ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — It’s 10:20 pm and the Old Course Pavilion, a small shack along the first tee, had become a fly trap lamp. Light spilled into the darkness, drawing in weary golfers.
On Thursday night, as the first round of the US Open was played 3,000 miles away in Brookline, Massachusetts, the lights outside the Pavilion were on, as usual, only this time the light was also coming from inside the building. Shifts had ended hours ago, but the attentive staff left the US Open streaming on the screens, which face outward, giving hopeful golfers at tee time spending the night on site something to help pass the time until morning. Adam Hadwin was polishing up a brilliant four-under 66.
Golfing patients had been mingling in the Pavilion since 6:00 pm and would stay all night. Although they were not guaranteed a departure time, and while fresh air blew in from the sea, these soldiers held shooting contests under the lights. This is one of the best places on Earth to play golf, but it is also one of the happiest places to see it.
Thursday night was the last night golfers would be allowed to camp outside the Pavilion, at least for another month. The Old Course is closed now, in the run up to the Open Championship. More visiting golfers tuned in at the pubs surrounding the Old Course: One Under Bar, Ham’s Hame, Jigger Inn. Outside of that immediate bubble, like at Whey Pat Tavern, the accents were more local, which makes sense. That watering hole is a third of a mile from the Old Course, just outside the tourist fly trap. You’re still likely to run into a caddy from St. Andrews there, away from all the fuss. They know this city best.
The Dunvegan, on the other hand, is a globe wedge from the 18th green and is often packed with American voices, which is appropriate. On Thursday, during a warm Scottish afternoon (read: 65-degree highs), it had to be the only place in town with air conditioning. That’s “comfort” for Americans. American flags adorned the interior of the pub, fluttering from wall to wall. Dierks Bentley’s lyrics echoed through the air. Free and easy the way I go…
A group of Americans from Florida and Mississippi crowded into the corner of the room, only to be greeted by a student from the University of St. Andrews from… Virginia. Justin Thomas highlights played on the screen above them. He was too early in the tournament to really care about birdies and bogeys. So the conversation turned to Rory McIlroy’s floral shirt, the chaos wrought at the game by LIV Golf and Sanderson Farms, the beloved local tournament of Mississippians.
The Dunvegan’s Americanized feel makes sense: One of the former owners, Jack Willoughby, is from Texas and has stashed a quartet of Texas A&M shells behind the bar. (The Willoughbys were sold in 2017, but the Dunvegan style hasn’t changed.) Jack’s wife, Sheena, is from Scotland, and is the friendly face shown alongside seemingly every famous golfer who ever lived, framed on the walls. The photos cover nearly every inch of space, but one set of images in particular feels more prominent: Sheena and Furyk, Sheena and Els, Sheena and Price, Sheen and Tiger, and finally Sheena and a Daly mullet.
The Dunvegan is so popular that tip pints border on cliche. But there is nothing cliché about the joy that emanates from its walls and windows. It really is one of the happiest places in the sport.
“It’s the easiest clientele in the world,” one bartender said Saturday. “Everyone is at Golf Disney.” It also doesn’t hurt, he said, that scatterbrained American golfers often tip 25 percent, double the local norm. At that bar, Boston residents Steve Alesse and Dave Lombard were tipping generously. Sandwiched between them were their 18-year-old sons, sharing their first legal beers with their parents.
Steve and Dave cheered each other on for the culmination of a year of planning, and even laughed at the thought of it all. Somehow they had managed to convince their wives that the best possible place to take their kids on a high school graduation trip was, in fact, one of the few places parents desperately wanted to visit as well.
They were disappointed that Shane Lowry hadn’t made the cut, ending a streak of 11 straight cuts in the majors, but quickly threw their support behind everyone’s favorite everyman Joel Dahmen, who was warming up on the TV above them. . They were enamored with the idea that Dahmen had to restrain himself from drinking a bunch of beers after that first-round 67, and that he attended a Ben Rector concert on Thursday night.
Alesse and her son had achieved the impressive feat of attending the second round at Brookline on Friday and then hopping on a plane from Boston to Edinburgh. Dad had taken three days off work to take his son to St. Andrews for three rounds of golf, those first legal beers, and some cigars, skirting the lighter side to keep the room from spinning.
Between shots of Brookline golf, the group was treated to Dunvegan mythology: how their man Lowry has made a name for himself drinking beers and dancing on seats just yards away. Or how when Ernie Els visits town, he hangs around the corner and sends his nephew, Jovan Rebula, to the Dunvegan on repeat to bring Uncle Ernie another case of wine.
There’s a lot to love about watching golf at St. Andrews, particularly how many more golf shots are shown on the Sky Sports feed compared to NBC, or alongside that: fewer “Playing Through” commercial breaks. But alas, the long days at Brookline are even longer in Scotland. The high school prom continued down the street, with plans to cap off the night by seeing the leaders at One Under Bar.
The next morning Alesse and Lombard lost the match to their sons on the New Course. Alesse texted a photo of four men grinning from ear to ear, with four words: “Best loss of my life.”
St. Andrews Thing I’m Obsessed With, Vol. I: the colored doors!
St. Andrews is built on stone. Everything, it seems, originates from ancient rocks that have won the battle against wind and rain for hundreds of years. Stone is not easy to work with, hard to move, impossible to reuse, and hard to break. So the image of St. Andrews doesn’t change much. There is no space for plugins. But the door painting is a notable exception.
You can find many St. Andrews doors on Pinterest, because everyone loves colorful doors. In St. Andrews, it’s sneakily necessary. When the facade of each building is a variable form of weathered stone, telling them apart, especially after a few pints, can be as simple as knowing the color of the doorway.
There are four straight houses on Greenside Place, but only one of them has the baby blue double doors you’d never miss. There are a couple of different houses where Market Street intersects with South Castle Street, but only one of them is a beautiful, striking yellow. The Northpoint Cafe, where Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge used to meet for coffee, has compromised its door to Crimson. A hair salon further south has decided on purple. It has to be good for business, because the color choice was the only reason it caught my eye.
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