St Andrews is an amazing place. It’s an out of the way corner of Fife, not that easy to get to even these days – my bus journey from Edinburgh took the guts of three hours – but it’s been renowned for centuries, for its theology, the excellence of its university and, latterly, its golf. The world beats a path to its door and even the least sensitive of us can feel a connection to the history, to appreciate that, whatever we’re doing, we’re not the first, we’re part of something special. There’s a buzz. Of course, it could all be down to the ozone and the sea air.
I was speaking at the St Rule Club coffee morning last Tuesday morning because Ros Rentoul, the St Rule captain and I played golf together at the University of Edinburgh more than 40 years ago. My memories of university golf are hazy – I think because all I can remember is playing badly – but the records show that I was club captain and secretary – a miracle we survived – and we did win the university championship.
My main memory has nothing to do with the actual playing of golf. We were at Waverley station in Edinburgh one day, laden with our clubs and grip bags and trying to manoeuvre ourselves through a narrow gap – in those days it might even have been a turnstile – and the ticket man said, irritably, ” Why couldn’t you just play table tennis?”
“Why,” sez I, “then we’d need a table tennis table.”
I should have died then and there, the look he gave me. And, in fairness, who wouldn’t loathe lippy, smart aleck students.
There were a few students, members of the St Andrews University ladies’ club, at the coffee morning and they were just smart. Well, I met a couple, both from the United States and one was studying physics and the other mathematics and, I think, chemistry. In my book that makes them more than smart. All I can remember of physics, which I believe is the key to life and the universe, if I understand Dr Brian Cox correctly, is that the exercise book was a rather fetching plum colour. Thank goodness you don’t have to be a scientist to be a golfer.
There are all sorts of ways to approach the game. You can be a technician, a cavalier or anything on the wide spectrum in between. That’s the beauty of it; anyone can play, whatever their temperament. Of course, some people find it harder to adapt than others but the best always find a way to make it work. The sainted Bobby Jones, one of the best players of all time, had a real temper as a young man and tore up his card on his first visit to the Old Course but ended up loving it. “The more you study it, the more you love it,” he said, ” and the more you love it, the more you study it.”
A man of many talents, with degrees in literature, engineering and law and one of the founders of Augusta National and the Masters, Jones was given the Freedom of the City in 1958. In his acceptance speech he said that he could take everything else out of his life but his experiences at St Andrews and he’d still have led a “rich, full life”.
I don’t know if Bobby Jones was ever invited to take tea in the St Rule Club – Lee Trevino was once and, apparently, emerged to say that he didn’t think that it was just tea that the ladies were imbibing…….The club is now 120 years old and is unusual in St Andrews in that golf was not its raison d’être. It was originally founded as a safe place for ladies to meet socially and the golf section, though sizeable, is just that: a section. Bridge and crafts are important too. And perhaps more sensible options on a freezing winter’s day.