Brian Viner: It may be heresy, but St Andrews is more than the Old Course

The Last Word

Share
Related Topics

Trying in heavy rain to keep your notebook dry and your ballpoint fully operational, while water is cascading into your waterproofs via the back of your neck, is not the hardest way of earning a living, but nor, at various stages of the Open Championship yesterday, did it seem like the easiest.

Out beyond the 11th green, which is the point of the Old Course furthest from the shelter of the vast tented village, and where the vertical wetness was somehow compounded by horizontal wetness in the bleak, flat form of the adjacent Eden estuary, it was even possible to feel slightly sorry for oneself. Yet turning back towards the distant auld grey toun, I felt my heart lift, as it always does at the sight of the spires and towers of St Andrews. This was where I spent four happy years as an undergraduate, improving my golf handicap and even retaining the odd bit of information about the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes.

Such is my affection for the old place that when the Open takes place here I always feel a little stab of indignation on behalf of the Protestant martyrs burnt at the stake, the recalcitrant Catholics imprisoned in the castle's "bottle" dungeon, the archbishops driven from their palaces, the pilgrims conned into buying fragments of St Andrew's bones, all within a couple of John Daly drives from the Old Course. The people who flock here for the Open don't know or care about all that stuff, and there is no pressing reason why they should, but I can't help lamenting the fact that the bar of the Rusacks Hotel is the furthest some of them venture into one of Britain's most perfectly preserved medieval towns. As for the bits that aren't so well preserved, the vast cathedral and the castle clinging to rocks hard by the North Sea, they are about the most evocative, atmospheric ruins I know, yet I doubt whether more than one in 50 of the huge crowds tramping across the Old Course this week, not to mention the golfers they are here to watch, are even aware they're there.

They should be, really, because the town and the most venerable of its golf courses are umbilically connected. If he hasn't already, young Rory McIlroy should go to the cathedral and pay his respects at the grave of "Young" Tom Morris, four-times Open champion who died in 1875 aged just 24, supposedly of a broken heart following the death of his wife in childbirth, but possibly of a perforated liver after pickling his sorrows in drink. Moreover, in purely physical terms, the unique townscape can enhance a golfer's score. All the St Andrews-based caddies here know which landmark to pick out on the horizon, when giving their golfer a line over what, on first acquaintance, can look less like the most famous golf course on earth and more like the surface of the moon.

Anyway, on Thursday evening, after a pint or two, possibly three, I took matters into my own hands and introduced my Independent colleagues to the letters "PH", stamped into the cobbles outside St Salvator's Chapel to mark the spot where Patrick Hamilton, a Lutheran reformer, was publicly incinerated on 29 February 1528. It is said that the wind and rain were so bad that day that poor old Hamilton took six hours to die, which brings a degree of perspective to the hardship caused by a soggy notebook and malfunctioning pen.

A real golfing green master

Earlier this week, elsewhere in these pages, I wrote a column extolling the virtues of golf. I was expecting a backlash from those who consider the game practically synonymous with the Third Reich, and I was not disappointed. One outraged blogger deemed me "shallow" and "dim-witted". Well, I am going to drive them to their keyboards again by asserting that golf can be a wonderful thing for the environment.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine, Chris Walsh, died very unexpectedly at the age of 54. Chris loved golf and nature in equal measure; playing with him at his home course, Walton Heath in Surrey, could be uplifting and exasperating at the same time, because he would often shoot off into a copse to fill his bag with wild mushrooms or get sidetracked by a glimpse of a rare woodland bird, which he could always identify. He entwined these two passions by helping to produce a pamphlet called "Caring For Walton Heath", which has become the standard text, used all over the world, on how a golf club can improve the land on which it sits by increasing biodiversity and, in the particular case of Walton Heath, by regenerating an important area of lowland heathland, reviving many species of plants and bringing back woodlarks and other wildlife. Chris will be sorely missed, but he leaves a great legacy.

Heskey quits – but will we notice?

Emile Heskey retired from international football this week. He was never the plank that some people thought, but the fact remains that in 62 appearances as a forward for England he scored only seven goals. And so his retirement rather brings to mind Dorothy Parker's waspish line on being told that taciturn US President Calvin Coolidge had expired: "How could they tell?"

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Renewable Energy Construction Manager

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A rare shot of Clegg taking a stand on Cameron's right  

David Cameron might prefer another Lib Dem coalition after all

Andrew Grice
Imagine...  

Imagine... it’s 2014 and the drums of war are beating again

Boyd Tonkin
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices