Waist-high sea grass and blustery winds make this more than just another genteel croquet match. It's an adventure
At 4 a.m. on Thursday during the 139th British Open, six hours behind St. Andrews in the pre-dawn silence of my Austin home, I tiptoed through a sleeping house of golf agnostics to renew my favorite summer ritual.
With the delight of a child expecting Santa, I fired up the glorious high-def orgasmatron at a volume audible only to our border collie. Then I sat in contented awe at the ESPN images of waist-high blond sea grass billowing across our game’s Holy Land.
No sight in golf, not Pebble Beach’s crashing surf, nor Augusta’s heaving fairways groomed like a poodle’s butt, quickens my heart like the first televised moments of what over there we must properly call the Open Championship. Watching golf’s greatest major in the quiet dark reminds me of watching Neil Armstrong land on the moon in black and white. It feels so distant and foreign, almost of a different time, and so unlike our game in the States.
For starters, their open is not a genteel croquet match. In good years, with an angry ocean beside them, players limp off 18 like Vikings returning from the hunt.
I love to hear the flagpoles at the open clanging in the gales. We have some stout wind here in Texas, but we don’t have to anchor our children for fear they’ll be sucked into the North Sea.
How does any mortal golfer even sniff par in such brutality? I always marvel that Scots like Paul Lawrie, who won the Carnoustie debacle in 1999 after playing a lifetime in wind that would frighten Chicago, don’t come to our girly-man country clubs in America and shoot 59s with their eyes closed. It might have something to do with our upholstered putting surfaces, but it could also be our sodden skies.
Unless you have experienced Scotland’s radiant high latitudes — St. Andrews sits about even with Goose Bay, Newfoundland — it’s difficult to appreciate the vibrant quality of sunlight and air at such monumental links as Cruden Bay, North Berwick and Machrihanish.
I’ve seen hardened pro photographers all but weep like Sean Connery when describing how their work leaps from the lens over there. I have sat on the stone steps of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club for hours at a time, mesmerized simply watching the sky above the first and 18th holes at St. Andrews go from Cancún blue to seething mountains of coal, then back again. Scotland’s summers are grand theater. (We’ll not discuss the rain just now.)
Its luminous storybook towns seem backlit by Hollywood. Rows of red and green pubs — now finally smoke-free — stand in the pristine morning light like new boxes of Crayolas. Freckled kids with names like Tavish and Tyra seem to glow on the way to school. It’s enchanting and half-spooky to those of us trapped in dingy urban air most of the year. When the sun shines in Scotland, it’s like the whole country is in high-definition.
The British Open is often played in a true golf village, a wee dip in the road like Gullane (population 3,700, next to Muirfield) that might vanish were it not for eons-old dunesland between the ocean and the farms that some genius architect like James Braid or George Lowe Jr. turned into a golf sanctuary. I’ve been to high school basketball games that had more people than some of these legendary golf company towns.
On one of my first journeys to Scotland, I teed off at Gullane’s revered championship course, known to locals simply as No. 1, and to my dumbfounded glee, a young mother, well within her rights, crossed directly in front of the tee box down a communal path with her baby stroller.
“Splendid day for the golf,” she chirped to our enchanted group of Yanks.
We waved and smiled as if we were at a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, giggling at the thought of the SWAT-team response such a trespass would have caused at a private American golf cathedral. Such scenes are commonplace throughout Scotland and Ireland. Many of the world’s consensus top 10 links courses are not only open to the general public, unlike our Oakmonts and Seminoles, but their trails and dunes are also shared with joggers, surfers and mums on a stroll. That helps to remind us golfers that, technically, we don’t yet own all of nature.
Over there golf is more deeply woven into the local culture. You see happy mall-deprived teenagers walking to the courses with golf bags over their shoulders. In Ballybunion, Ireland, I once stood in a grocery check-out line and listened to two middle-aged women fervently discuss their golf grips. (Cue the ad team from Viagra.) Despite the efforts of clueless barons like Donald Trump, who is intent on Americanizing Scottish golf and importing his valet-parking culture, golf remains for most Scots an unpretentious game that knows its place.
The tournament itself is, of course, brilliant — from the singsong introductions by the beloved starter, Ivor Robson, to its fabulous rota of links courses and the eternal quirkiness of evil burns and pot bunkers, to the glorious charges and inevitable flameouts of nondescript golfers like Van de Velde, who come within steel millimeters of touching golf immortality … then disappear.
I care little about which major has the most worthy champions or finest fields. That’s not why I wake with the roosters to watch the British Open. Actually, I think I might love this major the most because it seems that overlooked golfers who rarely play on a world stage somehow find their inner giant here and flirt with greatness.
That’s good for golf, and the wise Scots would have it no other way.
Bruce Selcraig, descended from Scots, is a former writer with Sports Illustrated and lives in Austin, Texas.
Bruce Selcraig, descended from Scots, is a former writer with Sports Illustrated and lives in Austin, Texas. More Bruce Selcraig.
More Related Stories
- I'm not achieving my dreams!
- The most popular Tumblr porn
- Slave descendants seek equal rights from Cherokee Nation
- Snapchat is secretly storing your photos
- Peace Corps to allow gay couples to volunteer together
- Facebook's hate speech problem
- Rand Paul: Congress should apologize to Apple, not the other way around
- When my home was destroyed
- Okla. mother's tearful reunion with her 8-year-old son
- New campaign compares gun control to anti-LGBT discrimination
- Study: Salt Lake City is gay parenting capital of the U.S.
- You are less beautiful than you think
- "Ghetto" tour lets you gawk at New York's poor
- Teen activist to meet with Abercrombie CEO
- Watch: Family emerges from storm shelter after tornado
- Okla. tornado survivor reunited with dog trapped in rubble live on camera
- My miscarriages made me question being pro-choice
- Why I tried to be a punk
- I'm terrified of the cicada onslaught
- Limbaugh: No one willing to impeach the first black president
- SAT's right answers are all wrong
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11