No Sunday service at St Andrews

Locals support the closure of the Old Course on Sundays; golfers say it’s cruel

Locals and tourists wander the grounds of the Old Course, the birthplace of golf, in St Andrews. All are welcome om Sunday bar golfers. Photograph: Kieran Dodds/The New York Times

Locals and tourists wander the grounds of the Old Course, the birthplace of golf, in St Andrews. All are welcome om Sunday bar golfers. Photograph: Kieran Dodds/The New York Times

 

For those who arrive at the birthplace of golf on a sunny Sunday morning, the rules of play are simple. You can pretty much do anything you want on the historic grounds of the Old Course as long as it does not involve actually hitting a drive or rapping a putt.

Frisbees are fine. Picnics too. Wedding photos on the famed Swilcan Bridge are no problem. Put another way: all are welcome at the home of golf on Sundays.

Except golfers.

“Why is it this way?” Alastair Matheson (86), said as he led a small group of visitors on the daily guided tour of the Old Course in the spring.

“Because that’s the way it has always been.”

As with many regulations from a different era, the Sunday slumber for the Old Course is a rule that is simultaneously charming and maddening.

Purists

For many golfing tourists – a group that has been more feverish this year ahead of next month’s British Open on the Old Course – it is downright cruel.

In a city where good weather means it rained for only half the day, and at a course that most golfer would dearly love to play, why would anyone ever think it’s a good idea to close on a weekend?

Historians trace the Old Course’s Sunday closure to religious laws dating at least to the 16th century, when some residents of St Andrews were cited in town criminal logs for playing on the Sabbath.

According to Gordon Moir, head greenkeeper at St Andrews, it was not until 1941 that the other courses at the complex were opened for play on Sundays.

The Old Course, though, has always stayed shuttered, essentially morphing into a bumpy, sand-dotted parkland that attracts an inordinate number of joggers, dogs and, sometimes, joggers with dogs.

Sunday activities on the Old Course over the years have run the gamut.

A local woman named Marie-Noel, who declined to give her surname, said she recalled members of her family laying out their laundry on the course some weeks.

Matheson, one of four guides handling the daily tours, recalled seeing fishermen spread their nets on the fairways so they could mend them.

He said he had never heard of any serious discussion about changing the Sunday rule.

He noted that Old Tom Morris, the legendary player and greenskeeper who revitalised the Old Course in the mid-1800s, was said to have preached: “even if the golfers don’t need a rest, the course does.”

New York Times

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