Part 1 – The DAY
I was feeling a bit of melancholy on this morning’s wander. Today is the final day of the British Open. It is the most prestigious golf tournament in the world. This is particularly so if you view from any place other than the US. Most simply refer to it as The Open. Well, this years tournament is the 150th playing and it is at St Andrews – The Home of Golf. The Olde Course is the venue and appropriately so.
Back in 2009 I and seven of my bestest buddies traveled to the UK for some golf. We had postponed the trip originally scheduled for the fall of 2008 due to my cancer diagnosis and treatment. We rescheduled for the last two weeks of April. One of my travel mates, Dave Schnapp, has made numerous trips to golf most all parts of the UK. Dave, a wonderful golfer, has it all figured out. So, we relied on Dave’s wisdom to great benefit. We would be spending two weeks in three locations; in and around Edinburgh, in and around St. Andrews and in and around northeast England. AND it just so happens, were our cards to play right, we’d be playing the Olde Course on April 24, 2009, my 51st birthday.
To play the Olde Course at St. Andrews you enter a lottery. Of course Dave has this figured out. Much like another dearest buddy Mike Quillin and the lottery for passes to hike Half Dome (another story for another day!). Well we were fortunate to get two tee times for the early afternoon – perfect. And leave it to my buddies, they made my day so special. While at St. Andrews we stayed at the Dunvegan Inn. It is owned by a Scottish lass (Sheena) and her American husband and Texas A&M alum and booster (won’t hold that against him!). It is a pub on the bottom with 6 to 8 “double rooms” upstairs. Close your eyes, think of a 17th century pub and inn and the vision in your mind will only do it 50% of the justice it deserves. The morning of my birthday my buddies with Sheena’s assistance had arranged a private tour for me, and only me in the Royal & Ancient and a private viewing of the Claret Jug. What a special start to the day. We made our way over to the Olde Course, a full sand iron’s distance from the Dunvegan. After taking care of the formalities, we made our way the 50 feet or so to the first tee. One of the very unique features of the Olde Course, there are many, is that the 1st and 18th sit side by side with the 18th green being right next to the 1st tee. It is a bit of a lovely St. Andrews golfer traffic jam as golfers make their way this way and that. As we were on the tee, the starter came on the PA and announced “Now on the 1st tee, celebrating his 51st birthday, Glen Thomas”. I received a wonderful ovation from all those around. I was so nervous I could barely get my peg in the ground to tee up my ball. After a couple of practice swings I proceeded to hit one down the middle. I was incredibly grateful for having that 80 yard wide fairway to try to hit. I proceeded to play the next 5 or 6 holes in a euphoric fog, weeping with joy.
The Olde Course is an “out & in” setup. That means you have an outward 9 and an inward 9. This is not particularly unique, especially for links golf. The unique part of the Olde Course is the “spin” it takes for holes 8 through 11. As we came down the 18th fairway we walked across the Swilken Bridge. There are so many iconic photos (Jack Niklaus, Tome Watson, etc.) of famous golfers walking, for the final time of competitive golf, across that bridge. Tiger made the walk on Friday. I could feel and relate to his emotions that clearly were overtaking him. The day before my birthday, my buddies had made arrangements for a professional photographer to take a group photo of us on the Swilken Bridge. (I don’t have it on my phone. If I did I would post. Maybe one of them reading this would post the photo in a comment?) And then to wrap it all up, I noticed something different as we approached the green. Sheena had attached ribbons and balloons to the flag stick.
I’m not certain I know what I shot that day, it really is unimportant.
That evening we had dinner in the pub. And again I was surprised. Sheena got everyones’ attention in the pub, it seemed there were nearly 100 people, and announced to the diners / drinkers that I was celebrating my 51st birthday. Again cheers and toasts and way too many scotches.
Out front of the Dunvegan is a lovely bench. At half two or so, I sat there, by myself, reflecting on such a special day. I cried my eyes out. Tears of gratitude and joy. It was still my birthday in the US, so I called Joyce. I shared the events of the day and we laughed and cried together.
Part 2 – Other Days
I’m not certain if it was the day before or the day after golf on my 51st. We were nearly a week into the UK journey and I needed to do laundry. Most simply use the hotel, or some other similar service. NOT ME! You see, I love to do my laundry. It somehow makes me feel close to Mom. I get the same warm, embraced feeling when I cook and spend the time to be thoughtful. There is something for me while I am traveling, particularly internationally that makes me want to do my laundry. I’ve done laundry in Dublin with Jim in 2004. I did emergency laundry with Blair in 2006 in Rome. I found a laundry service in St. Andrews with Steve in 2009. I did laundry with Todd in West London in 2018. And finally below, I’m doing my laundry here in Canterbury. I love the part of doing the laundry. Of figuring it all out. Of the neighborhoods it often takes me that I would not otherwise visit. Of the people I come across and often engage in conversation. I absolutely adore these days.
I am eternally grateful for special days like that day in St. Andrews. I have truly been blessed to have had many of those days. And for some “weirdo” reason I really am compelled to take great joy in those common days. Those normal days. Those other days.
Enjoy all your days!