Europe

Saint Andrews

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The sunrise is the same, and the bunkers on the 17thhole look as fearsome as ever, but otherwise, there isn’t much to recall from journeys with my mother to the Old Course in Saint Andrews.

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Mom was an accomplished amateur golfer by the time we started trekking northward in 1963 for her annual turn on the Turnberry-Troon-Gleneagles-Saint Andrews circuit. Even though she played on my father’s corporate memberships, Dad had long given up competing with her and had hung up his clubs. So she enlisted her 11-year-old son as a travel companion and pretend-caddy, and off we went.

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In Saint Andrews, we climbed off the train on a rail line that no longer exists at a station that has since been turned into a touristy pub, the Jigger Inn. The railway hotel where we stayed is now the massive Old Course Hotel, no more Scottish than the Pebble Beach Inn of Monterey, with solidly American fare in its Sands Grill and expense-account glitz décor in the lobby and rooms. None of the wearisome, but oddly comforting, inconveniences I recall from the anachronistic Victorian retreats of my youth.

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Money, it seems, has arrived in Saint Andrews to stay, and railing against modernity has a King Canute feel to it—Canute being the Saxon monarch who sat his throne in the North Sea surf and commanded the waves to recede. The waves ignored Canute, and the modern world continues to dumb down and average out all the kinks that used to make life so interesting—and maybe so miserable—for so many.

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Yet maybe all I’m sensing is a nostalgia for the remarkable woman who bore me. The daughter of a hillbilly schoolteacher from Tennessee, Mom ripped out her roots in Akron, Ohio, to become the chief organist of a Protestant cathedral and first flute in the symphony orchestra. In World War II, she landed a job as a high-ranking officer in the Women’s Army Corp, and afterwards conquered Gimbel’s as the senior buyer for Ohio.

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In the fashion of the times, she gave all that up to mother her three children, but before long, she had moved to Europe and transformed herself into a superb painter, golfer, and chef. It didn’t matter what you tried, she always said, as long as you set out to become the best at it.

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As Ella Winter famously remarked to Thomas Wolfe, “You can’t go home again.” And nothing brings back that sentiment like a trip to the newly manicured Royal and Ancient Golf Club of Saint Andrews. Yet I somehow doubt that Mom would have cared. She would have simply led the charge onto the next mountain in her path and transformed it, as she always did, into a minor molehill.

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