead.”
Some of the youngsters will choose to remain in the town for their further education and St Andrews University is the town’s
major employer, with 7,000 students attending each year.
Many of these students will have left for the summer when the Open arrives, but those that remain will join the rest of the St Andrews in preparing their town for a week-long celebration which only comes around twice every decade.
Only 25 per cent of the golf played on the St Andrews Links is by locals. And tourists from all over the world come to this corner of Scotland to make up the remaining 75 per cent, bringing billions of pounds into the economy.
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There will be some disruptions and those heading to the supermarket may have to head out a little earlier.
Thankfully it’s the summer holidays so there’s no school run to worry about.
But every five years, this becomes the epicentre of the golfing world and the residents have learned there is no better way to showcase their hometown than the Open Championship at St Andrews.
ST ANDREWS: FACTS AND FIGURES
– St Andrews University was formed in 1413 and is the third oldest in the English-speaking world.
– James II banned golf in 1457 as it interfered with archery practice.
– In the 1840s the town was nearly bankrupt and the golf courses were used to raise rabbits.
– The first Open at St Andrews was in 1873 and was the first year of the ’Claret Jug’ trophy
– Towns people bleached their linen on the course in the early days, with rules mentioning how linen interfered with play
– Tom Morris moved the 18th green closer to his golf shop and it is built over an old graveyard
– The Old Course was free to play until 1913 and locals played for free until 1946.
– Prince William went by the name William Wales while at university, a practice he continued into his armed forces career, but his friends were rumoured to jokingly call him Steve. He graduated with a 2:1 in Geography