St. Andrews Links — the stately sporting refuge in Scotland that has outlasted major champions, monarchs and well-to-do duffers — caved Monday and abandoned plans for a patio-like surface by the Swilcan Bridge.
Few locales in golf invite quite so many pilgrimages as the stone bridge, which crosses a burn on the Old Course’s 18th hole and is the centerpiece of photographs that surface in Scottish pubs, man-caves all over suburban America and Tiger Woods’s office in Florida. So, perhaps it was predictable that even some well-intentioned remodeling of the area around it, worn down by the footwear of many thousands of players and visitors, would lead to fury, confusion and more than a few memes.
Golf, you might have heard, is not always keen on change, and the resulting kerfuffle will amount to a brief, if breathtakingly effective, chapter in the very long history — like, maybe more than 700 years — of a 30-foot bridge. The whole spat, of course, could have been avoided had the bridge stuck to its long-ago mission of catering to livestock.
But since that did not happen and because many people cannot mimic Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus or Woods on their scorecards, they merely congregate at the bridge, wave like a British Open champion, memorialize the moment for Facebook or Instagram and march on their way, leaving tattered turf behind.
The idea that set off the scorn, course officials said over the weekend, was to replicate a past stone pathway and guard against repeated bouts of “disrepair” after a handful of other strategies, including artificial turf, proved insufficient. They added that they could “categorically state that no works have been undertaken to the bridge itself.”
As if that would calm down, say, the denizens of Twitter. By Monday night, the Old Course was seeking another solution, new, old or at least not that one.
“The stonework at the approach and exit of the bridge was identified as one possible long term solution,” the course’s administrators said in a statement that conceded that “while this installation would have provided some protection, in this instance we believe we are unable to create a look which is in keeping with its iconic setting and have taken the decision to remove it.”
The statement noted “feedback from many partners and stakeholders as well as the golfing public,” which was a most proper way to characterize social media-fueled disdain and mockery.
“What in the world were those idiots thinking building this?” Hank Haney, who once coached Woods, wrote on Twitter on Sunday. Nick Faldo, whose six major tournament titles included the 1990 Open at St. Andrews, was also aghast.
“If you’ve travelled halfway around the world for your bucket list round at St Andrews, would you rather leave with a bit of historic dirt on your shoes or a few cement mix scraps?” he asked. Perhaps, he mused, the approach was a “strategically placed sundial (for slow play).”
St. Andrews officials said Monday that turf would be restored “in the coming days.” Even though the internet never seems to forget, there is plenty of time for recovery between now and the next Open at St. Andrews. This year’s tournament will be at Royal Liverpool, the 2024 festivities will be at Royal Troon and 2025 will see the competition return to Royal Portrush.
The R&A, which organizes the Open, has not announced its plans for other years.