With Andy Johnson on his maiden voyage to the Old Course this week, he compiled a series of guests to reminisce about their own first visits to St. Andrews. Tom Doak, James Duncan, Shane Bacon, Michael Clayton, Gil Hanse, and Zac Blair all look back and share their memories of that special day.
It doesn’t matter if it was a family vacation as a teenager, an internship during college, or a tournament against the best in the world that brought them to the home of golf: all of the guests vividly recall their first impressions of the Old Course, what surprised them, what they learned, and what they took away from the experience. Below you’ll find excerpts from each guest, with links to the full episode at the end.
“The first time I saw the Old Course was when I was 15. I went over with my parents and my brother. At that time, I knew about the Road Hole. I had the same sort of basic knowledge that everyone would have. Probably the two most memorable things were 1) if you get in bunkers you’re really screwed, and 2) if you don’t get in bunkers it’s a very open golf course and you can get around it just fine. It was hard not to fall in love with the town and everything about the town.”
“The first time I went, I was a student living in Copenhagen, and I had arranged somehow to go to Scotland for a few months and do an internship for a company that consulted on golf courses. They were a branch of the Scottish Agricultural College. When I arrived they said, ‘Here’s what we’d like you to do. See that green Ford Taurus in the parking lot? Here’s a diesel card, go fill it up, drive around and visit as many golf courses, meet as many superintendents, secretaries, people in golf in Scotland as you have time for. Find out what kind of problems they have with golf course maintenance, operations, and write a report and come back to us.’ I mean, that was such an opportunity to crash around Scotland and see as many golf courses as I could, and of course St. Andrews was high on that list. You know, I’d heard about it, all the books and all that stuff, but to see it first-hand was just a very special occasion. And since then, I haven’t missed a chance to go back. It was just authentic golf as I had imagined it, and you finally had a chance to see it. It was magical.”
“I was actually studying abroad in London my junior year of college at the University of Arizona. I didn’t have my golf clubs. My mom actually flew over with my golf clubs. So shout-out Eliza B. She brought the clubs over, and about three weeks later, my uncle flew over and we both went up to St. Andrews. We had a tee time at the Old Course, we stayed at a bed and breakfast in town. We had a great day. We obviously played all 18, beautiful weather, and I was instantly in love with the place. I was still in college, didn’t know anything about architecture, anything about golf courses, and not a ton about golf history, but I was hooked.”
“I qualified for the 1984 Open there. So I turned up at St. Andrews. Wayne Grady, Ian Baker-Finch, and I were sharing a house. Grades and I missed the cut, but we went to bed on Saturday night thinking that this guy in the next bedroom might win the Open tomorrow. Which of course he didn’t, but it was a pretty amazing week. So I loved the history of the game, but it didn’t strike anything with me at all. I didn’t understand the course. I didn’t get it at all. I didn’t think it was a bad course or a great course. I was just a typically dumb mid-20s golf pro who just played golf. I think you kind of miss the fun of it cause you’re playing [the Open]. I didn’t really get to understand the golf course until I started to walk around it and read about it and write about it and think about it and realize how great the holes were. Because when you’re playing it, you’re just trying to play. You’re trying to get the ball in the hole. And you’re not standing on the 13th hole thinking this is one of the greatest par long 4s in golf. You’re just trying to avoid the bunkers and get on the green and get out of there.”
“The BYU golf team and some of the boosters take an international trip every four years, I think. That year they were going to Scotland, so we rolled over there and saw a bunch of cool places. I actually didn’t play the Old Course. A couple of the guys on the team went out and did the whole lottery and waited all night, but I didn’t play. It was a Sunday so it’s a park and people were like having a picnic in the Road Hole bunker on 17. Dogs everywhere. So it was cool to see all that stuff. The first time I played it during the Dunhill, we played a bunch of practice rounds and we just kind of kept looping around and seeing cool stuff walking around. Obviously, it’s one of those places the more you go around it, the more you understand and see new things. It’s kind of that endless journey of finding new stuff every time you go.”
“I was really kind of surprised. I thought it was going to have a lot more undulations, big ups and downs. The contours and the undulations are much more human scale, instead of a big scale. The contours feel more manageable and maybe more conducive to shot-making because you feel like I might be able to manage the scale or how a ball is going to react off that slope versus I’m not sure what it’s going to do on something that’s 15 feet above my head and how much it’s going to come off. In my mind it opens up a lot more possibilities and creativity when it’s at the human scale versus the much bigger stuff.”
No doubt Andy will have his own first-visit story by the end of this week! Keep an eye on The Fried Egg dot com for more.