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Getting "burned" on the Old Course

By Paul Knowles

The world is divided into two kinds of people: golfers and non-golfers. To identify which side of the divide someone is on, try the phrase: "I just played the Old Course in St. Andrews." (Photo: the author, right, and friend on the first tee on the Old Course).


Group One will light up. Their faces will be animated with interest, envy, awe, and camaraderie.
Group Two will groan. Their eyes will glaze over, their jaws sag, and they will immediately enter into the REM stage of sleep.
Since returning from Scotland, I have met a lot of Group Two types. Some of them are snoring, still. Which seems a shame, because playing the 600-year-old original golf course is a fantastic exp... wait! Where are you going?
Okay, let's assume there are at least a few Group One folks in my reading audience. This column is for you.
For any golfer, there is something mystical about the Old Course. This is where this impossible, ridiculous, humiliating game was first created, a pastime that has been breaking hearts and wounding egos for six centuries. And when you play the Old Course, you know why.
This is golf for lunatics. You arrive at the first tee giddy with excitement. There is nothing that improves a golf swing like being giddy... unless it is trying to hit a golf ball in the midst of a swarm of bees. Bees being absent, we went with giddy.
Then, as you prepare for your first drive, you become panic-stricken. The starter is watching, your caddies are watching, golfers who will play later, and have simply come to worship are watching. Turns out, panic balances giddiness, and each member of our foursome managed a pretty good drive.
That was probably a mistake. Because giddiness and overconfidence are, it turns out, a bad combination, and, sure of my skills, I personally put my next shot into the famed Swilcan Burn (or creek). We fished it out, and I proceeded to put my third shot (counting, of course, four) into another part of the Swilcan Burn. So much for the first hole.
I managed to settle down for some of the following holes, in spite of the gorse (a sticky, prickly, aggressive thorn bush), the heather (which holds your ball as tightly as a Senator holds his travel cheque), the bunkers (about 12 feet deep and straight up) and the "rough" – which should be called "the wilderness". What a course! What a game!
We forged on. We were paired with a couple from near London, England, to make up our foursome. The good news was, each of the four of us managed one birdie on the Old Course – a feat for the ages! (Mine was on the 11th. Feel free to ask me about it.)
On the 17th hole, our wives had found seats on an adjacent pub patio, so they could film our pilgrim's progress. Incredibly, my drive outshone all the rest, and I was pumped. My second shot went into knee-deep fescue. Third, into the bunker in front of the green. Fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh, also into the self-same bunker. All, let me stress, captured on film.
None the less, I love this game. Love the Old Course. Love Scottish golf. For a sensible explanation, contact my psychiatrist.