Up At 3am But Not Teeing-Up To 3.30pm & Just To Play The Old Course … By Laurence O’Dwyer.

Laurence O’Dwyer is a member of the Eastlakes  Club in Sydney.  He plays off a handicap of 6.4,

I met Laurence in bizarre circumstances when he just happened to walk into the Pro Shop at Crail Golfing Society, and golf’s seventh oldest club.  He and I got chatting and quickly establishing we both came from Sydney.  I asked if he was going out to play the Balcomie Links, and the oldest course at Crail, so we agreed to play a round.

Laurence O’Dwyer enjoying a round of the Balcomie Links ahead of the ‘experience’ of playing the Old Course.

However, high on Laurence’s list of golf courses to play on this trip to Scotland was the famed Old Course at the Home of Golf.

But little was Laurence aware of the ‘journey’ he would face before finally finding his way to the first tee at St. Andrews.

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I don’t normally get out of bed at 3am to play golf, but it was the Old Course.

I did not have a booking and I was only in St Andrews for 2 nights. So I walked from my hotel to the Starters Hut beside the first tee in the dark because I knew, from playing the Old Course 4 years ago, that there are vacancies in the daily time sheet which are filled on a “first comes” basis when the starter arrives at 6:30am with the daily time sheet.

I expected to get a good position in the queue by getting there early but arrived shocked to see 15 people already waiting in the dark, with several in sleeping bags who had been there since 9pm the previous evening!

Homeless souls living rough? No, golfers waiting for a tee time on the Old Course at St. Andrews. (Photo – Lawrence O’Dwyer)

A bit of good-hearted banter exchanged- plus reaffirming the queue pecking order- before settling down for a long wait until the starter arrived. I got to know some of my fellow-queuers, mostly from the US but also from Japan, UK and South Africa. Different backgrounds, but one thing in common; enough passion for golf to sacrifice a night’s sleep to get an opportunity to play the holy grail of golf- the Old Course. Someone observed that regardless of your wealth, job, or nationality, queuing for a tee time at the Old Course was a great leveller.

Although a group of Americans arrived after me, dropped off by a large black limousine as part of an organised golf tour. Their driver dutifully fetched hot coffees and Mars bars for them as they waited in the dark. Having invested so much in getting a tee time, as 6:30am approached there was unease and curt comments about positions in the queue. Some people turned up late and ignored the queue protocol, so the atmosphere became tense. Fortunately, one guy took charge and loudly ordered everyone to queue up in single file and number off.

In a bizarre scene, 30 people who did not know each other fell in line like soldiers on parade, each shouting out their position in the queue.

What would Old Tom say? Dedicated golfers in the wee hours of the morning and waiting for a tee time on the Old Course at St. Andrews. (Photo – Lawrence O’Dwyer)

The starter was polite but not hopeful. There was a ladies’ competition which blocked out a good part of the day (I should have researched that), so I could either hang around, or I might get a start if I came back in the afternoon. Deciding to get breakfast, I went back to my B&B and had a rest.

At breakfast, I met several of my fellow-queuers, all from the US. One introduced himself as “a bank president from a small Omaha bank”. One of his buddies added “and getting smaller” which they all laughed at.  After breakfast, my wife and I did some tourist things, had coffee at the Rusacks Hotel and ended up at lunch at the Old Course Hotel, overlooking the Road Hole. It’s a good position to watch golfers playing on the first, second, seventeenth and eighteenth holes.

I eventually got a start at 3:30pm, playing with three Americans from Florida.  There must not be much wind on golf courses in Florida because one kept losing balls in the wind to his “power fade”. The best of them was the power fader’s wife who consistently hit the ball 120 yards low and down the middle. This proved to be a good strategy for playing the Old Course.

All good rounds are a journey, but this whole day was a journey through different aspects of human endeavour, with the Old Course providing the final reality check.

Laurence O’Dwyer, Eastlakes Gold Cub, Sydney. Handicap 6.4

 



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