Golfing at St. Andrews: A Student Story

by Memoir Mentor on February 23, 2009


The story below is from Art Mattson, a new student this term. He has written quite a lot during his life, but hasn’t tackled the more creative kind of writing I teach in my classes. For example, I encourage students to enhance their stories with dialogue, which is an effective tool for developing plot and realizing characters. Dialogue makes a story so much more engaging and real than merely summarizing what happened. Art uses this tool effectively in his first story for our class.

One more point: I encourage new students to begin their life story by writing about something that’s fun to recall, or something they feel excited or passionate about. It’s so tedious to begin with the story of your birth, and you’ll soon feel so overwhelmed by the expanse of time you have to write about, you’ll give up before you ever get started. Art took my advice and wrote about something he loves: golf. When he came to class to read his story, he wore a golf shirt and the tartan golf cap he bought the day he took St. Andrews Golf Course by storm. Here’s his fun story:

I’d Like to Play the Old Course
by Art Mattson

“I’d like to play the Old Course,” I said.

The man was sitting at a large desk in the side lobby of the Old Course Hotel, St. Andrews, Scotland. He opened a side drawer, pulled out a notebook, flipped through it until he found the page he wanted, fingered down to an open space, and asked, “Can you play at four o’clock?”

“Sure,” I said.

“Would you mind playing with three Japanese gents?” he asked.

“Not at all,” I replied. “I have Japanese in-laws and like them very much.”

He took my name and wrote it in the book. “Be here at 3:30, and we’ll get you set up,” he said. “What room are you in?”

“I just got here, and haven’t got a room yet,” I said.

“Oh!” he said with dismay, and began to erase my name from the book. Then he stopped, and said, “What the heck, it’ll be okay.”

Evidently, he was making tee times reserved for guests staying in the hotel and had given me one by mistake.

It turned out that getting on St. Andrews Old Course is very difficult. Every golfer who visits Scotland wants to play there. It’s the Holy Grail, the birthplace of golf. Many great tournaments have been played there, including the British Open, whose champions include Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus, John Daly, and Tiger Woods.


I returned to the car with my wife, Angie, who had been shopping in the adjoining Golf Pro Shop/Gift Shop. It was 1:30. We drove into the town of St. Andrews and found a room in the Russell Hotel. It was one block from the first tee of the Old Course.

The hotel lobby where I had made my tee time was about a thousand yards from the first tee, so I figured I’d just check in with the starter at the first tee. He was in a kiosk with his own list of players. I gave him my name, thinking the man from the hotel lobby had forwarded it to him. He checked his list, and said forbiddingly, “You’re not on my list. You’re not playing today.”

I said, “I’m to be playing with three Japanese men.”

He checked his list again, and said, “There aren’t any Japanese men.”

golferI accepted the fact that I wouldn’t be playing. Stupid me, I never thought of trudging 1,000 yards back to the Old Course Hotel lobby. Instead, I engaged in conversation with a young Italian man who was standing by, waiting for an opening.” How long have you been waiting?” I asked.

“Since seven this morning,” he replied. He went on to explain that each day players sign up to play the next day. At five o’clock, a lottery is held. The names drawn are assigned tee times for the next day. If your name is not drawn, you can play another course or, like him, stand by for an opening if there is a no show.

Just then, I heard a man behind me inquire, “Mr. Mattson?”

I turned and answered, “Yes.”

“You were supposed to come to the hotel,” he said. “Can you play at 4:10 instead of four o’clock?”

“Sure,” I said. “Are the Japanese men here?”

“They’re not coming,” he said.

“Can my Italian friend play along with me?” I asked.

“No, there are others who have been waiting since six,” he replied.

I paid my greens fees, and then ran up the hill to rent some golf clubs. I had checked out rentals earlier. When I returned, I inquired about getting a caddy. I usually rent a cart back home, but they aren’t allowed on the Old Course.

“The caddies went home hours ago,” the starter informed me. “They work in the mornings.”

There weren’t any pull carts either, so I carried my bag the entire 18 holes. I had caddied as a boy, so I was experienced. We were sent out as a fivesome instead of the usual foursome, so our rate of play was a little slower.

In the United States, slow play is frowned upon but prevalent. Not so on the Old Course. I’m a fast player, but some in my group were decidedly pokey. On the sixth tee, the Course Marshall appeared. He informed us sternly, “You are five minutes behind. Either catch up or I’ll make you skip the ninth hole.” Amazingly, my group caught up.

One of our group brought a friend to be his caddy. Another brought his wife to walk the course with him. After all, it was the Holy Grail. I asked Angie to come along, but she demurred. Later, she expressed regret for not having made the trek.

I shot 95, a good score for me. I had broken 100.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ivan Courtright February 26, 2009 at 2:35 pm

Hi Art,
Very good use of dialogue. I got a good feel for how they run the show at St. Andrews and what it took to get on the green, but was not drawn in and engaged very much. Some ideas: where St Andrews is and how you came to finally get there, local architectures or things that would paint a picture, physical description of the golfing area, the weather, the course layout, how it was different, what it looked like, smelled like, felt like, as you played your game, the people’s looks and mannerisms, how heavy was the golf bag you carried and may have affected your game. Perhaps you could enhance the story by weaving the above into when you actually played and building up to a culmination at the final hole when you get your 95.
Regards, Ivan

2 Memoir Mentor March 2, 2009 at 1:37 pm

All good observations, Ivan. I thought some of the same things when I read the story the first time. Then I asked myself what this story is really about. Art could have included many of the detailed descriptions you suggest in a larger story about the whole experience of golfing at St. Andrews. However, I think he intended this story to be about the almost serendipitous way he got to play this course. He could, of course, have shared a few of the details you suggest at strategic points in his story: his reaction to the unkempt appearance of this hallowed course, the weight of the bag that he was unaccustomed to carrying, etc. It’s always difficult to decide what to include and what to leave out. In the end, it’s usually the story’s purpose that should drive those decisions.

Memoir Mentor

3 Vanessa March 23, 2009 at 11:24 am

I thought this was also very good but I agree that I would have liked to see some more description such as the look and upkeep of the course, the golf course management staff’s appearance, or the temperature outside, weight of the bag and so forth. Otherwise, this painted a nice picture of the difficult time a golfer might have trying to play this course.

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