St. Andrews Scotland, UK is where golf began and where the world’s cameras will be focused this July. St. Andrews is a timeless quaint village where golf pilgrims travel to find their Mecca, where ruins tell far off legends, and where the Royals pursue higher education at the oldest University in Scotland. I for one will be glued to the television watching as St. Andrews hosts The British Open Championship (July 16-19, 2015). This most prestigious place where golf’s origin began governs the rules that resides over the global sport, including the United States Golf Association. This iconic town is also home to The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews.
My destination is nestled between Edinburgh and Dundee on the East Coast. I travel by train from Edinburgh or Glasgow, hop off at Leuchars and then taxi about 5 miles into St. Andrews. On arrival, there are an infinite amount of photo opportunities, including St. Andrews’ medieval castle with its towering spires of the 12th-century cathedral ruins (pictured, right). The medieval cathedral was erected sometime in 1158.
A local legend has it that at about the same time as the building of the cathedral, golf originated when local shepherds knocked stones into rabbit holes with sticks. It’s easy to imagine this as rabbits still roam the seven golf courses in and around the village. King James II outlawed golf in 1457 because it interfered with archery practice. Gasp! It’s even rumored that Mary, Queen of Scots hit the greens just after her husband was murdered in 1568, presumably to let off a little stress. A local club was formed in 1754, which later became known as the Royal & Ancient Club of St. Andrews when King William became its patron (1834), hence the word “Royal” was added. With nearly a millennium of history in tow, professional golfers and duffers continue to pursue that little white ball on the first tee of one the most celebrated and photographed course – the Old Course.
Accommodations in St. Andrews range from the Old Course Hotel (pictured, upper-right in foreground), numerous B&B’s within the village (where we stayed), and even castles that are close to town. Celebrities often stay at the world renowned Old Course Hotel. We learned from an unrevealed source that Hugh Grant was in the hotel during our stay. We share a common love for nostalgic class and royal luxury with a movie star!
While the genesis of golf is in St. Andrews, this little town was an epiphany for our family as well. It is here that our zeal for Scotland began. Our daughter, who is the photographer of this article was invited to continue her education for a year at St. Andrews University, courtesy of Rotary International. What an opportunity it was for her!
So why visit Scotland? First, it is absolutely beautiful. The people are warm, interesting and very engaging. There is no real language barrier unless the locals jump into a dialect of Gaelic. I try to make an honest effort to decipher what they are saying. If I can’t determine their dialog, I just nod and smile as if I fully understand. I like the natural terrain which provides the playground for physical fitness, while the pubs offer a perfect opportunity for social entertainment.
St. Andrews University celebrated its 600th year anniversary in 2013. Featuring medieval architecture, St. Andrews University is the oldest higher educational institution in Scotland. St. Salvatore’s Quad is the oldest remaining part of the University. Sallies’ Quad, by students and staff alike is the most favored central meeting place on St. Andrews campus. In addition to having classrooms, this quad is also the celebratory center for graduations and torchlight processions.
Of the many places to explore here, one historic sight stands out from all the others. St. Andrew’s Castle (pictured, right) was originally built to house the town’s bishop in the late 12th century. Over the centuries the castle endured the North Sea storms and the onslaught of English armies and bloody battles between Protestants and Catholics who both occupied the castle at different times. The castle was the classroom for Scotland’s King James the I and the birthplace of King James the III. The castle’s notorious “bottle dungeon” was for centuries the scene of religious persecution and imprisonment. It’s usefulness as a castle came to an end in 1656 as a result of the continued protestant reformation in Scotland, which lead to its partial dismantling. The majestic stones were moved to shore up the town’s pier.
As the ecclesiastical center of St. Andrews, the town’s Roman Catholic Cathedral was the largest in the country. While all that remains is the ruins of this majestic edifice, it and the surrounding grounds are now the setting for special events like weddings and religious ceremonies such as Easter.
As he was a disciple of Jesus, Saint Andrew, the town’s namesake is the patron saint of Scotland. Historians repute that some of his relics were brought here in the 9th Century. The significance of Saint Andrews to Scotland is huge. The symbol of his martyrdom is a cross in the shape of an “X”, which is symbolized on Scotland’s and Great Britain’s flags.
I for one never grow tired of hearing a band of bagpipes and drums (pictured, left) play the national anthem, “Scotland the Brave”, while they wander the streets of St. Andrews.
Whether you play golf or an intrigued tourist, I highly recommend a day trip to St. Andrews. It’s a complete package that offers plenty of history of the surrounding areas, the rugged North Sea coast and the countryside’s natural beauty. Last but not least, always be aware and ready to duck when someone shouts….. Fore!