As tradition has it, golfers from all over the world – top professionals as well as pilgrim hackers visiting the game’s Holy Ground and wide-eyed tourists – stop on the Swilken Bridge for a snapshot with friends or a selfie, writes GRANT WINTER.
St Andrews, Scotland: There are perks to this job. I’m billeted in the gracious old Rusacks Hotel which is right next door – literally a 30-foot putt away – to the famous Old Course in this ancient Royal Burgh.
Rather fittingly, I’m in the Swilken Bridge room and out of my second-floor window I look down on a grand view of the shared first and 18th fairways, on golf’s holy ground where the game has been played for 600-odd years. Not far in front of the 18th tee is the Swilken Burn, and crossing it the charming and historic Swilken Bridge, the stone arch said to be built by the Romans. Beyond. In the distance, are the Western Sands, that long, beautiful stretch of beach where ‘Chariots of Fire’ was filmed, and where hardy St Andrews University students surf in the St Andrews Bay section of the North Sea.
As tradition has it, golfers from all over the world – top professionals as well as pilgrim hackers visiting the game’s Holy Ground and wide-eyed tourists – stop on the Swilken Bridge for a snapshot with friends or a selfie.
Jack Nicklaus put his leg up on the edge of the bridge as he waved to fans in 2005, Arnold Palmer doffed his hat from the same spot 10 years earlier (there’s a photograph in my room). while our own Louis Oosthuizen, proudly grasping the Claret Jug, posed there for the world’s photographers following his 2010 Open triumph. A portly Bobby Locke stood on the bridge when he won the 1957 Open here, as did Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and David Fost, shoulders around one another, following their Dunhill Cup victories at St Andrews in 1997 and 1998 (the 16-nation Dunhill Cup being the forerunner to the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship which was first played for in 2001).
Some people dance on the bridge, others get engaged on it, some young men hang from it, kilted Scottish bag-pipers fill the air with sweet music on it, and one woman flew across the Atlantic from America to sprinkle her golf-loving husband’s ashes beneath it.
Branden Grace, to date the only South African to win the Alfred Dunhill LInks Championship, in 2012, appropriately “graced” the Swilken Bridge with his presence after his victory, while Dunhill guests on their way back to their hotels walk across the bridge late at night after dinner functions in the plush Alfred Dunhill Pavilion, which overlooks the green at the infamous (infamous because it’s so darn difficult) 17th Road Hole.
Many will have photos taken of themselves on the Swilken Bridge this week but only one champion will be there, and hopefully it’s a South African. Grace is hoping to ‘make mine a double,’ Richard Sterne was second last year so he’ll be hoping to go one better, George Coetzee is hitting form and Els, not far his 48th birthday, insists he’s not finished yet.
Let’s see. Right now, though, I’m heading for that famous old bridge.