THE OPEN: A magical week ahead in St Andrews

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ST ANDREWS, Scotland – It takes a village, goes the old saying.

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There’s a familiar saying about raising a child, but this week it could be the town of St Andrews hosting golf’s 150th Open Championship. And make no mistake, this tournament is their baby. The action itself begins at The Old Course on Thursday, but strolling through the shops, restaurants and courtyards on Sunday evening was a vibrant reminder that this whole town on Scotland’s east coast of Fife is hosting.

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It’s hard to go anywhere without bumping into a golfer or two going about their day. Inside the first store I walked into was a sharp-looking Keith Mitchell and it wasn’t hard to tell which of us would play the hit in the final major of the season and who had just left the middle seat of a Toronto Redeye.

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With players strolling the old cobblestones, pubs full of caddies and patios full of agents, there’s an intimacy at the St Andrews Open that belies the scale of this championship. You’ll have to excuse a deeply Canadian reference, but the Open at the Old Course is like hosting a Super Bowl but a Gray Cup erupts. It’s a compliment, by the way, for those who have never attended a pancake breakfast.

The Masters takes place in the perfect universe of Augusta National, but it’s a universe that ends at well-secured gates. The US Open has a history of trying too hard to remind us of its importance, often with aviator goggles and state troopers. The PGA Championship seems happy enough if it doesn’t spill wine on the tablecloth. The beauty of The Open Championship is that it never forgets that it’s meant to be a celebration of the sport, not the bar exam.

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In this age of sporting celebrities and star culture, the atmosphere of St Andrews seems impossible, but that’s the magic of it. The famed golf course sees players begin their journey nestled within the city, then head out to sea on an adventure of skill and luck, only to be welcomed back into the city’s warm embrace at 18th hole like a marathon runner returning to the stadium for their final lap.

As well as being the 150th edition of the game’s oldest championship, this week will mark the 30th time the tournament has been held here at the Home of Golf where the game was first played in the 15th century.

By lunchtime on Sunday, Tiger Woods had already made two full trips around the Old Course with his friend Justin Thomas: one that ended in the dying sun after 10 p.m. Saturday with only a few wedges and a putter, and another Sunday morning with a bag full of clubs. Woods hopes this magical setting where he won majors in 2000 and 2005 can spark another magical week. The 46-year-old skipped the US Open with his injured leg but has had a circle around this week’s championship since realizing he could still swing a golf club.

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As I walked the course on Sunday evening, I saw several players with clubs and camera phones in hand, seemingly just as interested in cataloging memorabilia as golf shots for the week ahead. Stopping at the Road Hole, I came across an amused Sahith Theegala trying to get onto the green from the road. After mixed results, Theegala – who entered the pitch just days ago after Daniel Berger withdrew – tried his luck from the Road Hole bunker. Five minutes later, he convinced his caddy to try some shots of the infamous green bunker while he laughed and took pictures.

So often we hear the best golfers in the world say that they want to recapture the joy and ease with which they played golf as children. Sure, father time, tournament pressure and adult responsibilities usually make it a wild ride, but spend a day around the Old Course in St Andrews and anything seems possible.

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