Twenty-two noblemen and gentlemen agreed to meet “once a fortnight by eleven of the clock… and to play a round on the links
Andrew Marshall sinks some putts and pints at the ‘Home of Golf’
A game of golf just isn’t complete without a post round tipple at the 19th hole. Discussing the highs and lows of the round – a snaking downhill putt holed from long range or a topped drive on the first tee, become legend over a wee nip of local whisky or a refreshing pint in a comfortable bar. And what better place to do it than the watering holes at the “Home of Golf”?
It’s early October in St Andrews at the start of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, a favourite event on the European Tour calendar where celebrities such as Hugh Grant, Ian Botham and Samuel L. Jackson tee up alongside the likes of Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Padraig Harrington on three classic courses: the Old Course, Kingsbarns and Carnoustie. For keen golfers, it’s an excellent time to be in town with plenty of opportunities to watch golf, play golf and visit some 19th holes.
After a challenging round at the nearby Kittocks Course we find a perch in the Golfers Corner Pub only a well-struck nine iron away from the 18th green of the Old Course. This is a popular haunt for caddies and anyone remotely connected with the great game. Photographs of past Open Champions from Old Tom Morris to Tiger Woods grace the walls and Arnold Palmer’s British Open bagman Tip Anderson was a regular here who took his customary seat by the door. Today, it’s a sea of colourful golf caps and pints, as customers chat and watch the latest action unfold in the Dunhill Links showing on three plasma screens.
Inspired by a love for golf, Jack Willoughby, a fourth generation Texan and his Scottish wife Sheena started the Golfers Corner Pub in 1994 and it’s since become a St Andrews’ institution. “When we took over the place it was a boarding house, but because of its location, we had the vision that it could become a great 19th hole. We wanted to create a casual atmosphere where golfers could walk in wearing golf shoes and carrying their clubs to drink, eat and relax among fellow golfers,” says Jack.
The husband-and-wife team are very ‘hands on’ and really enjoy talking about the game with their customers. ‘We’ve built up a strong clientele over the years and had great support from caddies bringing their clients in after a round and recommending the place,” says Jack. “Over the years we’ve got to know people from all areas of the golf world, whether professionals, celebrities or returning golfers from places such as Scandinavia, America or Australia.” As she pulls a pint for a customer Sheila adds: “We are busy week in, week out, especially during the British Open when it’s held here. I could say hand on heart, we are the ‘19th hole’ at St Andrews.”
The beauty of St Andrews is the short distance between drinks, and in less time than it takes to swing a club we find ourselves standing by the bar inside 1 Golf Place just round the corner from the Golfers Corner Pub. The first ever golf inn in St Andrews was established here in 1824 (the street was built in the same year) when the game was fast gaining popularity.
Before it was built, there were no amenities at all around the Old Course and members of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club assembled at the cobbled end of Market Street in their red jackets and with their goose-necked clubs tucked under their arm. This historic bar has some interesting displays highlighting the history of golf at St Andrews. An excerpt from the Fifeshire Journal dated 22 September 1870 reports that when Young Tom Morris won his third title it was all anyone could talk about. As soon as the hero stepped off the train “he was hoisted shoulder high and borne in triumph to Mr Leslie’s Golf Inn where his health was drank with every honour”.
We take a short walk alongside the Old Course’s 18th fairway and past the 17th green to arrive at the award-winning Road Hole Bar, located on the top floor of the five-star Old Course Hotel. After ordering a couple of fine single malts we sink into one of the huge leather armchairs to enjoy the amazing views of the Old Course through the floor-to-ceiling windows and try to identify golfers and celebrities as they make their way up the 17th fairway.
Whisky loving golfers will think they have stumbled into heaven here with a stunning selection of more than 300 whiskies including Tullibardine (the hotel’s own malt) and a rare Ben Wyvis Highland Malt 1972.
Right next to the 17th fairway is one of the most famous golf pubs in the world, the Jigger Inn. This former stationmaster’s lodge dates back to the 1850s and is a favourite with golfers such as Open champions Darren Clarke and Tiger Woods.
As we enter this typical Scottish snug, an open fire casts a warm glow over the small green wooden bar and numerous alcoves with tartan furnishings. On offer is a superb selection of Scottish beers and hearty home-cooked food – this is Scottish hospitality at its very best.
In one of the cosy booths we get chatting with David Williams, Hugh Grant’s caddie at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship a few years ago. “He’s a nice bloke, just how he appears in the movies, and not a bad golfer either,” he tells us, as we enjoy our pints watched over by an impressive black-and-white photograph of Old Tom Morris.
We ask David about the 19th hole and what it means to him. “Every golfer understands the tradition of the 19th hole, it’s all about fellowship and camaraderie. After your round you go there to socialise with friends, perhaps celebrate your best ever round, or more likely drown your sorrows after a poor one,” he says. “Golf is a common language and it’s easy to chat to the people at the next table about the course you played that day or team up with new golfing friends for a round the next. It just snowballs from there and before you know it everyone is talking to each other.”
St Andrews has several other golfer-friendly taverns, including the Scorecards Bar (near the Old Course’s 18th green), where the walls are lined with historic scorecards from the British Open and Dunhill Cup Championship. There’s also the Whey Pat Tavern and Ma Bells, a regular hangout for Prince William during his university days.
But the 19th hole just wouldn’t be the same without playing the 18 holes before it, and St Andrews is known as the home of golf for good reason. It was on 14 May 1754, the first golf club was founded in the town. In the minutes for the Royal & Ancient Golf Club it describes how 22 noblemen and gentlemen agreed to meet “once a fortnight by eleven of the clock… and to play a round on the links. To dine together at Bailie Glass and to pay a shilling for his dinner.” While the fashions, membership fees and size of the fan base has changed, it’s clear that the spirit of the game is still the same.