Geoff Ogilvy writes about his fascination and love for St Andrews, which began as a wide-eyed 16-year-old and continues this week at The Open Championship.
EXCLUSIVE BY GEOFF OGILVY
It was in 1993 that my relationship with the Old Course began. I was 16. My father grew up in the United Kingdom and hadn’t been back since before I was born. So he and I took a trip to see my grandmother, who was living on the Isle of Man. Before and after that little adventure, however, my Dad and I drove around the country playing lots of golf.
The highlight of the trip, however, was when we arrived in St Andrews. I can still remember how excited I was as we approached the town. I was already into golf by that stage; I had bought into everything about the game. So we entered the daily ballot to see if we could get on the Old Course the next day. They draw names out of a hat; maybe you get in, maybe you don’t.
We didn’t, as it turned out. But the starter told us to hang around and see if another two-ball came along and maybe we could join them. As luck would have it, we didn’t have to wait long. A Swedish couple was happy enough to let us tag along.
On the 1st tee I was more nervous than I had ever been on a golf course. Most people have the same reaction. But I loved the course. I wasn’t one of those guys who start off hating St. Andrews then learn to love it. I loved it immediately. The more I’ve played it, the more I’ve understood it. But I loved it from day one.
I was just blown away by the town, by how old everything is. In Australia, anything built 50-years ago is old; in Scotland a “new” building might have been there 400 years. So the historic aspect of St Andrews was almost overwhelming. But the biggest impression I had was how far away from the town you could get while playing the Old Course. It’s so cool looking up to see the buildings getting bigger after every hole on the back nine. I was sad when we got to the 16th green knowing the round was almost over.
I remember I shot 74. And I will never forget the caddie with our group. He was always telling me where to hit. I’m not sure I always listened though. At 16 I knew everything about golf. I was a bit of a geek, to be honest. Later that day, I dragged my Dad around every golf shop – my favourite things back then – in St Andrews.
My next visit was in 1996, when I played in the St Andrews Links Trophy, which is one of the biggest amateur events over there. What a deal it was. For the £40 entry fee we got three rounds on the Old Course and one on the New, as well as a practice round on the Old. Plus, the course was empty apart from the other competitors.
I played in that event three times, finishing fourth in 1998. I played the last two rounds with the eventual winner, a young English lad by the name of Justin Rose. I was doing okay until I hit two drives out-of-bounds off the 14th tee and made a triple-bogey. I was disappointed to lose but felt a bit better when Justin almost won the Open at Royal Birkdale a month later.
After I turned professional and was on the European Tour I found ways to get to St Andrews for games. I often drove up from London to play. But my first Open on the Old Course was in 2005. Tiger won easily, but I did well. I made the cut on the number, holing a good putt on the 18th green late on Friday evening. Then I shot 67 and 69 on the weekend and finished tied fifth (my best finish in a major to that point). Even better, I finished 3-4-3-3 in the final round. Making a birdie on the 17th – the Road Hole – was a big thrill. As was walking up the final fairway in front of the packed grandstands … an amazing experience.
Five years later, I was back for another Open but this time missed the halfway cut. Like many people I got a slightly dodgy draw and never really had much chance. And I haven’t been back since, which makes this year’s Open even more enticing. The Old Course is the ultimate example of strategic architecture. It looks complicated with its lumpy land and seemingly haphazard bunkering. But there is a simplicity to it I find endlessly fascinating. The further right you go on every hole, the easier the second shot will be. But that’s the risky line off nearly every tee. It’s just a brilliant place to be and to play and now I’m back to play another Open … I can’t wait for it to start.
* 2006 US Open Champion Geoff Ogilvy writes exclusively every month for Golf Australia magazine.