Invitation to Golf's Most Exclusive Club

One final story about Scotland for this week, and this speaks to my heartfelt belief that it is almost always better to travel alone or in small groups than to arrive at a place in a big tour bus and enjoy only the company of your fellow travelers.

A few years ago at about this time of year, I was in St. Andrews, alone, to write a story about Scottish golf. I couldn't get onto the Old Course, but booked a tee time at the adjacent New Course, which is practically the same track of wide, flat fairways, devilish bunkers and huge greens. I was paired with a local man named Gordon, and we enjoyed a quiet round together, walking the course and complimenting each other's good shots. He taught me several good things about dealing with the whipping winds and changing conditions, including how to hit a low, rolling, 7-iron into an unprotected green.

At the end of the round he turned to me and said something I've never heard before or since on a golf course. "Would you mind shaving and putting on a tie and jacket?" he asked. "I'll buy you a drink at the R&A." He was referring to the absolute Mecca of golf, the ancient clubhouse of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, golf's ancestral society that was formed in 1754 and sets the rules of the game. NOBODY gets into the R&A clubhouse if they're not invited by a member, and luckily for me, Gordon was a member. I practically ran back to my hotel, shaved and found my "Where's Waldo?" tie and a blazer, and met him at the most exclusive golf club in the world.

For a golfer, it was the equivalent of being invited into Buckingham Palace for tea with the Queen and Prince Chuck. Glass cases in the sitting room held Old and Young Tom Morris's hand-carved golf clubs and priceless feathery golf balls, the original orbs that were hand-stuffed with goose down. Gleaming silver trophies included the claret jug that is traditionally awarded to the winner of the British Open every year. Gordon invited me upstairs for lunch, and at the table across from us sat Sean Connery, an R&A member.

In short, I had died and gone to golf heaven. Traveling alone can be arduous and lonely, but it wouldn't have happened if I was on a tour with a hundred other American golfers. My lunch at St. Andrews is one of the prized memories of my career in travel.
  • Jim Gullo

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