ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — The Open at the Old Course was an exercise of our ears. There was plenty to be gained just by listening.
There were those 1st-tee boos that Ian Poulter received. There was the ovation Tiger Woods received, which he admitted made it feel “like the whole tournament was right there.” He was right: everyone was right there, and when Phil Mickelson came through two hours later, barely anyone was there. There was the roar of the week on Saturday, when McIlroy holed out from the bunker on 10. We’ve learned that he has one of the easiest names to chant on repeat. And then the sound of brooding acceptance when Cam Smith saved par on the 71st hole.
But now? Well, the seagulls have gone from background noise to lead stars once again. There must be more seagulls than humans in Scotland, and they’re back circling the R&A clubhouse, spying on the sandwiches of unsuspecting golfers below. St. Andrews is quiet once again — the way it should be. Just ask Caleb, who was disappointed to miss the Open, but enjoyed reading Ulysses from the first row of the 18th grandstand.
Monday was always going to be an exhale, reserved by the R&A on the off chance that weather would force an extra day of competition like it did in 2015. Mastercard is a major sponsor of the tournament, so it enjoyed the spoils of corporate tee times. Some golf tour groups benefitted as well, finishing up as dusk moved in. All that means is The Links, the road that tens of thousands of fans crowded onto along the 18th hole, is now extremely back in play. And so are the vehicles parked on it.
The loudest tee ball of Monday evening came just after 9 p.m., crashing onto the roof of a white sprinter van and nearly hitting Paul Azinger and Mark Rolfing, who were enjoying one final night in town with their wives. “They’re all in the same group and one of the guys jacked one and hit their own van,” Azinger said excitedly. A handful of people standing around had pulled out their phones to document it. One of them even kicked the ball back into play. If the amateur in question doesn’t read golf.com, he may never know that there’s an asterisk on his finishing par.
There was incredible anticipation for this Open. The Old Course’s once-every-five-years pattern for hosting The Open was delayed one year to align it cleanly as the 150th championship. Then it was nudged off pace another year when the pandemic canceled The Open in 2020. The R&A expected 290,000 spectators as a result of that pent-up demand, which put a strain on the town. Nigel Snow, a local taxi driver, called this year “like the 2015 Open, but on steroids.” Most local shops extended their hours, knowing more people is good for business, but at some point there was so much business that restaurants had to turn people away. If this was a major city, they’d all be staffed differently, but St. Andrews is normally home to just 17,000 people. Jahangir, a popular Indian restaurant, doesn’t have much for natural light, and its manager simply didn’t want to keep the staff indoors all day and night.
The St. Andrews pubs made valiant efforts to host so many boisterous fans — this is a drinking country, after all — extending their footprint out into the sidewalks and around corners. The Central Bar, which was shoulder-to-shoulder, chest-to-back during Open nights enjoyed a softer crowd Monday evening. Just a dozen guests, all of them enjoying the hottest day of the summer on the patio. No one was inside, and the lone bartender enjoyed the peace. The only disruption was an overserved Celtic FC fan softly mumbling his squad’s favorite cheers:
Scott Brown won the league,
Scott Brown won the league,
Scott Brown won the league at Rugby Pahhhk.
The Dunvegan enjoyed a comedown, too, which is to say it was busy, just not overflowing onto North Street like it was for seven consecutive nights. Sheena Willoughby, the owner pictured all over every interior wall, was back at work, too. Life goes on after the Open and she knows it well, this being the sixth she’s attended.
On Tuesday, the tear down commenced. The NBC Sports desk, where Live From the Open was broadcast all week, was in about nine different pieces, set to be recycled somewhere else, some other time. The special suites that R&A members enjoyed fine dining and drinks in were among the last buildings to go up and the first to be torn down. They’re impressive tents when standing, but really just a mangled gob of plywood, plexiglass and plastic when not. “They take us three weeks to build, and about four days to tear down,” one worker said.
Everything had been ripped up from the player training facility, save for two things: dirty towels and an epic print of Rory McIlroy pitching a wedge. The looming, gold leaderboards still hovered above this tournament ghost town, but even they had been picked apart. A number of letters were missing, as well as one particularly valuable nameplate: WOODS. A local student had braved the climb and snatched it when no one was looking.
Out on the Open’s practice range, which was borrowing grass from the Jubilee Course, divots from Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday remained unfilled. Finally, maintenance staffers started to even out the deep brown scars with much more appealing tan seed mixture.
“Hopefully we’ll have it fully back to normal by early September,” he said. “Just in time to get beaten up by the Dunhill.”
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