Fans take refuge in St Andrews' favourite '19th hole'


  • Golf
  • Sunday, 19 Jul 2015

ST ANDREWS, Scotland (Reuters) - Sheena Willoughby has served countless thirsty fans at five British Opens since taking the keys to the Dunvegan Hotel 21 years ago.

But the Scot has never seen a day like Saturday.

After strong winds had stopped play early in the morning, the thousands who'd flooded in to this ancient Scottish town had little more to do than share golfing tales over a 'wee dram'.

And as "19th holes" go, they don't come much more steeped in golfing mystique than the Dunvegan.

"I just hope we don't run out of beer," Sheena, who with Texan husband Jack bought the hotel in 1994, told Reuters.

"It's a bit chaotic today with the weather," she added, as waitresses frantically scurried plates of food to the Claret Jug restaurant, and over-worked barman pulled pints.

"But everyone's having a good time. Golf crowds are really good and they're really gracious and helpful, and here for a good time."

Just 100 yards across the road, the towering temporary grandstand next to the 18th green sat empty.

The streets of the town on the Fife coast were buzzing, though, with golf equipment shops doing brisk business.

Towards the university where Britain's Prince William studied, kilted student Hamish McGregor droned away on the bagpipes.

Ford Harmon, part of a 10-strong group from Dallas with Saturday tickets to cheer on fellow Texan Jordan Spieth, had found his way to the Dunvegan, and was pointing at a photo of astronaut Neil Armstrong -- one of hundreds of famous visitors to the pub just a short chip from the Old Course.

"Obviously the negative is not being able to see the golf," he said. "But on the other hand we're getting to see the town more.

"We've been checking out the beach, walking around... but this seems like the place to be right now.

GREAT ATMOSPHERE

"It's a great atmosphere in here. It's like a museum of golf with beer thrown in!"

He could not quite understand why play was still suspended, though -- especially with the sun shining.

"I mean c'mon this is Scotland, man! I love playing golf in this stuff."

With more than 300 framed photographs on the walls and ceilings of the saloon bar, there is barely room for any more. It is an A to Z of golf.

"Sheena wouldn't... Tiger Wood" read an enigmatic caption on a photograph of the landlady and American Woods who twice won the title at St Andrews.

When the Open is in town players and caddies alike drown their sorrows and toast good rounds.

Darren Clarke is a particular fan of the hotel housed in the 200-year-old three-storey greystone.

Branden Grace bought a round for everyone in the pub when he won the Dunhill Links Championship, while Lorena Ochoa celebrated there when she won the Women's British Open title.

Golf-loving stars including Sean Connery, Clint Eastwood, and Michael Douglas are all former guests. But it's not just the famous.

"The public is what we're about. This is what it's all about. The things I remember most are the people who come year in, year out," Sheena said.

"I didn't realise when we first took over just what it meant to come here and play the Old Course. There are heart-breaking stories. People who don't have long to live and want to play the course... cancer survivors... people getting over 9-11.

"Fathers and sons, sons who don't make it with their father and bring the ashes," she added.

However, with only five guest rooms at the Dunvegan, chances of bagging one for when the Open next comes to town are thin, to say the least -- the hotel was booked up 20 years in advance for the 2015 tournament.

(Editing by Ossian Shine)

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