The Grail, the biennial match between Europe and US, will this year, much thanks to Nigel’s contacts and planning be played at St Andrews. It’s a three day match and we will have the pleasure to play foursome’s at the New course, fourballs at The Old course and singles at Jubilee on Wednesday- Friday. This is the 12th time this match is played. We were 19 players in the European team. Twelve had through the rankings qualified over the two last years and 6 wild cards were given out + the Captain of the BGCS. Of the 19 players almost half (9 players) came from Sweden.
Sunday was arrival day for most of us flying or travelling in from various places in the world. We were greeted with nice, partly sunny weather and late afternoon we walked down the 18th on the Old course (always closed Sunday’s) to take in the wings of history. Maybe take the obligatory photo at Swilcan Bridge or outside the R&A clubhouse. We were too many to stay at the same hotel but we tried to meet up for dinner and Sunday a few of us had a nice evening at the Adamson.
Still good weather when we Monday morning travelled to The Golf House Club in Elie to play a 18 holes team stableford with both teams participating but also other BGCS member and US guests did join in. The Golf House Club was established in May 1875 and takes its name from the golf house, or clubhouse, that was begun in the same year and completed in 1877. The clubhouse has been steadily upgraded and is still in use. The Golf House Club is not the only club that plays at Elie but Earlsferry Thistle Golf Club (formed in 1875) and the Elie and Earlsferry Ladies golf club, formed 1884, also plays over the links at Elie.
From a moderate breeze the wind picked up during the morning and when we teed off it was a ‘wee’ breeze of +30mph coming straight into our face when playing our way down to the water. Elie is one of the few courses without par 5’s which made the course extremely long going out. It was more than once you had a long iron left to the green (on the third shot) on the par 4’s…… As if the wind wasn’t a sufficient challenge, the weather gods insisted on periodically dropping small downpours over us. Survival (with capital letters) was the theme of the day. I had the pleasure playing with Willie Tanner (most likely born and raised in wind / rain) and the very nice Wolfe brothers (most likely not borned and raised in wind/rain). We had a pleasant game despite all tribulations and Willie had amazing 37 points which together with my more normal 29 points (given the conditions) made us top in the two man stableford competition. What a wonderful course Elie is !! True pleasure!!
The European’s had a team meeting at Waldon House with information from Captain Nigel and vice Captain Jonas. Tie, bow tie and sweaters were handed out and if we were not to win, we would lose in style and well-dressed….. The evening ended with a few of us having dinner in The Open room at The Russel Hotel. Best food in town in my own opinion. A hidden gem!!
Tuesday a day off and we could do whatever we liked. A few tried to get on the Old Course (more or less impossible), some other played the New and Mikael and myself went to the practice ground to fine tune our game. Late afternoon it was flag raising and United States national anthem was played on trumpet by Rick Woeckener followed by cocktail party for the two teams (and the closest supporters). As usual at a british cocktail party some food was also served with the wines…. It was an early night for most of us as The Grail began Wednesday with foursomes on The New course. Originally there would be 18 players in each team but a few late cancellations in the US team meant that the match was to be played with 14 players each day.
Wednesday and the first day of the match started if not in total confusion so almost because there had been a misunderstanding regarding the starting times. Tee off was planned for 10pm but we were obviously booked from 09.20 so the players had to rush not to miss their starting time. Everyone made it in time but not everyone had the possibility to warm up but in the end it was equal for all. Perfect weather for golf with 12-13C and a moderate breeze. The New course was built in 1895 by Tom Morris and today plays at 6.362 yards and par 71. A long rather tight course that requires long and accurate driving. As always it was an even, but swinging, match that ended in a draw 3.5 – 3.5. The European players not taking part in the match played 18 holes at the New even though the undersigned arrived at the 1st tee one hour before my tee off time just to learn that the last ball went off 45 minutes earlier…… As Henrik Peyron did have problems with his Covid Certificate and only arrived in Scotland Wednesday morning I awaited his arrival and we played 18 holes in the afternoon. After that we had yet another nice dinner this time at Forgan’s.
Thursday. Four-balls. The Old Course!! Life is sometimes really good. Decent weather and a moderate breeze. A few showers but not much. It had been raining in the days before our arrival so the courses were played much longer than normal. Par is 72 on the Old and plays 6.387 yards from the blue tees. Yet another day with very good golf and tight matches but in the end Europe came out stronger and took a 2 points lead going into the singles. 4.5 — 2.5 on the day. Many good shots were played and many good scores recorded but best of them all Neil Gascoigne playing level par on his own ball. Impressive!! Now time to rest before the 14 singles on The Jubilee course Friday morning. A few of us made a return visit to dine at Russels and it was as good this time. Do you like dessert try their sticky toffee pudding……..
But we can’t leave the Old Course without mentioning a few things from the club’s history.
- The course was establised in 1552 even though golf was played over the links much earlier.
- In 1754, twenty-two noblemen, professors and landowners founded the Society of St Andrews golfers which later became the R&A.
- The first Open at the Old Course was played 1873 and Tom Kidd won at 179. First prize £11…
- In 1921 Bobby Jones, 19 years old made his first visit to The Open at the Old Course. During the third round he did hit 6the shots in the bunker at the short 11th hole before picking up his ball. He continued the round but did not hand in his scorecard. In 1927 he came back and won The Open at the Old Course wire to wire with a score of 285 (-7). He also won the Amateur in 1930 at the Old Course but later that year retired from competetive golf 28 years old……
Friday and 14 singles to be played at the Jubilee course. The course built in 1897 was originally intended for use by ladies and beginners……..????? With 6.424 yards slightly longer than the New but par 72 and it’s a good test of golf. Wider landing areas but a number of tricky and wonderful holes among the dunes. If we had been spared from rain and wind the first two days, the weather gods offered the exact opposite day 3……. Strong winds and rain sideways meant extra challenges for everyone and rainwear as well as umbrellas were necessary equipment for the day.
USA got off to a flying start and won 4 of the first 5 matches and had now turned the deficit by 8-6 to a lead 10-9. Europe, however countered and won three and shared two of the next five games to regain the lead with 13-11. When Neil Gascoigne beat Scott McAllister 2/1 Europe were sure to retain the Cup, Ben Burrows followed this up with a comfortable win and the final score was 15-13.
A very close match that could have gone both ways but this time Europe had the little extra that was needed to win. Celebrations started already in the clubhouse and then, if I remember correctly, lasted well into the night. For me personally it was a fantastic experience to be part of my first Grail match, in St Andrews, and also to be part of the winning team. It was also an incredible experience and great to meet many like-minded hickory golfers from both sides of the Atlantic. One thing is for sure, I will do my best to qualify for the team in 2023 if health and golf skill allows.
By the pen / Olle (Perch Golf and Travel)