It was 10.30 when we arrived at St Andrews and as we wanted to get accommodation before it was dark we just took a quick run through the town to see the type of hotel and then selected one which proved to be very comfortable, although rather expensive.
Apparently this is the season in St. Andrews and the hotels – of which there are many – make it a time of harvest. We saw that the town was a very old one and some of the ruins of castles and other buildings must be many centuries of age. We just had a look at the world famous golf course before dark and then went to bed.
Next morning my first, last and greatest trouble was – how can I get a game on the old course? I did not know anyone there and I did not have any clubs. I had the name and address of the secretary of the local Rotary Club and I made a call upon him as soon as breakfast was over and before he had left his home for his office. He turned out trumps. First we talked about Rotary and New Zealand and then we got into his car and he took me down to his golf club. I was introduced to the secretary, Commander Breeze, and made a member for the period of my stay in St. Andrews.
By this time it was just after nine o’clock and although he tried to get a partner and also a time for me to play he could do neither as the morning was already filled to the utmost. Then he took me to a Mr. Auchterlonie, who is a champion golfer and runs a sports depot. Yes, Mr. Auchterlonie would be delighted to have a game with me, notwithstanding that he was a scratch man and I was on the limit. The best time to start was during the lunch hour as it was the only time free for the day. I accordingly arranged to get an early lunch and in the meantime I went out on the course and took some photos. Then I went back and had a yarn with him, with the result that instead of borrowing clubs as I thought I would have to do, I decided to get a set of royal St. Andrews clubs to see whether I could improve my game in any way.
At one o’clock I was on the course with my new clubs in heavy rain. I had borrowed some waterproof clothes from Mr. Auchterlonie and did not mind getting wet as long as I had that game I had been dreaming about.
We started off in the wet and for the benefit of Viv and the other would-be golfers of the family I will tell you something of the game and the course.
Just how I felt playing on this wonderful course against, or rather with (we kept no score) a champion can be well imagined. He said he would go first to show me the way. He did! He just pressed the tee into the ground with the ball and left it at the correct height. Before I realised it he had taken his swing and that little white ball was sailing down the fairway as straight as a die and I thought it was never going to stop. I stood there smiling and then said, “I will give you £20 to show me how I can do it”. Of course that prepared him somewhat for my shot, notwithstanding that he knew I was a limit man. After not having a club in my hands for some months and also on account of the mental strain I was undergoing I fully expected to miss the ball altogether. However, I tried to think of the 49 points to remember when taking a swing and to my surprise I hit quite a long ball, but with a little slice. As we were close to the boundary fence I thought it would go out of bounds and was preparing to get another ball before the first one had finished when my caddie called out, “On the middle of the fairway, sir”. My luck was in, for the ball hit a post of the single rail fence and came back to the centre of the fairway. Luck followed me for most of the game, and although we did not keep any score cards I was well pleased with my results.
That is sufficient about the game and now I will tell you something about the course. What struck me at the first tee was the absence of everything we are used to except the two white discs to mark the playing spot. I told Mr. Auchterlonie that we are given the direction of the hole, the distance in yards, the strokes by bogey, a box for sand and water to wash the ball. All of these were missing and the only other item the same as ours was a receptacle for litter such as the paper from new balls. This was the same throughout the whole course. I was told that a golfer on St. Andrews should know the distance of his objective without being told and if he did not know the direction of the hole he was not allowed to play on the course.
Well, we got to the first green and then I looked in amazement. What I saw before me was a green eight or ten times as large as those I had been used to. I remarked on this and Mr. Auchterlonie then told me of a green further along the course which covered more than half an acre! When I reached that green afterwards there were four men mowing the grass! In 14 of the holes in the centre of the course the greens are double. That leaves only four holes with single greens, but even these were unusually large to me. The course is 6752 yards in length and the par is 73. Bobby Jones holds the amateur record on this old course with a score of 68.
It is nice undulating country, with no hills but plenty of bunkers placed in very nasty positions. One bunker is called Hell and of course I got into it, but luck was with me as I got out again with a good shot. The fairways were like putting greens and in fact I was told to use my putter on one occasion when I was at least 200 feet from the pin.
One hole was pointed out to me where you can make a straight putt of 100 yards if you get into the right position. There was not much rough as compared with our courses. In some cases it was just long grass, but down the two sides of the course gorse was grown which cost me two new balls. There are only two short holes of 150 and 164 yards respectively. The next shortest hole is 312 yards and the longest is 530 yards. The 17th, called The Road, is a very tricky one which has been the cause of a loss to some of the champions. The pin was only about six feet from the road on the day I was playing and the slightest mistake in approaching or even putting would see the ball on the road.
After I had played a couple of holes the rain stopped and I took off my water proofs. Then I got out the camera I had given the caddie and I was able to take some photos. which I hope will serve as illustrations of this beautiful course.
I was not tired when the game was over as it was not nearly as strenuous as a game on our courses. To play on “the old course” as it is called, is the ambition of every golfer and it is not everyone who is permitted to play thereon. There is a large golf school for the instruction of beginners and others and on the left side of the old course there is another course called the Eden Course, while on the right side there are two courses called the New and Jubilee courses. I did not play on these, but I saw them as I went round and they appeared to be very good also.
In addition to these courses there is a very large putting green for ladies where the men are also permitted to play. The ladies have two days on which they are permitted to play on the old course, but there are no ladies tees and they have to play the full course in the same manner as the men. That is one for the ladies!
As the secretary of the Rotary Club had been so kind in arranging the game for me and as their luncheon was to be held at one o’clock the next day I could not very well leave St. Andrews without attending the luncheon so I told him I would stay in the town accordingly. As I had already seen the sights of the town there was only one thing for me to do in the morning while I was waiting for the luncheon and that was to have another game of golf. Therefore I was up early and with only half a breakfast, as I had to get it before the breakfast hour, I was again on the course. This time I went round with a professional as my friend was not available. While I enjoyed the game, it was not as interesting or as enjoyable as the first game. After a good hot bath I packed up and went to the luncheon.
They gave me a very hearty welcome, although I was not the only overseas visitor. One member particularly asked me to sit with him and he was plying me with questions about New Zealand and the Government the whole time. I was told afterwards that he is a newspaper man and in all probability he will make use of my remarks in his newspaper. I then began to ask myself what I had said.
As the other members of the party were ready waiting for me we got away from St. Andrews and had scarcely cleared the town before the rain came once more.