ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — One polarizing aspect of The Old Course is that it is extremely flat. Flat courses aren’t great for watching tournament golf! The Links Trust has even built up mounds in the last few years to aid golf watchers. But on this particular Sunday, that flatness is welcomed.
I can see for hundreds of yards, uninhibited, and at the moment, there are eight dogs in the purview, prancing around the property. Behind me, there’s another handful, barking loud enough to be heard above the clanking grandstand construction.
One of the dogs behind me, a black bulldog named Cato, has been enjoying his time around the 17th green, but just bounded onto the Swilcan Bridge, interrupting a cherished photo. “Get down here, Cato,” his owner said. “That’s a very special bridge, Cato.”
It is a special bridge, Cato, but thus goes Sundays at the Old Course, where pooches run free and owners respectfully keep them from causing too much trouble. Stretching to 45 acres, The Old Course on Sundays is easily among the biggest dog parks in the world. The only rules are obvious: 1. Please pick up after your four-legged friend. 2. Please stay off the greens. (The latter is only loosely followed.)
It was on the 15th green where I found Ziggy the 2-year-old beagle, named after David Bowie for his one blue eye and one brown eye. Ziggy had just taken on speedy advances from a couple of rambunctious greyhounds — George and Bingley — and was tuckered out. So Ziggy sat there on the edge of the green, right where some famous golfer will make a birdie putt in three weeks, ignoring the calls of his owners. Ziggy loves visiting the Old Course, but thankfully there is fencing up with the championship coming. Because Ziggy has taken interest in the driving range, in the past, and that’s much more dangerous.
Eventually, Ziggy turned to catch up with Mom and Dad. The walk, golfers know, is out and back at St. Andrews, three miles in total. It follows the shape of a shallow fish hook, which provides endless opportunity for rendezvous.
Geoff Shackelford got it right when he listed out his three criteria for a great golf course:
1. Do you want to play this course everyday?
2. When you leave this course can you remember every hole?
3. Is it a place you’d want to take your dog for a walk?
The Old obviously checks the box, but differently than its counterparts in America. In the States, these Sundays just aren’t possible, because in America, we live in overabundance. We love our Sunday rounds, and we love our courses green as possible, watered down and soft, so we can spin wedge shots backward on the green. Dogs tear that turf up, so keep them on a leash. Here in Scotland, where the turf is really only watered by Mother Nature, leashes are only a suggestion. The ground here holds sturdy under those canine claws.
All of this is possible because hundreds of years ago it was decided that there should be no golf on Sundays. It went against religion. And while the other six St. Andrews Links courses are open on Sundays, the Old is almost always closed, barring special events like the Links Trust Amateur earlier this month or, say, when Tiger Woods and the boys come to town in July.
For now it’s Ziggy Turfdust and the many friends he crosses paths with: Hamish the west highland terrier, Bailey the lhasa apso, Ava the cockapoo and Indi the golden doodle. All their owners are locals, with afternoon plans to visit the Jigger Inn, the pub that juts up against the 17th hole.
But St. Andrews on Sundays attracts dog owners from afar as well. Finn the English working cocker spaniel’s parents were in town on holiday, up from southwest England. Finn was invited to join because, well, “there’s nice places to walk around here in Scotland.” The West Sands Beach is the Old’s main competitor. Harris, a lhasa apso-bichon frise mix, was in town from Dundee, just 13 miles away. He’s named after the Scottish island off the west coast. “If you want to see Bahama beaches but with Scottish climate [the Isle of Harris] is the place to go,” his owner, Julie-Anne Alexander, said, launching a tennis ball with a “Chuckit!” stick. Harris’ dad, Kevin, is an avid golfer who plays out at Carnoustie, and was less focused on the dog, more interested in the shape of the greens ahead of The Open. But he was entitled to do as he pleased. This was Father’s Day, after all, and his son was waiting on his parents for lunch at the Jigger.
Around that time, a 10-year-old cocker spaniel named Maisie sat on the steps beside the 18th green. This was her first time walking the Old Course. “She’s beautiful,” her owner, Isobel Dallas said, stroking Maisie’s long, hairy ears. Maisie already had her run of the course, and looked out over it just like golfers do the other six days of the week. As she got up to leave, a shepherd launched past her, bounding down those steps — much like a golfer, too — leash off, ready to take on The Old.
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