Republic of Leith, not posh St Andrews, is the real home of golf – Susan Morrison

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American golf fanatics may be visiting the wrong place

Continuing on our theme of ‘visiting places we generally don’t get the chance to just mooch around’, my husband and I decided to have a few days in St Andrews. I’ve worked there a lot but never really got to see the place, usually I just parked the car and dashed into a venue.

One night I was stopped in my tracks by a busker playing a flute. Now, I have seen flautists in public places before, but they generally had orange sashes on and were followed by sweating blokes in bowler hats and men hitting huge drums. This little girl was on her own and tootling out something by Mozart, if I’m not mistaken.

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That’s how I knew it was posh. Even someone familiar with the New Town can see St Andrews is off the scale. Within five minutes, I heard a woman complain that the pony was becoming “just too small for the twins”, and an exasperated man in his 40s on his phone saying “Yes, mummy, Veuve Clicquot. Very common, even if it was for a wedding.”

There are very distinct tribes of men roaming the streets. University lecturing types tend to wear chinos, in a range of colours, from rusty red to quite shockingly orange. Possibly this marks them out to each other, like New York gangs in leather jackets. Perhaps they meet in regiments marked by shades of chino to have a square go at each other on the beach. The mathematicians bellow formulas at the classics men, who rant back with pithy Latin quotes and a nice line in withering Greek put-downs.

There are two types of American chaps. The students, who all seem incredibly tall. I suspect they have to go through a special gate at their home airports with one of those pointy hand things they have at theme park roller coasters next to a sign that says “you must reach this height to go to St Andrews”.

The second type of American wandering the streets are the big burly blokes in baseball caps. These are the golfers. They look like retired cops. Possibly they are. This would explain the ever-present takeout coffee in their huge mitts. It's a reminder of the days when they lived on caffeine and doughnuts. Also, they need to be holding something when the golf clubs are bagged, sheathed or whatever it is you do to golf clubs.

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They are very keen on the whack-a-ball-with-a-stick game. They play golf, talk golf and live golf. They stay in hotels with whacky sticks in the hall and on the wall and have endless showings of golf on ginormous screen televisions in the lounges.

The Old Course at St Andrews, seen here in 1927, may be old, but Leith Links is the true birthplace of golf (Picture: Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)The Old Course at St Andrews, seen here in 1927, may be old, but Leith Links is the true birthplace of golf (Picture: Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
The Old Course at St Andrews, seen here in 1927, may be old, but Leith Links is the true birthplace of golf (Picture: Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The fact that they get off the greens to do a spot of sight-seeing seemed surprising. We saw them ambling around St Andrews Cathedral. I thought they were taking in some Scottish ecclesiastical history, until I realised there is a grave to some great hero of the game, and that's what they had come to see.

Of course, I permitted myself the tiniest curl of my lip. St Andrews may have the title of Royal and Ancient, but we here in the Republic know where the birthplace of the game is and that, my boys, is Leith Links. Not so posh, but the coffee is great.

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