Q&A With Graylyn Loomis

You may recall Graylyn's name from the days when we first learned (late on a Friday) that changes were to be made to the Old Course. Then a student at the University, Loomis documented the work (here and here) and was the architecture world's man on the ground. Unlike the local paper that morphed into the R&A house organ, Loomis helped shine a light on the work without expressing strong views.

However, I have little doubt his sharing of information and images helped fuel worldwide concern for the scope of the work, which, mercifully, was downscaled for reasons we can only surmise had to do with international concerns.

Since graduated and living again in the United States, Loomis has moved his old blog to the elegantly GraylynLoomis.com where he's posted Scotland travel itineraries, guest trip-planners (I contributed an East Lothian pilgrimage option), in-depth coverage of St. Andrews the town and other course reviews. He's also contributing to Ru Macdonald's Scottish Golf Travel podcast.

In advance of The Open returning to St. Andrews, Graylyn kindly answered questions about life there for student-golfers and offers his best advice for visitors. Try not to hate him when he reveals the annual cost for a university student to play golf at St. Andrews.

GS: You ended up staying at St. Andrews for four years instead of one, right? Was it just the golf that sucked you in and made you change plans? Or did you fall for the town too?

GL: That is exactly right. I ended up applying to spend all four years at St Andrews during the second semester of my first year. While the golf played a major role in my decision to stay, it was actually the town (and its people) that pulled me back the most. Anyone who has spent much time in St Andrews will know that it can sink its claws into you. I can remember walking up the 18th on the Old Course one winter evening during sunset thinking, “How could I seriously choose to leave this place?!” After graduation and 185+ rounds on the Old Course I look back on that decision to stay in the town as one of the best I have ever made.

GS: Give us a sense of you, the university and golf. Do the students embrace the golf component of the town? The faculty? Would you say there are many students like yourself who attended in part because of your love of the game?

GL: The students wholeheartedly embrace the golf aspects of the town. It is largely due to the fact that the St Andrews Links Trust welcomes the students with open arms. A yearly “links ticket” to play unlimited golf on the seven St Andrews Links courses cost a mere £180 ($280) last year – you make your money back by playing one round on the Old Course. Students are also considered locals, meaning they have access to the blocks of Old Course tee times saved for St Andreans. It goes deeper as well with many of the local St Andrews golf clubs embracing the students as junior members. The R&A even reserves all of the 18th green grandstand marshaling positions at every single Open Championship for University of St Andrews students. Not only do the students get to fill the coveted positions, they also get paid in addition to their free tournament badges. I took up the opportunity to marshal the 18th green at Royal St George’s in 2011. The golf in the town definitely plays a role in many students’ decisions to attend and in nearly all cases that love for the game grows while in the town.

GS: You were one of the few to track the recent changes to the course. Tell us how you stumbled on them, what you think of them and where you found any shredded R&A ties in your bed? Or whatever they do to intimidate people there…

GL: Like you said, I literally stumbled upon the changes taking place. I went out for a morning round one day to find a small dump truck on the 11th green. It happened to be the day the changes were starting to take place. After finishing the round I went to the Dunvegan for a pint and none of the locals knew what was happening. I ended up going back out with my camera to take photos every couple of days to document what was happening. The only tense moment came during the second round of changes when Martin Hawtree gave me a pretty serious stare down at the fourth green. He must not have liked someone standing awkwardly close taking photos of him with a telephoto camera while he worked…

I go back and forth with myself about the changes. To my eye the changes all made sense architecturally, but the idea of altering the Old Course to keep up with equipment changes doesn’t sit well in my stomach. At the end of the day I remind myself that the Old has changed and evolved quite a bit over the centuries, so this can be considered the latest iteration in a long process.

GS: Did you get to play the course after the changes and if so, what kind of impact did you see on the playability of the course? Tougher, easier, more playable, more difficult?

GL: I was able to play the course quite a bit after the changes. Generally, I think the changes added a reasonable level of difficulty to the renovated areas of the course. The bunker move on the second green has made a lower right pin placement much more difficult. The re-contouring right of the 4th and 6th greens certainly makes you think twice about missing right. The 11th green re-shaping has created much more “pin-able” square footage on the left side of the green. A cup on that left side of the green also brings in a vicious left bunker that many golfers have never seen or noticed. I found that the re-shaped area around the Road Hole Bunker has made a left miss much more penal around that green. That being said, the Road Hole Bunker seemed bigger after the changes, making it quite a bit easier in my book (before it always seemed that a lie up against the bunker wall was inevitable).

GS: You’ve devoted a page to your site listing the best pubs in town. During Open week they’re all busy, but give us a sense what the scene is like the rest of the year(s) when a major is not descending on the town? Where do the students go? What are the best experiences for golfers?

GL: Outside of the golf season (tourist season), the pubs around St Andrews are always busy with locals and students. During the winter they become much-needed social centers to escape the cold and catch up with friends. You will likely find students at Ma Bell’s, the Vic, or the Student Union (University of St Andrews bar) on any given night, especially when a DJ is playing or a sporting event is happening. Golfers should certainly experience the Dunvegan and the Jigger Inn – both legendary 19th holes next to the Old Course. However, visiting golfers should also get a taste of local St Andrews and head away from the area around the Old Course. Get the nachos and a pint at the Whey Pat or enjoy a locally brewed ale at the St Andrews Brewery Pub. Take in local musical talent on Monday nights at the Criterion Pub or challenge a local caddie (if you dare) to a game of darts at The Keys.  

GS: What other things to do you recommend golfers do besides golf, eat and sleep while in St. Andrews? Any parts of the town, historic monuments or parts of the University that you recommend the more refined sightseer check out?

GL: My biggest recommendation is to explore the areas of St Andrews away from the golf courses. Walk up The Scores, which is a beautiful road running along the coastline bordering the town. Halfway up the road, pop through the ancient stone wall on one side of The Scores to see the beautiful St Salvator’s Hall (my freshman dorm) and St Salvator’s Quad, where the University of St Andrews was founded in 1413. Continue walking and you will hit the castle ruins, followed by the cathedral ruins with the pier and East Sands beyond. At the cathedral ruins you will find an ancient graveyard where Old Tom Morris is buried. After pondering the life of Old Tom, head one minute down South Street to Janetta’s Ice Cream, where a fourth generation St Andrean continues to make gelato in the shop his ancestor opened in 1908. It is easy to stick around the golf courses, but those who explore more of the town will be extremely happy they did.