Commentary

St. Andrews safeguards Sundays

Updated: July 12, 2010, 12:11 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN. com

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- The sun peeked out of the clouds, if ever so briefly, which qualifies as a balmy summer day in these parts.

This old Scottish town was bustling with activity, especially around the Old Course, which is not accustomed to such a scene on Sundays.

An act of Parliament dating to 1894 safeguards access to the links for locals and visitors, meaning that with a little bit of luck (and a substantial sum of money), you or I could play the game's oldest and most historic course.

But not on Sundays.

"It's an old tradition," said David Joy, a local historian and lifelong St. Andrews resident. "Old Tom used to say that the course needs a rest, even if you don't."

Old Tom, of course, is Tom Morris Sr., the long-ago "keeper of the green" at St. Andrews whose career included making golf balls and clubs and winning four Open Championships. His son, Tom Jr., also won four. This year, the Open celebrates its 150th anniversary.

Old Tom spent the majority of his time in St. Andrews, which still boasts a golf shop with the family name.

[+] EnlargeRory Mc Ilroy
AP Photo/Peter MorrisonThe Old Course at St. Andrews is not usually a Sunday affair, with the British Open being the rare exception.

But not even a huge commercial success such as the Old Course (it costs about $250 for visitors) can get the powers that be to open the storied links on Sundays -- except for a few rare special occasions, such as the Open Championship.

The Sunday before the championship, the Old Course is opened for practice rounds, and then of course again next Sunday when the final round is played -- and when if the wind blows as did this Sunday, we'll be in for some last day.

The only other times when Sunday play is allowed is during the European Tour's Dunhill Links Championship; the St. Andrews Links Trophy, an amateur event; and a local amateur championship. So maybe four or five times a year, tops. (The Open comes here just once every five years.)

The other Sundays?

"People take their dogs out onto the course," Joy said. "They walk. There are some joggers. It turns into a pretty nice park."

All which is kind of hard to imagine at, say, Augusta National.

But it is a way of life here, and it's widely accepted. While it might hurt local business to have the tourist golfers somewhere else Sunday, the local caddies find it a bit of a blessing.

"I can basically take the weekends off," said St. Andrews resident Grant Fisher, who has been caddying at the course for six years and splits time between here and Florida toting bags for a living. "Our big days here are Mondays and Fridays. They bring in busloads of people to play the course on those days, and then they are at Carnoustie or Kingsbarns [just down the road] on the weekend.

"My friends who caddie at those places work their tails off on the weekends. I'm usually in the pub."

Sadly, few if any of Fisher's colleagues will get a bag this week during the Open. Long gone are the days when the likes of a Tip Anderson would get to caddie for Arnold Palmer at St. Andrews.

Almost everyone has their own guy now. Tiger Woods was on the course Sunday with Steve Williams, as was Phil Mickelson with Jim "Bones" Mackay. Ernie Els had Ricci Roberts. The game has changed in that way.

But at St. Andrews, many things remain as they were a long time ago. The buildings that frame the 18th hole are centuries old. The course has been lengthened, certainly. But it remains a viable championship site 137 years after it first hosted the Open.

And the locals embrace their place in history.

"It has more of a sense of theater than anywhere else," Joy said.

Sunday was a peaceful, albeit windy, opening act.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com