Playing golf in Scotland is a reminder that the game will go on even as championships and tours come and go.


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On the Old Field on Monday afternoon, as the townspeople of St. Andrews were recovering their property and sanity, a handful of the luckiest men in Fife were finishing their rounds. Since all the regalia of the open championship remained intact, a curious scene unfolded on the 1st and 18th. A handful of workers at the top of the bright yellow leaderboard slowly and quietly began to remove the names and numbers that defined the 150th edition of this event. It was a reminder that even the pomp and solemnity of the historic Open fades with time.

This was the same leaderboard that Rory McIlroy said he looked at from his hotel room at night, hoping that his name would remain at the top of a structure that now has no names at all.

The Monday after the Majors is always sobering and maybe even empty. So much anticipation, so much energy, so many years spent on the previous week, that the end may leave everyone involved in a dazed state of stupor. It seems unfair that the last two holes of the majors take as long as the first two, and then suddenly come to an end with 262 days between The Open Sunday and the 2023 Masters Thursday.

Anyone ready for the nine months in between?

Golf in the KingdomMichael Murphy is a book where the title tells you everything you need to know. While the book is excellent and critically acclaimed, the synopsis can be found in the four-word title. These words probably evoke either one of the greatest experiences of your life or hope for what is to come. Scotland, yes, but also Kingdom. Perhaps there has never been a grander union between earth, man and sport.

This phrase, like sports at the professional level, is under complete blockade. If the people who run the now ephemeral LIV Golf get their way, Golf in the Kingdom may mean something different over the next 20 years than over the past 200 years. The LIV, of course, worked its way up last week as the meandering burn on the Old Course passes through two of its most notorious holes. The weekend was a respite, but the question heard in the pubs, on the streets, at the media center and even at the airport was unanimous: What will happen to golf in the world?

Nobody knows the answer, at least on a professional level. There are rumors of a very important meeting at the PGA Tour HQ this week to discuss…what exactly? How do you go up against a sovereign nation with endless wealth that could be on the verge of getting both an Open champion and one of the last PGA Tour figures to lose, Hideki Matsuyama? The current envisioned future with split tours and a warped Ryder Cup is insanely bleak.

What can be done? There are a lot of ideas – we discussed each iteration over pints last week – but no action may matter if money is thrown at people with the frivolity usually reserved for conceded 1-foot punches.

Can we come to terms with this future? Can LIV live, and can we live with it? I was convinced that it had a few good components (the command part is really convincing on a secondary level), but there is also an empty content that is difficult to get rid of – a soullessness that is in perfect contrast to the Scottish spirituality of the game.

On the Tuesday and Wednesday before The Open, a group of friends and colleagues played on two fields, Crail and Elie, which stand in the shadow of St. Andrews. Calling them ‘other nearby runs’ would not be fair as one could fly across the Atlantic Ocean and experience the heart of Scotland on just those two runs. Both nights we played until we could no longer see the golf ball and could barely see each other. Unfortunately, there were no cameras that could make it lighter than it actually was.

Crail was a whirlpool of beauty. Antique roads and stone walls adorned with contrasting gold, green and blue colors criss-crossed a golf course so convincing it looked as if God had built the earth around the 18 holes. We started at sunset and ended at moonrise. Golf in the Kingdom.

Eli was amazing. The seaside town took us to the water along which we played what James Braid called the best hole in the world, par 4, 13th. At the edge of this hole – and seemingly the whole world – we were faced with a sleazy strip of cliffs and a sky so littered with pink, orange and red that I’m surprised Nike didn’t wear it on a Sunday afternoon.

Dan Rapaport subsequently wrote about the sport’s gravitational pull. Professional golf is attractive for a thousand reasons, but most what’s compelling is that it’s a sport that we can all play, even against each other, no matter the difference in skill. People can’t train at Fenway Park the day after the World Series or run the courses at Lambeau Field the day after the NFC championship, but they were the first to go down the Old Course, playing the same golf course as their incredibly talented heroes. passed just 24 hours before.

Which begs the question: who really owns golf? ‘Cause sometimes the pros come in our steps too.

Friday night during the Scottish Open, held a week before The Open, Max Homa left the Renaissance club, where he played for $8 million, for North Berwick (another of our stops), where he played, because he was so taken with the YouTube video that he didn’t put off having to see it for himself. Homa pushed the cart and chased the sun as well as a couple of stingers on the second nine of North Berwick. It was Kevin Durant at Rucker Park, except for golf, it happens all the time.

The best thing about golf in Scotland is its accessibility. It is a good reminder to those of us whose countries tend to privatize the best of our land that while this solution is undoubtedly extremely beneficial, it may not always be the best for all parties. If this isn’t a recap of this summer, I don’t know what is. You don’t need to have a lot of money, athleticism or 21 other friends to play golf in Scotland, and yet you can access some of the most exhilarating lands on Earth.

You’ve probably seen Cameron Smith score 30 when a stunned McIlroy stalled out on his way with The Open on the line. The last two hours have been as intense as I have ever felt as a meeting place. But as the fans walked out wondering what might have been, something unfolded that you probably didn’t notice.

An hour after Smith made his life-time top four at No. 17 and won the biggest tournament of his career, the kids jumped into the Road Hole bunker and the patrons went through the field. After all, it was a Sunday when St. Andrews is a park. Golf in the Kingdom.

LIV is the litmus test against which everything else in golf is measured right now. The most destructive entities always occupy this position, for this is the meaning of their existence. It has become extremely difficult to experience anything in golf without hearing about the LIV as part of the background. Loud, brash, golfing, but actually fun, the golf that LIV promotes is diametrically opposed to the idea Golf in the Kingdom.

It’s not necessarily bad, but it’s very artificial. Golf in Scotland can be described in many ways. Manufactured definitely not one of them.

I am far from the first American whose heart is completely taken away by the Kingdom. Kevin Van Valkenburg told me that this would be the journey of my life. I believed him, but I could not understand this experience or feeling until I was sitting at the station near St. Andrews on Monday evening on my way back to Edinburgh for the long journey home. I FaceTimed my kids who wanted to see the train pull into the station, and then I put the phone down and just sat there and felt the Kingdom. Beyond the fence were fields of purple flowers and a sun that never seemed to fade in summer. Flags with the number 150 stretched out behind me, and I was amazed by it all.

If, as has been said, we are made of dust, where we will one day return, then the earth has a closer connection with our souls than we probably even think. Perhaps the best way to describe golf in Scotland is playing with mud. So rarely in 21st century life do we struggle with the soil. While playing golf doesn’t quite feel like working on a farm, it can be as close as it gets for some of us. What an incredible joy and humiliating effort to fight a place you know you will never win.

As the deletion of the scoreboard on Monday showed, even championships come and go. But golf remains and it exists.

Golf breeds humility for a myriad of reasons, but the most obvious one is one we rarely acknowledge. Even when we do, it’s still barely noticeable, which is perhaps a nod to how golf is played in this country. What it really means to mark an anniversary tournament like the 150th Open is that the feeling of the place is overwhelming. We don’t count championships in most other sports, but we do in golf because it’s a tribute to the earth and the reality that the earth still stands and will roll on.

Sports venues live and then die, but golf – and especially golf in the Kingdom – is special because you can’t destroy what you haven’t built. In other sports, we are subject to our collective will. In golf, the place bends us.

In another 150 years – allegedly at the 300th Open Championship – everyone who was on this edition will no longer be (well, except maybe Bryson DeChambeau). Back to dust. I spend a lot of time thinking about this, and yet the earth – like an echo of eternity – will and will remain. As long as that is the case, some form of golf will be played on the ground where both Old Tom and Young Tiger (and millions of others) have walked.

In a year when golf seemed to be nothing more than a commodity, Scotland has become a reminder that although professional golf can race down that road, golf itself can’t.

Something Homa recently said on Podcast “Don’t Delay” since then, it has turned over in my head a hundred times: “Of course you can buy a tour, but you can’t buy my goals and my dreams.”

This is what you have probably heard over the past few weeks: “[Insert entity here] trying to buy golf.” This is a stupid idea, because this is not a game that you can buy.

In 1457, James II issued an Act of Parliament attempting to ban the game because it was “unfavorable” to the Scottish military defense against England. James II preferred archery as an alternative for his people. At the turn of the same century, two more bans were issued, but there is no evidence that they ever actually worked. His grandson, James IV, tried to enforce the ban, but eventually gave in and took part in the game himself. Golf has always been inevitable because the earth begged us to play it.

Who knows what will happen to professional golf in the next 100 years, 100 days or 100 hours? What is undoubtedly true is that 100 hours, 100 days and 100 years from now, this place – and the mighty power behind it – will continue to capture the imagination and desires of its inhabitants. While the Kingdom still stands, our temporary pleasure in its kindness continues.

Golf, it turns out, is not for sale. He belongs to the earth and to all who are on it.

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