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Links Legacy: American Golfers and The Old Course at St Andrews

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The historic Old Course at St Andrews, the “Home of Golf,” is hallowed ground that has profoundly influenced the game’s development across the British Isles and around the globe. The first Open at St Andrews was held in 1873, coinciding with the first presentation of the Claret Jug to the winner, the “Champion Golfer of the Year.”

Jack Nicklaus RBS Banknote
RBS – Jack Nicklaus, BankNote – July 2005

This post will celebrate the legacy of American golfers at St Andrews, featuring Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus, John Daly, Tiger Woods, and Zack Johnson’s victories in the Open Championship. We will also highlight some celebrity connections with avid golfers and ambassadors of the game, Bing Crosby and Charles M Schulz, whose long-lost storyboard for a Peanuts feature about a trip to Scotland was reimagined in 2021.

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Background – American Champions

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Snead @ St Andrews

The 150th Open in 2022 marked the 30th playing at St Andrews, with ten won by Americans. The earliest American triumphs came in 1921 when Jock Hutchison, a naturalized American originally from Scotland, won The Open.

This significant victory began a long-standing relationship between American golfers and St. Andrews. Hutchison’s win was followed by a series of notable American victories, including those by Bobby Jones in 1927 and Sam Snead in 1946. Americans have also won the British Amateur at St Andrews on two occasions – Bobby Jones in 1930 and Dick Siderowf in 1976.

The Alfred Dunhill Cup, held at St Andrew’s between 1985 and 2000, was a team event in which three-man teams represented their countries in a match-play format. The American team won three events, with the winners including Fred Couples, John Daly, Payne Stewart, and Phil Mickelson.

Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf was lucky enough to film two matches at the Old Course – one in each of the show’s historic runs. The first was a battle of former Open Champions as host Gene Sarazen faced England’s Henry Cotton in a memorable match. The latter was a pairing of Ryder Cup rivals, American Paul Azinger and Open Champion Seve Ballesteros.

Bobby Jones at The Old Course

When Bobby Jones first traveled to Great Britain in 1921 to play in The Open Championship, he was unprepared for the difficulties of links golf. The dramatic weather changes, seaside terrain, and unique design of links courses were entirely foreign to the 19-year-old Jones. Though he showed promise, Jones struggled mightily at the Old Course in terrible weather conditions. He eventually picked up his ball mid-round in frustration after taking four shots to get out of the Hill bunker on the 11th hole in the third round.

Jones tore up his scorecard, disqualifying himself, although he finished the round and played the fourth round. It was a humbling experience, with Jones calling it his “most inglorious failure” in golf. Jones said of St. Andrews, “I considered St. Andrews among the very worst courses I had ever seen,” and was heavily criticized by the British press, who chastised him for “throwing in the towel when the going got rough.”

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There were questions about whether the young, talented Jones had the proper composure and determination to succeed in links golf. There was also a sense that he had failed to live up to expectations and couldn’t handle adversity. While Jones admitted that the events “haunted him for years,” the experience taught him that success in links golf required patience, perseverance, and an open mind.

Over the next decade, Jones returned to Great Britain several times to compete in the British Amateur and Open Championships and eventually honed his skills on classic seaside links courses. He won the Open at Lytham in 1926 and found redemption at St. Andrews by winning the Open in 1927 and the Amateur in 1930. He also won the Open at Royal Liverpool (Hoylake) in 1930 en route to the Grand Slam.

Jones retired in 1930, still at the peak of his powers, and co-founded Augusta National, looking to capture the spirit of St Andrews in an inland setting. Jones’ connection to British golf fans who came to revere him as “their Bonnie Bobby” was genuine and unique. He remains one of Links Golf’s iconic figures, with a legacy that endures nearly a century later.

Jones stated, “There is always a way at St. Andrews, although it is not always the obvious way, and in trying to find it, there is more to be learned on this British course than in playing a hundred ordinary American golf courses.” Jones and Alister MacKenzie even used St. Andrews’ famous “Road Hole” 17th to inspire the 5th hole at his Augusta National.

In 1958, an ailing Jones traveled back to St. Andrews one last time to receive the Freedom of St. Andrews award in front of a crowd of 1,700. In his address, he summed up his experiences, “I could take out my life everything, but my experiences here in St. Andrews, and I would still have had a rich and full life.”

Sam Snead at the Open Championship

The Open Championship at St Andrews in 1946 marked the event’s rebirth after a seven-year absence due to World War II. It symbolized a return to international competition and the rekindling of the game’s spirit. Many courses previously in the Open rota were remanded during the war for military use and suffered extensive damage. Our Legendary Links series documents many of these and tells the story of former Open hosts, such as Deal and Princes, who never hosted again.

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When he arrived in St Andrews, Sam Snead was not enamored with the ancient links. He mistook the course for an “old abandoned golf course,” a comment that did not endear him to the locals or the press. Despite this rocky start, Snead’s talent and personality came through as he skillfully navigated the course and won over the Scots. Snead would later say, “until you play it, St Andrews looks like the sort of real estate you couldn’t give away.”

After his initial skepticism, he quickly mastered the unique challenges of links golf and the Old Course. With his powerful drives and sweet swing, Slammin’ Sam handled the challenging winds and the course’s idiosyncrasies, winning by four over runners-up Johnny Bulla and Bobby Locke.

Snead took home the winner’s share of $600 but still lost money because of the long trip and the high cost of travel. St Andrews was his only Open appearance, but it marked the first win by an American at the Open in thirteen years, after an earlier stretch of dominance that would not return for another 15 years.

Snead’s rival Ben Hogan would follow in his footsteps in 1953, crossing the pond to win at Carnoustie and cap off a “Triple Crown,” winning the Masters, US Open, and Open Championship. The Grand Slam was impossible in that era due to scheduling and travel time. Arnold Palmer would spark an American resurgence at the Open in 1961 with back-to-back wins at Birkdale and Troon, opening the door for the likes of Nicklaus and Watson.

Bing Crosby rose to fame in the 1930s with his distinctive baritone voice, which captivated audiences worldwide. His career spanned several decades, during which he became one of the best-selling recording artists of the 20th century. He starred in over 70 films, showcasing his versatile acting skills and becoming a beloved figure in Hollywood.

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Bing Crosby @ St Andrews

Crosby’s iconic performances in movies like “White Christmas” and “Going My Way” earned him critical acclaim and a large fan following. Crosby recorded over 1,600 songs, including timeless hits like “White Christmas,” which remains one of the best-selling singles ever.

Crosby had a long history and connection with St Andrews. In 1950, he competed in the British Amateur at the Old Course, facing off against local amateur J.K. Wilson. His presence drew large crowds and excitement to the tournament. Crosby was also elected as a Royal & Ancient Golf Club member in 1951.

Crosby would visit frequently, participating in various social and ceremonial golf events. In 1971, while in town to play the Old Course, Crosby and his friend J.K. Wilson came up with the idea for the Bing Crosby Trophy, a competition for St Andrews members over 60.

The first Bing Crosby Trophy was played in September 1972, with Crosby present, and is played annually to this day. Through these events and his membership in the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, Crosby embedded himself into the fabric of St Andrews’ community over time. His regular presence and contributions reflect his enduring affection for the iconic home of golf.

Jack Nicklaus at the Open

Jack Nicklaus also has a storied history with the Old Course, with two of his three Open victories coming at St. Andrews in 1970 and 1978. Nicklaus’ first Open Championship win came in 1966 at Muirfield, but his triumph in 1970 at St. Andrews was particularly memorable.

Jack Nicklaus St Andrews 1978
Nicklaus 1978 Open

In a dramatic finish, Doug Sanders missed a three-foot putt on the 72nd hole, which would have given him the win. Instead, it led to an 18-hole playoff the following day, which Nicklaus won, securing his second Claret Jug. The victory was part of a remarkable run of consistency for Nicklaus at The Open, where he finished in the top 10 a record 18 times, including 11 straight top-five finishes between 1970 and 1980.

The 1978 Open Championship at St. Andrews was another highlight in Nicklaus’ career. He clinched his third Claret Jug and 15th Major title as fans watched from rooftops and windows, and Nicklaus himself was moved to tears on the final fairway. His caddie, Jimmy Dickinson, had to remind him to focus on finishing the hole.

Nicklaus’ final appearance at The Open in 2005 was a fitting end to his competitive career at St. Andrews. At the age of 65, he made a birdie putt on the final hole to enormous applause. His farewell on the 18th green, with the iconic Swilcan Bridge as a backdrop, was a powerful and emotional goodbye to a venue that had meant so much to him.

Nicklaus was known for his sportsmanship and respect for the game’s traditions, which cultivated a strong relationship with the “Home of Golf.” In 2022, the Royal Burgh of St. Andrews awarded Nicklaus honorary citizenship, a rare honor that places him in the esteemed company of fellow Americans Benjamin Franklin and Bobby Jones.

An interesting story I learned recently is that Nicklaus actually developed and refined his legendary alignment technique at the Open at the Old Course in 1970. His caddie was using visual reference cues as aim points and targets. Jack decided to visualize a straight line to them to a spot a few feet in front of him, which he then aligned to. Read more in our post “Jack’s Golden Rule.”

Charles M. Schulz and Peanuts

Charles M. Schulz, the legendary cartoonist behind the iconic “Peanuts” comic strip, also had a personal connection to St. Andrews. Schulz was a lifelong golfer who ensured the sport was well-represented in his comic strip. As documented in our post “Fairway Funnies,” Snoopy, Charlie Brown, and the gang were frequently depicted playing and promoting golf. This relationship even extended to helping the USGA in its quest to grow the game.

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In 1991, Schulz and his wife embarked on a trip to Scotland, which included a visit to St Andrews. This journey was not just a vacation but also a reflection of Schulz’s interest in exploring his own heritage and Scotland’s golfing culture.

Schulz’s trip was the basis for a 1997 comic strip and inspired what was to be a feature-length special that had reached the storyboarding stage before he died in 2000 at age 77.

The story remained in the vaults and was recently discovered in the archives of Schulz Studios. The storyboard was turned into the 2021 graphic novel “Scotland Bound, Charlie Brown.” The book tells the story of a Peanuts gang adventure to Scotland, with Lucy shown playing a round at the Old Course, perhaps a throwback to a 1954 comic featuring Lucy playing in a golf tournament with Charlie Brown on her bag!

Illustrator Robert Pope said, “The book is a travelogue of Scotland. We used reference books and Google images and I have a travel agents within walking distance of my home, so it was fun to go there and find out all I could about Scotland.”

John Daly’s Open Victory

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Daly 1995

John Daly’s victory at the 1995 Open Championship at St. Andrews is among the most memorable and unlikely. Known for his powerful drives and colorful personality, Daly captivated fans with his unexpected rise to become the Champion Golfer of the Year dramatically.

In 1995, Daly was already known as the “Wild Thing” for his long drives and surprise win at the 1991 PGA Championship. The unlikely victory at Crooked Stick was made possible when Daly, ninth alternate, only got into the field when Nick Price withdrew.

At St. Andrews, he faced a tough field and challenging weather conditions. Daly shot 67, 71, 73, and a final round 71 to finish at six under par. After fifteen holes, he had a three-stroke lead but bogeyed the 16th and “Road Hole” 17th. The most dramatic moment came when Italy’s Costantino Rocca, needing a birdie at the last to tie Daly, duffed his pitch into the Valley of Sin. Rocca then made an incredible putt from 65 feet to force a playoff.

Daly showed poise in the intense four-hole playoff and ultimately bested Rocca by four shots to claim the title. The victory made Daly the fourth post-war American to capture two majors before the age of 30. Despite his ups and downs in the following years, Daly’s win at St. Andrews remains a career highlight.

Daly’s connection to St. Andrews was revisited in 2022 when he took a sentimental walk up the 18th fairway with his son, John Jr., who served as his caddie during The Open—some 27 years after his triumph; this moment served as a touching reflection of his historic victory.

Tiger Woods Wins Twice

Tiger Woods calls St Andrews his “favorite course in the world.”  At the peak of his powers, he won The Open three times, with the first two coming at the Old Course. First in 2000 and then again in 2005, making him one of four men (JH Taylor, James Braid, Nicklaus) to win multiple Opens at the “Home of Golf.”

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Woods dominated the 2000 Open Championship, opening the tournament with rounds of 67-66 to grab a 6-shot lead early on. He put on a ball-striking clinic and rode a hot putter throughout the week, extending his advantage to 8 shots heading into the final round. His Sunday 70 was enough to coast to an 8-stroke victory.

He set numerous records along the way, including the lowest score to par (-19), the largest margin of victory, and becoming the youngest player to complete the career Grand Slam at age 24.

Many described Woods’ mastery of the Old Course that week as one of the greatest performances in Major championship history. He missed only one fairway the entire tournament and reached 14 greens in regulation in every round. His driving distance of nearly 320 yards was also longer than any previous Open winner at St Andrews. When Woods eagled the par-5 14th hole on Friday, David Feherty proclaimed, “We’re watching genius here, folks.”

Five years later, Woods returned to St Andrews and led from wire-to-wire, securing his second career Grand Slam in the event that marked Jack Nicklaus’ goodbye to the Open and St Andrews. Woods opened with rounds of 66 and 67 to take a 4-shot lead into the weekend and coasted home with rounds of 71 and 70, finishing the tournament at 14-under par and winning by 5 shots over runner-up Colin Montgomerie. Tiger would defend his tiitle the following year at Hoylake in an emotionally charged win, his first Major title after the death of his father.

Zach Johnson’s Defining Moment

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Zack Johnson 2015

Zach Johnson’s playoff victory at the 2015 Open Championship at St. Andrews was marked by challenging weather conditions, including heavy rain and strong winds, causing play to be suspended twice. On Thursday, Johnson began the tournament with a strong 6-under-par 66 in the worst conditions and remained within striking distance of the lead the rest of the week. After rounds of 71 and 70, Johnson was three shots back on a crowded leaderboard heading into the final day.

Five under heading to the home hole, a crucial birdie capped off a final round 66 and secured his place in a four-hole aggregate playoff with South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen and Australia’s Marc Leishman. Johnson birdied the first two holes before a bogey on the third playoff hole and parred the fourth, finishing one stroke ahead of Oosthuizen and three ahead of Leishman.

With his win at St. Andrews, Johnson joined an elite group of golfers who have won both The Masters and The Open Championship at the Old Course, a feat achieved by only a handful of players, including Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Sam Snead, Seve Ballesteros, and Nick Faldo.

Reflecting on his victory, Johnson acknowledged the significance of winning at St. Andrews, the birthplace of golf, and the honor of having his name etched on the Claret Jug alongside the game’s legends. His victory was a defining moment, and I learned in Netflix’s Full Swing that Johnson named his dog “St. Andrews,” but his kids didn’t know why!

Further Reading

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The 150th Open
by Iain Carter

Summary: The 150th Open is the official book celebrating the sesquicentennial (seriously, that’s a thing) of golf’s oldest major championship, produced in partnership with The R&A and capturing the history and stories that make The Open unique.  From its 1860 origins in Prestwick to today’s iconic venues, the book chronicles The Open through archival images and interviews with past champions, reflecting on characters, courses, and moments that have defined this revered event over 150 years. The comprehensive narrative and visual history in The 150th Open commemorates The Open Championship’s illustrious past and enduring prestige as golf’s most beloved tournament.

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The Spirit of St Andrews
by Alister McKenzie

Summary: Alister MacKenzie was one of golf’s greatest architects.  He designed his courses so players of all skill levels could enjoy the game while creating fantastic challenges for the most experienced players.  MacKenzie’s courses, such as Augusta National, Cypress Point, and Pasatiempo, remain in the top 100 today.  

In his “lost” 1933 manuscript, published for the first time in 1995 and now finally available in paperback, MacKenzie leads you through the evolution of golf–from St. Andrews to the modern-day golf course–and shares his insight on great golf holes the swing, technology and equipment, putting tips, the USGA, the Royal & Ancient, and more.  With fascinating stories about Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, and many others, The Spirit of St.  Andrews gives valuable lessons for all golfers and an intimate portrait of Alister MacKenzie, a true legend of the game.

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Scotland Bound, Charlie Brown
by Charles M Shulz, Bill Melendez, Jason Cooper & Robert Pope

Summary: Charlie Brown and his friends head across the pond to Scotland where the gang plans to participate in an international music festival and Charlie Brown hopes to meet his pen-pal, Morag based on an unproduced, feature-length special, storyboarded by Charles M. Schulz!

Good Ol’ Charlie Brown has fallen in love with his pen-pal from Scotland! Now, full of unbridled enthusiasm and confidence, he’s convinced his friends Linus, Lucy, Schroeder, and his faithful dog, Snoopy, to accompany him on an international trip to meet her. Whether it’s golf, music, or the mystery of Loch Ness, everyone discovers something extraordinary about the legendary country…even Charlie Brown, who realizes he’s wishy-washy wherever he may be.

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18 Holes With Bing
by Nathaniel Crosby

Summary: In this memoir, professional golfer Nathaniel Crosby shares memories of playing golf with his father, beloved entertainer Bing Crosby, and the life lessons Bing taught him about golf and life through their time together on the course. The book provides an intimate look at Bing’s passion for golf, his friendships with celebrities, and his special bond with Nathaniel fostered through their mutual love of the game. Written as a heartfelt tribute, the book illuminates Bing Crosby’s life as a golfer and father.

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Classic Golf Links
by Donald Steel

Summary: Classic Golf Links of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland by Donald Steele is a guidebook featuring 75 spectacular links golf courses in the British Isles, covering their history, design, and challenges. The book includes scorecards, hole maps, photos, and playing tips for each course, providing key information for golf travelers while celebrating these revered seaside tests.  With writing by Donald Steel and photos by Brian Morgan, Classic Golf Links is considered an essential reference for experiencing the best of links golf.

This book is a must for anyone with an affinity for links golf. I bought this book years ago and still return to it often. The pictures are amazing and they alone will make you fall in love with these courses.

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Golf Courses of the British Isles
by Bernard Darwin

Summary: “Golf Courses of the British Isles” by Bernard Darwin is a classic text that explores and celebrates the unique beauty and challenges of golf courses throughout the British Isles. Darwin, a revered golf writer and grandson of Charles Darwin, provides insightful commentary on the architecture, history, and character of iconic courses, blending personal anecdotes with expert analysis. His vivid descriptions transport readers to the very greens and fairways of famous venues, highlighting their natural beauty and the intricacies of their design. The book, illustrated with evocative drawings by Harry Rountree, remains a timeless tribute to the game of golf and is considered a must-read for enthusiasts of the sport and its storied landscapes.

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Scotland’s Gift, Golf
by Charles Blair MacDonald

Summary: Scotland’s Gift, Golf is a masterpiece of early golf literature, written by the Father of American Golf Course Architecture, C.B. MacDonald. Considered by historians to be the most important book ever written on early American golf, this book details the birth of golf in the United States in the late nineteenth century and the formation of the U.S.G.A. in 1894.

In addition to a detailed summary of the characteristics of an ideal golf course, this guide provides rare insight into the methods and philosophies that MacDonald used to design some of the world’s most renowned courses, including the National Golf Links of America, Mid-Ocean Club, Lido, and Yale Golf Club. It also includes personal anecdotes and correspondence describing the development of the rules of golf, as well as the evolution of the modern golf ball and golf club.

Written in 1928, this book features 56 black-and-white photographs from the author’s personal collection, including rare photos of Bobby Jones, Young Tom Morris, and Francis Ouimet. Also included is an appendix which highlights the oldest surviving rules of golf from 1754, as well as the amended version from 1858.

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A Course Called Scotland
by Tom Coyne

Summary: For much of his adult life, best-selling author Tom Coyne has been chasing a golf ball around the globe. When he was in college, studying abroad in London, he entered the lottery for a prized tee time in Scotland, grabbing his clubs and jumping the train to St. Andrews as his friends partied in Amsterdam; later, he golfed the entirety of Ireland’s coastline, chased pros through the mini-tours, and attended grueling Qualifying Schools in Australia, Canada, and Latin America. Yet, as he watched the greats compete, he felt something was missing. Then one day a friend suggested he attempt to play every links course in Scotland, and qualify for the greatest championship in golf. 

The result is A Course Called Scotland, a hilarious golf and travel adventure throughout the birthplace of the sport and home to some of the oldest and most beloved courses in the world, including St. Andrews, Turnberry, Dornoch, Prestwick, Troon, and Carnoustie.

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