August 14, 2013

Golf, History, and Nature in Scotland


 “I’ve never missed a putt in my mind.”   Jack Nicklaus

Carol writes:  It was with little fanfare and hardly a sign that that we crossed into Scotland 18 days after we had arrived in the UK.  We crossed our first firth of many just outside of Edinburgh by way of the bridge over the Firth of Forth (has such a lovely ring to it). 


We decided to bypass the city of Edinburgh for now and save our visit for the end of our Scottish loop, at which time the Scottish kids would be back in school, Edinburgh’s festival season would have run its course, and hopefully crowds would be much more manageable. 

Many weeks ago in a campground in France we had chatted with a Scottish couple who gave us lots of tips about places to go and things to see in Scotland, and one of their recommendations was to go to St. Andrews.  St. Andrews is known in the golfing world as ‘The Home of Golf’ and lays claim to be the place where golf was invented and has been played since at least the 15th century.  The British Open is played at St. Andrews Old Course every 5 years and has been played there a whopping 28 times. 

So, for the golfing connection alone, we headed up the east coast to St. Andrews. 

We should have been paying more attention to the signs we had been seeing along the road that mentioned something about the “Ricoh British Women’s Open Championship,” especially the dates.  When we arrived at the St. Andrews car park, we were glad we had gotten an early start because parking spaces were already starting to fill up with fans for the Saturday round of the British Women’s Open Championship.  All that mattered to us was that we got a parking spot, not very easy for a 23-ft. RV in city lots built for small cars.  

As we headed toward the oceanfront course at St. Andrews, we detected a very happy, festive atmosphere.


Our walk took us right next to the 18th hole where many a thrilling British Open match has been decided, past the little bridge that is a famous landmark at St. Andrews,


then a little further on to the iconic old clubhouse, where I proudly had my picture taken.

 

As all golf aficionados know, the St. Andrews course is right next to the beach


and is infamous for its many challenges with hilly topography, hellish bunkers, rainy days, and unpredictable winds.  In fact, despite the incredibly lovely and breezy sunny day we were having, we found out later that Women’s Open play was suspended shortly after noon because of high winds with gusts that were toppling some of the metal barriers.  Al and I were thinking to ourselves, “Isn’t wind just a part of the game?”  One of the course officials graciously chatted with us and explained that play has to be suspended in the interest of fairness when the winds are so powerful that the golfers’ balls are moved around.  Then it all made sense…

As we continued our walk into the town, we passed by displays and ruins depicting the role St. Andrews played in the religious conflicts of the 16th century Protestant Reformation.  At that time St. Andrews was the focus of Catholic religious power, and Protestant conflict evolved over new ideas raised by Martin Luther and John Calvin.  The bishop’s castle was besieged

 

and the cathedral was destroyed.


It was interesting walking through the ancient cemetery attached to the cathedral grounds.  One of my favorite tombstone epitaphs was one for Margaret Stuart Hunter (d. 1917) that read:  “SHE DID WHAT SHE COULD.”

Next to the cemetery we briefly strolled past the most prestigious university in Scotland—the University of St. Andrews.  In the informative university museum we discovered that student life at St. Andrews is steeped in many ancient traditions, one of the most fascinating for me being the wearing of distinctive red academic gowns.  In recent times, two of St. Andrews’ most famous alums include Prince William and Kate Middleton, who went to university together St. Andrews.

When we left St. Andrews, we headed north along the east coast, then cut inland through the majestic Cairngorm Mountains.  We were finally seeing some of that fabulous natural Scottish beauty that we had been told about by so many people along the way.  We saw grand open vistas, grass-covered hills, small ski resorts that were closed for the season, and lots of sheep.


Heather and also fireweed, which I recognized from our trip to Alaska, were in full bloom and formed large patches of gorgeous purple carpets.

 

Balmoral, the Queen’s Scottish estate, is located in the Cairngorms.  I could easily understand why it is one of the favorite vacation spots of Prince Charles. 

From the Cairngorm Mountain region it was a short drive to the coast that borders the Moray of Firth that projects out into the North Sea.  Our next destination was Culloden Battlefield, where we would get a heavy dose of pivotal Scottish history, followed by our first taste of Scottish Neolithic history at Clava Cairns. 

“The harder I practice the luckier I get.”   Gary Player

 

 

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