What the U.S. Open looked like 3,000 miles away, in St. Andrews, Scotland

The Dunvegan is among the happiest places in the world to watch golf.

Sean Zak

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — It’s 10:20 p.m. and the Old Course Pavilion, a tiny shack along the 1st tee box, had turned into a golfy fly trap lamp. Light poured out into the darkness, attracting in weary golfers. 

Late Thursday night, as the first round of the U.S. Open played out 3,000 miles away in Brookline, Mass., the lights outside the Pavilion were on, like normal, only this time light came from inside the building, too. Shifts had ended hours ago, but the thoughtful staff left the U.S. Open streaming on the tellies, which face outward, giving tee-time-hopeful golfers who were spending the night on site something to help pass the time until the morning. Adam Hadwin was polishing off a sparkling four-under 66. 

Patient golfers had been mingling around the Pavilion since 6 p.m., and would stay throughout the night. While they weren’t guaranteed a tee time, and as cool air blew in off the sea, these troopers held putting contests under the lights. This is one of the best places on Earth to play golf, but it’s also one of the happiest places to watch it.

Thursday night was the final night golfers would be permitted to camp outside the Pavilion, at least for another month. The Old Course is shut down now, in the run-up to the Open Championship. More visiting golfers tuned in at pubs that surround the Old Course — the One Under Bar, Ham’s Hame, the Jigger Inn. Outside that immediate bubble, like at the Whey Pat Tavern, the accents were more local, which makes sense. That watering hole is about a third of a mile from the Old Course, just outside the tourist fly trap. You’re still likely to run into a St. Andrews caddie there, away from all the hubbub. They know this town best. 

The Dunvegan, on the other hand, is about a lob wedge from the 18th green and is often brimming with American voices, which is fitting. On Thursday, during a balmy Scottish afternoon (read: highs of 65 degrees), it had to be the only place in town pumping air conditioning. That’s “comfort” for Americans. American flags adorned the inside of the pub, streamed from wall to wall. Dierks Bentley lyrics rang through the air. Free and easy down the road I go … 

The Dunvegan is more than ready for the Open Championship. Sean Zak
Golfers welcome, spikes welcome. Sean Zak

A group of Americans from Florida and Mississippi piled into the corner of the room, only to be waited on by a St. Andrews University student from … Virginia. Justin Thomas highlights played on the screen above them. It was too early in the tournament to really care about the birdies and bogeys. So the conversation centered around Rory McIlroy’s floral shirt, the chaos brought on the game by LIV Golf, and the Sanderson Farms — the Mississippians’ beloved local tournament.

The Americanized feel of the Dunvegan makes sense: one of the former owners, Jack Willoughby, is from Texas and has stashed a quartet of Texas A&M helmets behind the bar. (The Willoughbys sold in 2017, but the Dunvegan flair has gone unchanged.) Jack’s wife, Sheena, is from Scotland, and is the friendly face pictured alongside seemingly every famous golfer there ever was, framed on the walls. The photos cover almost every inch of the space, but one particular string of images feel the most prominent: Sheena and Furyk, Sheena and Els, Sheena and Price, Sheen and Tiger and, finally, Sheena and a mulleted Daly. 

The Dunvegan is so popular, tipping pints there borders on cliche. But there is nothing cliche about the joy that emanates from its walls and windows. It truly is one of the happiest places in sport.

“It’s the easiest clientele in the world,” one bartender said Saturday. “They’re all in Golf Disney.” It doesn’t hurt, either, he said, that giddy golfing Americans often tip 25 percent, double the local norm. Bellied up to that bar and generously tipping were Steve Alesse and Dave Lombard, neighbors from Boston. Sandwiched in between them were their 18-year-old sons, sharing their first legal beers with their dads. 

Steve and Dave cheers’d each other to the culmination of a year’s worth of planning, even cackling at the idea of it all. They had somehow successfully convinced their wives that the best possible place to take their sons on a high school graduation trip was, in fact, one of the few places the fathers desperately wanted to visit as well.

They were disappointed that Shane Lowry had missed the cut, ending a streak of 11-straight cuts-made in majors, but had quickly turned their support to Joel Dahmen, everyone’s favorite everyman, who was warming up on the TV above them. They were enamored with the idea that Dahmen had to hold himself back from drinking a bunch of beers after that first-round 67, and that he attended a Ben Rector concert Thursday night. 

Alesse and his son had pulled off the impressive feat of attending the second round at Brookline on Friday, then hopping on a redeye from Boston to Edinburgh. Dad had taken three days off work to bring his son to St. Andrews, for three rounds of golf, those first legal beers and some cigars, bordering on the lighter side to keep the room from spinning. 

In between the golf shots from Brookline, the group was regaled with Dunvegan mythology — how their man Lowry has made a name for himself tossing back beers and dancing on the seats just a few feet away. Or how when Ernie Els visits town, he stays right around the corner and sends his nephew, Jovan Rebula, into the Dunvegan on repeat for to fetch Uncle Ernie yet another case wine.

There’s a lot to love about watching golf in St. Andrews, particularly how many more golf shots are shown on the Sky Sports feed compared to NBC, or adjacent to that: fewer “Playing Through” commercial breaks. But unfortunately, the long days at Brookline go even longer in Scotland. The high school graduation party continued down the street, with plans to cap off the night watching the leaders at the One Under Bar.

The next morning, Alesse and Lombard lost the match to their sons on the New Course. Alesse texted a photo of four gents grinning ear to ear, with four words: “Best loss of my life.”

St. Andrews Thing I’m Obsessed With, Vol. 3: the colorful doors!

St. Andrews is built on stone. Everything, it seems, originates from ancient rock that has won the battle vs. wind and rain for hundreds of years. Stone isn’t easy to work with, it’s hard to move, it’s impossible to repurpose and difficult to break up. So the visual of St. Andrews doesn’t change much. There isn’t room for add-ons. But door paint is a notable exception. 

You can find a lot of St. Andrews doors on Pinterest, because everyone loves a colorful door. In St. Andrews, it’s sneaky necessary. When every building facade is some varying form of tanned stone, differentiating between them, especially after a few pints, can be as simple as knowing the color of the entryway. 

Finding the right door can be a tricky thing in St. Andrews if it’s not painted. Sean Zak

There are four straight houses on Greenside Place, but only one of them has the baby blue double doors you’d never miss. There are a couple of different houses where Market Street intersects with South Castle Street, but only one of them is a beautiful, bold yellow. The Northpoint Cafe, where Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge met for coffee, has committed its door to Crimson. A hair salon further south has decided on purple. It’s gotta be good for business, because the color choice was the only reason it caught my attention. 

Got an idea for a Summer in Scotland story? — I’ll hear them all! Just send a note to sean.zak@golf.com

Sean Zak

Golf.com Editor

Zak is a writer and host for various GOLF.com video properties and podcasts. Check out his travels on Destination Golf and his latest thoughts on the Drop Zone Podcast:

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