BRITISH OPEN: What a week at St. Andrews!

Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- The weather is always a topic reviewed to overflowing in Scotland, especially on the weekend of the British Open Championship, but the rains and the overpowering winds since the start of the tournament have not caused any fans to pack up and go home.

It appears that the passionate golfing advocates will be rewarded with more of the same gale-force winds of this week for today's final round of the Championship. Nobody, except perhaps the golfers is complaining.

There is more to amuse a

visitor to this "auld grey toun" than the golf, which originated here 15 years before the telephone was invented. This year, you can watch the Championship on your cell phone. In the town that is St. Andrews, a walk about the streets stimulates the emotions as much as a sojourn around the golf course amid the pot bunkers, the gorse and the bunkers with their clever names: Beardies, Kitchen and Grave, Principal's Nose, Seven Sisters and Cheape's.

People scurry about town with their daily chores, mindful of the golf but not always locked into its playing routine. A gray-haired lady pedals her bike, the handle bar basket filled with groceries. You see a lot of that in the small towns over here, making you appreciate that she is authoring a statement without speaking a word -- about exercise, traffic congestion, energy conservation and parking.

Sea gulls are always congregating, fussing and socializing at St. Andrews, and on Saturday their squawking commingled with the mournful sounds of a young bagpiper on the main street corner up from the Royal & Ancient Clubhouse. The North Sea slams against the shore when the wind picks up, which allows for the sea gulls to ride the forces of the wind waywardly -- like a child of yesteryear with his arm out the window of a car motoring through the country side.

Dinner with Tony and Lisa Parker at the Castle Course Clubhouse offers a spectacular view of the 9th and 18th greens, guarded by sand dunes, shocks of heather, and whins, a picturesque setting that reaches beyond the enrapturing landscape to the horizon of the dark, cold sea. Tony from Athens and Lisa from Roswell have settled here after Tony retired from teaching at the nearby University of Dundee. They now hold dual passports, having recently been granted British citizenship. Tony plays the Old Course at least twice a week while Lisa works at the University of St. Andrews -- to support his habit.

They live at Kingsbarns, which is seven miles east of St. Andrews. Kingsbarns is a village of 460 with a fine golf course, a gray and weather-beaten stone church with a tall steeple (built in 1631), one convenience store -- which opens at 7:30 a.m. and not a minute before, even if you are standing outside in the rain -- and not a single roundabout.

When the Open comes around, there is interest in the former champions. Arnold Palmer is still big here because he gave the championship life when it was at its lowest. Jack Nicklaus soon followed, and the grand old Championships was, in time, restored to its once-lofty status. They take great interest in the new faces, too -- Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and Ryo Ishikawa of Japan, playing like seasoned veterans in their teenage years. Then there is the leader, Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa. Before they even learn how to spell his name, he seems bent on breaking the tournament scoring record. Golf has always been an international game, but this year at St. Andrews reflects its greatest foreign flavor ever. There is hardly an American in sight.

For the many who might find this noteworthy, I bumped into this bit of history on how a round of golf became an 18-hole affair. Seems that a discussion among the members at St. Andrews in 1858 led to one member noting that it took 18 shots to polish off a fifth of scotch. By limiting oneself to one shot per hole, the old Scot advanced the notion that the round was finished when the scotch ran out.