Mark Townsend recalls his first time at St Andrews
St Andrews means different things to different people. For 23 men, and two women, it is where they won an Open or, for five of them*, two Opens.
For the rest of us it is a holiday destination or day out, a place to study or, for the very lucky few, to live.
A first timers’ visit to St Andrews
Pat Ruddy, the renowned Irish course designer, describes it as well as anyone: “I love Birkdale and Turnberry and almost cry every time I go to St Andrews.”
Put simply, and often, it is the Home of Golf. And the reason four 15-year-olds arrived here in 1986 (to save you doing the maths I’m 44, late January if you’re still intrigued) to celebrate the passing of two O-Levels (French and English Language) – taken early, and successfully, I might add/boast.
To give you some context into these prehistoric times our only knowledge of the course was from watching the ’84 Open and a scan of one friend’s Benson & Hedges Golfer’s Handbook.
There was no internet and tee times were booked by writing to the courses. There were telephones in the 80s but, if memory serves, no booking systems.
We caught the ’sleeper’ from King’s Cross which disappointed on two fronts – there were no beds; and it dropped us off in Leuchars.
Being naÃ¯ve teenagers we imagined we would arrive in the centre of town, maybe even by the 1st tee.
Instead we emerged from a remote station, dozy and underwhelmed, with no signs of any flags, bunkers or tees.
Ten minutes later a taxi – ’the golf course please’ – dropped us at the end of Granny Clark’s Wynd from where we made our way to the first and last fairways.
Even given the rose-tinted nature of the passing of nearly 30 years I don’t remember speaking for the first few minutes.
This didn’t look anything like Wimbledon Park, or Coombe Wood or New Malden who we played junior matches against.
We ran our hands easily over the enormous carpet-like expanse of baked turf, looked towards the nearby 18th green where Seve had done the business two summers ago and giggled to one another.
We’d cracked it.
The itinerary was for six rounds over the Old, New, Jubilee and Eden with the hope that there would be a seventh if we came through the ballot for the Old Course on the Saturday.
The price for a round there was £16 which, even in those heady days of flecked trousers, mullets, Slazenger V-necks and acne, seemed worth shelling out.
This didn’t look anything like Wimbledon Park, or Coombe Wood or New Malden who we played junior matches against. Evenings would be spent watching Miami Vice in the halls of residence where we were staying or walking the Old Course, the tee box bins full of cans of Tennent’s Lager Lovelies, a marketing campaign which blew our 15-year-old minds away.
This involved, put simply, a collection of different scantilyclad women on each can.
The campaign ran from 1962 to 1991 when public sensibilities took over.
And there were girls. American girls who were in town as part of a European school ‘vacation’.
Golf was put on the back burner as soon as each round was completed and we contemplated how four boys, who went to a same-sex school (boys) and had little or no (no) experience of the opposite sex, could engage in conversation with, well, girls.
Three days later the ice was broken and the following evening we sat down to a plate of macaroni and cheese, cooked lovingly by our new friends and, you would imagine, future wives.
The distance, given they also had three years to run at school in Connecticut, might be a problem but these were just teething problems.
The second half of the week would fly by in a haze of scores in the high 80s – we did get in via the ballot – high levels of anxiety over how to behave, the joint purchasing of a bottle of Brut and an introduction to pubs where we could afford a couple of pints.
We never did keep in touch with our new friends.
They moved on to Spain, and probably into the arms of more experienced European lotharios, while we got the Sunday sleeper back to London and tossed a coin to see who would keep the remaining Brut.
* Bob Martin, JH Taylor, James Braid, Jack
Nicklaus and Tiger Woods