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Goodbye, Old Friend

I remember, on a mild and blue-skied April afternoon when the breeze floated across the links, I strode onto the seventh tee of the Old Course thinking not of the history buried in the turf beneath my feet, not of rolling fairway mounds, not of town itself like one shimmering mirage behind me… no. I was thinking of how my irons were going left, how my drives were going right, how my putts kissed the hole but never dropped. And on the bench beside me sat an elderly gentleman, who, wearing a tweed cap and a tailored suit and brown brogues, looked me in the eyes, his eyes wide and kind like a grandfather, and said, “A glorious, sailing, bounding drive that made me glad I was alive.” He seemed to know I studied English, but unable to put a name to the words, I conceded. “Betjeman”, he said, and I smiled and he was quiet so I stepped up and hit my tee shot. It went exceptionally far left into the rough. “And down the fairway, far along it glowed a lonely white,” this great man boomed and I couldn’t help but shake my head and wave to him behind me and laugh.  


An attitude like mine before the seventh hole may be acceptable for the local pay and play. But when you step foot onto the Old Course, with the magnitude of tradition such an experience holds, you cannot be over-critical. Sacrifice the game for each breath and stride and look! Forget those missed three-footers and duck-hooked drives! Laugh whilst shouting fore! O St Andrews, with your gargantuan greens, unorthodox slopes and deep bunkers, you have ruined the very best players' scorecards with and without your nasal whining gusts of violent wind! But being beaten up by the Old Course should never take away from the experience, the privilege you feel, as a student or otherwise, to do what most golfers could only imagine, to walk across that Swilcan Bridge during the day and near-darkness. The people you play with, (I have learnt that a round with a bad apple is even worse than eating one), to get outside with friends and play arguably the greatest golf course in the world… Who could be more lucky? 


As I approach the end of my final year at St Andrews, I know that when I approach my final years, my memories will centre around the golf course, the laughs, the brotherhoods amongst the green tufts. The words of Betjeman are partly true — there is nothing like a drive down the middle — but there is also nothing sweeter than walking down the 18th fairway, knowing that a cold Guinness awaits at the Jigger Inn, knowing that, whether birdies poured or bogeys reigned, your mind can be still, you can be at peace. Golf at St Andrews, a spiritual meditation unfound in wellness podcasts and holy books, makes me glad to feel alive. 

Illustration by Magdalena Yiacoumi

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