ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- For the adoring Scots -- the most passionate and knowledgeable of golf aficionados -- anticipation for the first round of the championship is near equal to that of the competitors. They love the game with a revered grasp and an enduring embrace that often takes root at birth.
Southern football fans -- who are familiar with the births of babies being documented with a photo of the newborn with a football in the crib -- can relate. There are countless photos of babies in Scotland who are photographed with a golf club before they can walk.
A scene which recurs in my mind's eye is that first trip to St. Andrews in the late 1970s. On the train up from London, the gray skies were dominant as the train moved north through the countryside. Then a misting rain commingled with the gray skies, making you conclude that it was a good day to stay inside.
As the train sped doggedly into Edinburgh, there was a solitary golfer fighting through all the elements toward the hole he was playing. He was pulling his trolley, the name used for pull carts over here, into the wind and rain. It was a study in commitment and a reminder that the Scots don't stay inside just because of inclement weather.
In 1964, the wind was blowing so hard at St. Andrews that Bob Charles, the defending champion from New Zealand, came in following a challenging round and noted that continuing play in foul weather was making a travesty of the championship. This prompted Keith Mackenzie -- secretary of the R&A, the man who is generally credited with getting the tournament on solid financial footing several years ago -- to quip, "We couldn't shut down the tournament. If we did, the members would want to go out and play."
There is a little something special this year in that this is the 150th anniversary of the playing of golf's oldest championship. They are here for the golf, and while there are many who are inclined to shopping at the tented village and enjoying the ancillary enticements and options, the real golf fan is here to see the players compete.
They understand the golf swing, they know the nuances of the game, and most of them could actually go out and take a player's bag and direct him around the course, telling him where he should hit the ball and where to avoid trouble.
The first time I played St. Andrews, my caddie was Sydney Rutherford. At the time, he was seventy, which I thought was old -- but not anymore. He wore a nice sweater and a tie. He had played 18 holes that morning and walked at a brisk pace that belied his age.
Every fan has a story to tell. Where they were when Jack Nicklaus played here. They are knowledgeable about the Americans who are the fresh faces on the PGA tour but reserve their greatest affection for Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.
Ben Hogan won at Carnoustie in 1953, which was his only trip over. It was the same with Sam Snead when he won here in 1946. They had no desire to spend all that time on an ocean liner to get here and then lose money on the trip -- even if they won.
Air travel changed all that. First Palmer and then Nicklaus began making the trip annually and winning not only the championship, but the hearts of the Scots. They didn't complain about the food or the weather or the accommodations. Their respect for tradition was obvious and superseded any inconvenience. They will always be appreciated in Scotland.
Now that the championship is about to be under way, the crowds predictably will swell to record numbers with each day's play. If it rains, if the wind blows, it will not matter. This championship belongs to the Scots -- always the purest and most affectionate of golf fans.