A Love Letter to St Andrews

Like train platforms and tourist attractions, the footprints of millions leave invisible impressions on the sandy links turf of St Andrews, ‘Home of Golf.

This tiny town on a neuk of Scotland’s eastern coastline has a golf course as revered as any place of pilgrimage in Western Christianity or Islam.

Pilgrims do not come to pray, they come to play, 18 holes on The Old.

As the train doors open at Leuchars rail station, the sound of clanking clubs drowns out rolling wheels and animated chatter. Helicopters land in secluded spots near wealthy enclaves, hotels and country houses.

Whoever they are and however they arrive, they come for golf and for this place.

The glory and majesty of St Andrews infuse the salty sea air and glide like sea fret around elegant architecture, curling like smoke into wynds; the narrow alleys intersecting and adjoining North, South and Market streets.

Every sight and sound in St Andrews roots you in the present and then catapults you into the past.

The 18th green is endlessly fascinating, a magnet for gathering and people-watching. Whenever I return, I head there without hesitation. It’s liberating and limitless. Standing by the picket fence my imagination runs wild.

It conjures Seve, fists pumping, on the 18th green. Rocca prostrate and crying in the Valley of Sin, Nicklaus’ putter flung skyward and Doug Sanders recoiled as his ball cruelly refused the drop.

Hairs bristle and pulses race like the moments before a first kiss. Like a young soul in search of their one true love, there’s a feeling it will last forever – this new exciting union – with the Grand Old Lady of golf.

The truth is different. Her heart beats but never races. She is constant, like the turning of tide, or the eternal rock on which she stands.

As the years roll by, faces come and faces go. Posed and smiling on Swilcan bridge, in front of the high windows of The R&A clubhouse or happily lost in The Dunvegan’s thrilling embrace.

Every five years, give or take a pandemic delay, cheering crowds swell like waves off West Sands only to disappear again, as the final roar rises and the silver Claret Jug glints in thinning shards of July sun.

The scaffolds and scoreboards, TV towers and power lines make way for student gowns, ambling dogs, day trippers and soul searchers. Many feel her heart belongs to them.

Old Tom Morris gave a lifetime. Bobby Jones was its most gracious and charming suitor, loved by the people as well as the links, Tiger; a brooding force few courses could repel and Jack, the greatest of them all. John was a reckless ill-suited fling. Then came Louis, the simple farmer from Africa’s Southern tip and Cameron with his tendril mullet and surgical flat stick.

Her holes are like stories lovers share and the places where once they cared.

Beautiful in name but brutal when caught in nature’s raging tempest. Hell, Ginger Beer, Coffins, Strath, The Beardies, most famous of all – Road Hole – apt in every way, for all that come must go someday.

None of them have claim, for the heart of St Andrews belongs to golf. To each and every one who has taken a stance and poured hopes and dreams into two turns and a swish.

Matthew Moore lived in St Andrews from 1997-2001 and studied History at the University of St Andrews.

He captained the St Andrew’s University Men’s Golf Team, was an R&A Golf Scholar and a recipient of the Bobby Jones Memorial Scholarship in 2001.

He, like thousands before him, left a piece of his heart out on The Old Course.

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