All those dream rounds on the Old Course at St. Andrews? This guy starts them
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If you’ve played the Old Course at St. Andrews, you’ve felt it. If you’ve simply strolled by the course on Golf Place, you’ve imagined it. If you woke up early with a cup of coffee to watch The Open this year, you can at least visualize it. That first shot of a memorable round, from the same tee that Old Tom, Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus — name your golfing hero — have all played from. Goosebumps of a different order.
No one knows that quite like the golfer assistants at St. Andrews.
It’s hard to imagine a happier workplace than the 1st tee at the Old Course, where Bruce Allan shows up a handful of times a week. As golfer assistant, he greets the poor souls who have slept (or simply stewed) overnight in the singles queue. Allan has the pleasure of delivering the news those folks are starving for: a tee time.
“That’s when it all really kicks off,” Allan says. “We’re getting high-fives, we’re getting cheers. They’re running around really excited. They’re way up in the sky.”
Later on he’ll station himself along either side of the fairway telling people when they can cross Grannie Clark’s Wynd and the most famous fairway in the world. But of course the job gets really good when he sends groups off on the round they’ve dreamed about.
Just steps in front of the R&A clubhouse and a sand wedge east of Old Tom Morris’s house, that 1st tee holds so much meaning. Any contact remotely close to the center of the club face will be good enough to advance it up the concrete turf. But undoubtedly the mind of a 15 handicap becomes a maze full of nerves and swing thoughts with the golf gods looking down from above (and many others watching from beside the hole).
Allan has witnessed all kinds of results from that tee box, but he wants people to know no one watching on the 1st tee is judgmental. They’ve all been there before. There was the one time a drive went 90 degrees to the right, Ping-Ponged across the walls of the putting green and then back onto the tee about 10 feet away from where it started. There was the other time a golfer heeled a shot between his legs onto the 18th green.
“Somebody said that’s the longest drive in St. Andrews history,” Allan joked. “He drove from the 1st to the 18th.”
One of the biggest jobs for a golfing assistant on that 1st tee is simply keeping players calm.
“They’re actually quite hyper about playing the Old Course,” Allan says. “A lot of them will hang back on the putting green pretending to be still practicing their putting when they really should be on the tee.” That’s when Allan reminds them that President Eisenhower was so nervous in his first visit that he elected to just start his round on the 2nd tee instead of deal with the anxiety of the 1st.
Sometimes golfers are too swept up in the surroundings to pay attention. This place they’ve seen in photos and on TV and in their dreams has come to life. Part of Allan’s gig is to pull them back in with a little advice. The flags on the front nine are white. The flags on the back nine are red — don’t forget it! Right will almost always get you in trouble, so miss left. And as long as anyone is crossing the road on the 1st and 18th, please hold off from playing. That means you, too, Scottie Scheffler.
Allan had to jump in to keep the 2022 Masters champion from firing a forbidden tee shot during a practice round during Open week. A dozen spectators were leisurely crossing the 1st fairway, directly in his way. “You don’t trust me?” Scheffler asked, willing to just play his ball over their heads. That’s a no-no.
“He’s World No. 1,” Will Zalatoris said at the time, drawing laughter from the crowd.
“Obviously he could have,” Allan says now, “but we have to stick to the same rules that we do for the normal golfers.”
Much as he had to be a stickler, Allan has benefitted from that perk of the job, meeting quite a few famous folks on the 1st tee. Notably Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tommy Fleetwood and a number of pros during the Open. Special as those few moments were, it still doesn’t compare to the thrill of surprising tired, patient, defeated golfers just as they’ve given up hope of playing that day.
“It’s the ones who have to wait,” he said. “Sometimes there are people who sit in there all day and wait and wait and wait. Then sometimes in the middle of the afternoon — once they’ve been there for six or eight or nine hours — a space we weren’t expecting to come up, comes up.
“I’ve had a couple people in tears — literally in tears — because we’ve managed to get them out.”