Watching the Open Golf is always a favourite. I look forward to it every year, and what bugs me the most, is that I've yet to go and actually watch one.
If I was to go watch one, it would most certainly be at St Andrews (like it is right now, I know!). St Andrews is a magical place, you feel the atmosphere as soon as you drive in to the town - it's almost like a fairytale, a place you've seen so many times on the TV, that when you go there you feel like you're on a TV set.
Watching the golf this week reminded me of a few years ago when I was fortunate enough to play the Old Course at St Andrews. I was up there for a client Sales Conference and I took my clubs, hoping to get a game, by hook or by crook.
I was fully prepared that it could be the Jubilee or the New Course, or even the excellent Kingsbarns. But, being the cheeky chap that I am, I approached the starter box and tried to fix a game on the Old Course, thinking that if I got turned down, I'd just work my way round to the next favourite course and so on...
So without so much as a practise putt, I was amazed that I would be teeing off on the first hole at St Andrews Old Course, with three great guys from Norway.
Standing over that first tee shot was such a surreal experience. Even on just a normal day, there were Japanese and American tourists there taking photos and watching people tee off. It was like I was a pro standing over the ball waiting to get my open championship underway (in my head anyway). So imagine my slight embarrassment as I connected solidly with my three wood, looking up to see a power pull hook that went so far left, I actually managed to miss the widest fairway in golf (as it combines with the 18th), ending up on the tiny patch of semi rough that separates the 18th fairway from the road and the white fence you see on the TV.
Settling the nerves, I knocked a killer wedge across the Swilken Burn, and onto the front of the 1st green. Putt for birdy (which I missed), but definitely settling down.
It's widely said that if you hit the ball left on St Andrews, you'll be fine. Hit it right and you'll die. Fortunately, of the wide array of angles my shots can sometimes go at, I brought the pull with me. I was striking well, but always left off the tee. Therefore, I was never in too much trouble.
Once I'd knocked the rust off, having not played for sometime and not warmed up, things started to straighten up and the great ball striking continued to put me in some great scoring positions. However, when playing in to these massive greens, and as is typical with links golf, it's not until the ball has come to rest that you know if it was a good shot, regardless of the strike and direction.
More than once, I was hitting putts from 100ft or more, often in completely the wrong direction from the flag, such is the undulation of the greens at St Andrews. But the greens are so true, that a good putt hit firm and on the right line had every chance to go in and I holed a quite a few par saving putts that really held the round together.
I reached the 17th, the infamous Road Hole, at 4 over par gross. I was really pleased with the standard I'd been playing at so far, considering the lack of golf time I'd had since I went to University, a fairly competent 2 handicapper.
The Road Hole is one of THE holes in golf. It's right up there. From the drive over the old railway sheds now in the grounds of St Andrews Hotel, to the tiny little green with the path and road to the back and the famously treacherous Road Hole bunker, positioned to gobble up any stray iron (or wood!) shots to the green.
I absolutely nailed my drive and was relieved to look up and see it soaring over the "O" in hotel with a little draw and bounding it's way up the firm fairway. I only had about 160 yards left in to the green from the semi-rough, where the ball came to rest eventually.
Not wanting to over shoot and certainly protecting against the flyer, I hit a solid 9 iron. It was right at the flag (which believe it or not, wasn't a good thing as the flag was pretty close to inline with the greenside bunker I was so desperately trying to avoid). As planned, I came up slightly short, the ball kicking to the right on first bounce and away from the bunker. Nestling on the lower tier at the front of the green I was pleased to be able to get the putter on the ball for my third shot.
Still far from easy, I hit a solid putt up over the very steep bank at the front of the green and to within a few feet for a solid Road Hole par. Felt like a birdie to me.
The eighteenth hole was another fantastic experience. The sky had an air of foreboding - dark clouds and sunshine breaking through, as is part of the common beauty of St Andrews. I hit a solid, if slightly scoopy drive, which was flew straight and drew gently back to the left side. Landing over the path, and bounding on up the fairway, I was left with a grandstanding pleasing pitch into the 18th green.
That would have to wait however, as is the norm for visiting players, to stop and take some photos of ourselves crossing the bridge over the Swilken Burn, much like those memorable pictures of Jack Nicklaus a few years ago.
I hit a solid pitch, taking the deep gulley known as the "Valley of Sin" out of play. One bounce forward and checked on the second. 20 ft for birdie (which again, I missed) but a pleasing and solid par for an overall score of 76.
Feeling pretty pleased with my game, the company I kept and the overall delight and privilege of playing this magnificent course, we retreated to the Jigger for a wee dram (alright a pint of guiness).