ST. ANDREWS, SCOTLAND - If you golf, you know that St. Andrews is the cradle of golf. It is where the likes of Old Tom Morris, Young Tom Morris, Allan Robertson and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club helped turn golf from a quaint rural pastime into a bona fide sport and world-wide obsession. But is golf the only game in St. Andrews?
The answer, for duffers willing to peek up over the riveted wall of Hell Bunker to see the great big world beyond the links, is most definitely NO.
From the mythical history of St. Andrews itself to the varied charms of the surrounding burghs, the Kingdom of Fife has as much to offer non-golfers as it does golfers.
As we recommended in our primer on how to plan a golf trip to Scotland, it is best to choose one area of Scotland to golf in. Avoid the common mistake of trying to fit in too much travel time. After all, you want to spend most of your day driving the golf ball, not driving a car. This in mind, the full spectrum of accommodation options can be found in St. Andrews, from small bare-bones rooms to the five-star Old Course Hotel on the 17th hole. The most enjoyable and comfortable - as well as affordable - option may be one of the numerous guesthouses or Bed & Breakfasts. A cluster of approximately 17 of these family-owned establishments can be found in the vicinity of Murray Place, just up the hill from the R & A Clubhouse.
David and Marie Skinner own and operate Burness House, which was built in 1889 by the architect who designed many of the other large homes around Murray Park. Located directly on the corner of North Street and Murray Park and just around the corner from Old Tom Morris's birthplace, Burness House serves as the perfect home base for golf and non-golf day trips alike.
David and Marie's resumes testify to years spent in the British golf business. David is a former PGA member, scratch golfer, club-builder and equipment shop manager. Marie was an early sales rep, and later customer service manager, for Callaway Golf during that company's earliest foray into the tough UK market.
While on business, the couple stayed at Burness House in the summer and autumn of 2000, and asked the owner if she would be interested in selling, but were turned down. Then, around Christmas 2000, they received a phone call from out of the blue. It was the owner of Burness House offering the opportunity of a lifetime to the two golf-minded entrepreneurs.
"We have very high standards at Burness House," stresses Marie, "focusing on quality and customer service. We have built up an excellent reputation. We consistently offer a service that is 'second to none'." Also second to none is the full Scottish breakfast that David and Marie serve up every morning for guests in the cozy lounge/breakfast room: eggs, bacon, sausage, beans, mushrooms, fried tomatoes, toast and cereal - just the recipe for increasing your strength and endurance on the links or taking in the sights.
Aside from being the birthplace of golf, St. Andrews is also the cradle of Scottish academia and one of the original hotbeds of the Protestant Reformation. The University of St. Andrews, founded in 1411, is the oldest university in Scotland, and the third oldest in Britain. While small in size, with only 6,000 students, the university's reputation for excellence in scholarship is impressive. In fact, Prince William, future King of England, is currently a student studying art history. (I guess all the sections of "Ruling Britain 101" were filled.)
The city of St. Andrews itself is named after - you guessed it - St. Andrew, Disciple of Jesus, brother of St. Peter, Patron Saint of Scotland, and, had he been born a couple millennia later, we're guessing he would have been a scratch golfer.
Somewhere around 733 AD, some of St. Andrew's remains (a tooth, an arm bone, a kneecap and some fingers, if you must know the gory details) were rescued from his tomb in Asia Minor and brought to the site of the present-day city for safe keeping. In 1161, construction began on a cathedral worthy to house the sacred relics. In 1203, Bishop Roger also initiated construction of a castle and ecclesiastical sanctuary. By 1318, the cathedral was completed and consecrated. Then, in 1378, fire consumed a good portion of the cathedral. So much for those 157 years of hard labor. But the ruins now draw thousands of tourists annually, as much for their awe-inspiring setting overlooking the firth as for their history.
Commencing in 1433, Protestant reformers, who had a large following in St. Andrews (which eventually became home to the first Protestant congregation in Scotland), were regularly burned at the stake by the Catholic Church for heresy. The butchery begat more butchery, and a few Catholic leaders were murdered in revenge. The castle was occupied by Protestant forces, including John Knox, for about a year from 1546-7, until it was finally overrun. The siege of the castle and subsequent religious battling reduced it to ruins as well, which also remain to this day as a historical treasure. Monuments, especially the aptly-named Martyrs Monument, testify to centuries of man's cruelty to man in the name of God. (Maybe if they had all golfed together, they would have gotten along better.)
The nearby towns of Crail, Elie and Earlsferry are not only home to some tremendous golf courses (keep an eye out here for future course reviews), they are perfect destinations for day trips out of St. Andrews. Crail is best known for its pottery artisans and exquisite crab dishes, while Elie and Earlsferry boast wide stretches of beach and harbors much favored by pleasure boaters. The town of Pittenweem is also just up the coast; it supplies all of Fife with the haddock for the famous fish 'n' chips.
Other attractions include Scotland's Secret Bunker, in Troywood, where the British government's emergency command center during the Cold War was to be located: if "the Bomb" detonated, government officials would survive. (But what point in living would there have been if the golf courses had blown up?)
Finally, don't neglect the museums, which cover everything from folk art to the fishing industry to those bleached bones of St. Andrew that started it all.
Back at Burness House, Marie and David are happy to point guests in the direction of the best eateries and watering holes in town, where haggis is far from the only delicacy on the menu. For the classic "golf pub" experience - and one of the best steaks in town - The Dunvegan Hotel (7 Pilmour Place, North Street) is located just a block from the first tee at The Old Course. Glenturret is the most popular local single malt, and Tennant lager and velvet bitter are two decent local brews. Dunvegan's walls are chock full of pictures of golfers, actors, and heads of state who have enjoyed a pint or a steak here after a round. Thanks to the University and the hordes of golf tourists, St. Andrews abounds with international restaurants as well. For Mexican, La Posada (Inchcape House, St. Mary's Place) is muy bien. For an unbeatable change of pace, try the pork and pecan burrito -- delicioso! If Bangladeshi/Indian food intrigues you, Balaka (3 Alexandra Place) has been rated as the best Bangladeshi/Indian restaurant out of the 7,500 in the entire United Kingdom. Simply put, it's Nirvana for tandoori and curry lovers.
For a bit of local flare, try Ziggy's (6 Murray Place) for fine pub atmosphere and excellent restaurant food at reasonable prices. The rather more chic Cidcin stands on the corner opposite Burness House. Here you'll find a mix of university students, golfers, and locals enjoying a varied menu and inexpensive drinks. Just beware chatty waiters who convince you to drink far more single malt Scotch than you intended to, or you'll find yourself wretchedly hung-over on the first tee at Carnoustie (at least that's what happened to me).
Now, back to Hell (Bunker) With You!
As memorable and charming as St. Andrews and the Kingdom of Fife are, if you're reading these words, you're likely a golfer. So while we highly recommend seeing the sights, we urge you to experience the full range of linksland and parkland courses in the area. St. Andrews may be the birthplace of the game, but it's not the end-all of Scottish golf. Your non-golf explorations may very well lead to one of the dozens of secluded, lesser-known courses in the area. So keep those clubs close by at all times!
Murray Park, St. Andrews
Proprietors: David and Marie Skinner
Tel. and Fax: +44 (0)1334 474314
St. Andrews Tourist Information Centre
70 Market Street, St Andrews,
Fife, KY16 9NU, Scotland, UK
Tel +44 1334 472021
Fax +44 1334 478422
The best non-golf St. Andrews information web sites:
St. Andrews city website: http://www.saint-andrews.co.uk/
Undiscovered Scotland: http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/areastan/ (who allowed us to use photos of the castle, cathedral, Crail, and Elie from their website)
Kiel Christianson has lived, worked, traveled and golfed extensively on three continents. As senior writer and equipment editor for WorldGolf.com, he has reviewed courses, resorts, and golf academies from California to Ireland, including his home course, Lake of the Woods G.C. in Mahomet, Illinois. Read his golf blog here.
Jason Scott Deegan spent more time getting to golf courses than playing them in 2013, spending time on the links in Oahu, New Zealand, Kauai and many others destinations. From Atlantic City to Scotland -- and everywhere else in between -- Deegan offers up his golf travel awards for 2013.
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