I first ventured to Scotland to play golf in 2008. My son Tim and I were lucky enough to hit the lottery on that trip – the one that gets you onto The Old Course at St. Andrews. (The lottery is known at St Andrews as a “ballot.”) It cost me less than £100 each for our round in 2008, and I thought it was a bargain; today the rack rate is £320, or a little over $400. Not sure it is still a bargain.

On my recent trip to Scotland, I relived for free the highlight (and a couple of lowlights) of that first round 16 years ago. On a Sunday, I joined hundreds of citizens of St. Andrews, their many dogs and plenty of visitors for a stroll on the Old Course, which is closed for play on Sundays when there isn’t an Open Championship in town.
DoubleWide1stfairwayOldCourseThe light green is the first fairway at The Old Course and the darker green is the 18th fairway. Together, they are 129 yards wide, the widest fairway in golf. In 2008, from the first tee beyond the right edge of the photo, I hit my drive almost to the fence in the distance on the left. This photo was taken on a recent Sunday; the Old Course is closed to play on Sundays but open to anyone -- and their dogs -- who would like to go for a stroll on the most famous turf in golf.

As I stepped onto the first tee box and looked out at the double-wide fairway before me, I felt a frisson of embarrassment. The fairway, which comprises both the first and 18th holes, is the widest in all of golf, 129 yards from the fence guarding the right side of the 1st hole to the fence guarding the left on #18. Most pulled tee shots by right-handed golfers might make it to the midway line on the 18th fairway but you would almost have to be aiming 45 degrees away from the first green to get it to the fence that guards the road that runs behind the green on the famous Road Hole (#17).

But the enormity and anxiety of the moment in 2008, when I stood on the first tee of a golf course I had dreamed of playing for more than 40 years, pulled my hands as quickly to the left as a Hank Aaron home run swing. As I watched in horror and embarrassment, my ball rolled to within 10 feet of the fence guarding the road. (Note: In 1995, golf pro and then former Open champion Ian Baker Finch pulled his tee shot farther left than mine and out of bounds. His round and, not long after, his professional career – he shot a 92 in the 1997 Open Championship at Royal Troon -- were doomed. Yet I was left with a surprisingly routine approach shot over the Swilken Burn to the first green. I wound up making bogey and was delighted after my pitiful drive.)

The next lowlight recollection on my Sunday walk was on the fourth tee box. Tim and I had teed off on #1 in considerable sunshine with the temperature about 60 degrees Fahrenheit. But as is the case in most of Scotland, you see the weather before it gets to you; and that menacing black cloud to the west had rolled toward us from our first tee shots. By the time we got to the 4th, it was over us, and all around was a howling wind and sideways sleet. I had prepared by purchasing a St. Andrews logoed rain jacket before the round, but it wasn’t big enough to protect my face, my pants and my feet. I thought about quitting, but it was a good-sized walk to shelter, the two caddies (students at St. Andrews University) were paid for and this was the only time on our trip that my son and I would get to play the most famous golf course in the world. I’m glad we hung in there because, after putting out on the 4th green, the sleet passed, the sunshine returned as quickly as it had departed, and we were mostly dry by the end of the fifth hole.
OldCourse17thteeshotThe professionals will aim their tee shots on the 17th Road Hole over the higher portion of the hotel that blocks the fairway from view. In 2008, I took the safe route, just to the left of the low hotel annex.
It is hard to get through 18 holes without at least one memorable positive moment, but my time was running out as I stood on the 17th tee at the famous Road Hole. The pros think nothing of skying a drive over the highest corner of the hotel in front of them, but I chickened out and took a safe route just to the left of the low part of the hotel annex and into the rough on the far side of the dogleg right fairway. I had a good lie in the cropped rough and hit my purest shot of the day, a five iron that bounced at the front left of the green, kicked a bit right and wound up six feet from the hole. I won’t belabor the story; I made the putt. A birdie on the Road Hole. As a true Scotsman would say, "I was chuffed."
Approach to Road Hole green
RoadHoleGreenTop, about where my tee shot in 2008 ended up in the rough on the Road Hole, about a five iron away. Bottom, the green at the #17 Road Hole, which looks unremarkable except for the stone wall just a few yards beyond it. I sank my six foot putt for birdie and was "chuffed."

Ask me how I did on the 18th hole, and I cannot begin to recall a thing. One or two good shots can make you forget the bad that came before; it is one of the reasons golf is the greatest sport of all. I could never presume to hit a high hard one in baseball or crash through the defensive line in football or run a four-minute mile. But in golf, if you are good and lucky, you can make a shot that produces as good a score as any pro has ever made. (What is better than a hole in one, eh?) And you could also birdie the Road Hole at The Old Course which, in the final round of The Open Championship, any professional would be glad to enter on his scorecard.

On Tuesday, I began my annual May visit to Scotland, although this one will be a more equal balance between golf and taking in all the other wonderful things the Scotlamd has to offer. I write this from my favorite city, Edinburgh, where I arrived just after the sun came up Tuesday morning after a flight from Hartford, CT, to Dublin and, after a short layover, on to Edinburgh. Motel One – Royal (it’s really a “hotel”) has become my go-to lodgings after a pleasant stay of a couple of days last year with my wife. Located in the Old Town section of the city, a block from Waverley Station and a couple of blocks below the Royal Mile, Edinburgh’s famed and historic shopping and dining street, you can’t be in a better position for pubs, both fine and casual restaurants, shops, and buildings that are centuries old.
Cockburn from breakfast seatHow I started my day; the breakfast view from the lobby of the Motel One- Royal. At the top of the two block long Cockburn Street lies the Royal Mile.

Last night’s dinner at The Malt Shovel, a well-regarded pub less than a block from the hotel, was exactly what you hope for in a UK pub; great selection of beers, a loud and convivial post-work crowd, and quite competent food, in my case a toothsome cheddar burger layered with cheese, lettuce, tomato and red onion. The cheese was barely melted but I didn’t care. Today, camera in tow and praying for at least a little sunshine,
The Malt ShovelThe Malt Shovel begins serving at noon, and they were setting up late morning as I passed by.

I started my walkabout along the Royal Mile, trying to tick off the many photo ops I had not found on prior trips and to recapture the best scone of my life on my first trip to the city in 2008. (Sadly, I did not find it and when stepped inside the tiny and highly regarded Milkman coffee shop, the young at the counter said "Sorry, no scones.") No matter where you point your camera in Edinburgh – east, west, high and low -- it is hard not to capture a great shot; the framings and perspectives seem to be pre-composed by ancient architects and volcanic movements. A walk on flat ground – asphalt or cobblestones – is more rare than skimming downhill or huffing uphill. The Edinburgh Castle hangs over the city, as does a volcanic mountain to the east (extinct, thankfully), just beyond the historic Hollyrood ("Hooray for Hollyrood!") but dramatic long flights of stone stairs up and down from one section of the city to the next, and almost endless narrow alleyways that twist and turn through centuries old residences and churches, beg for photo shots -- and make me thankful I no longer need to pay for film.
Bagpiper on Royal MileThe busker bagpipers are fanned out along the Royal Mile, just far enough apart from each so as not to overlap in terms of sound and tips.

I’ll be weighing in next week about the golf at Crail Golfing Society and its 36 holes, every one of them with at least a peek at the North Sea. It is the only golf community in the world with designs by Old Tom Morris (circa 1895) and a “new” Gil Hanse, Craighead Links which was one of his early designs (1998) and his first international assignment. After that, I head to the Highlands of Scotland on a buddy trip with my brother-in-law from London. No golf will be involved, but plenty of photos, especially on the Isle of Skye. And perhaps a wee dram or two.  Cheers.
Tourist photoI am not the only one with a camera who loves to take photos of dramatically long flights of stone stairs of Old Town Edinburgh. I had to wait for this lady's mate to take the perfect photo because, as I waited, she retreated down the stairs to check on the image, went back up for another go,and then another before she was satisfied. In any case, they were so riveted on their photo that I decided a model was more interesting than naked stairs. If they noticed, they didn't seem to mind.