Tour the Royal & Ancient Clubhouse at St Andrews

Tour the Royal & Ancient Clubhouse at St Andrews | Pro Club Bd

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – I still can’t decide which was the coolest piece of memorabilia to be displayed at the R&A Clubhouse.

Was it the original oil paintings that hung on the walls? The award-winning silver Claret Jug awarded to Champion Golfer of the Year? Or Alister MacKenzie’s original sketch of The Old Course, surveyed and illustrated in 1924? All spectacular and part of the game’s rich history, but then you see the original Challenge belt awarded to the winner of the Open Championship from 1860 to 1870, until young Tom Morris finally won the belt by winning the event three times in a row – this is the next level.

Welcome to The Royal & Ancient Clubhouse, located beyond the first tee of the famous Old Course, is an iconic building whose exterior is instantly recognizable to golfers around the world. Arnold Palmer once described it as “entering the hall of the gods,” and thanks golf week Rater and club member Derek Dobbs gave me a great tour of the facility which was originally built in 1854 in the Georgian style of the time.

Dobbs joined the private club, which has around 2,500 members worldwide, in 1989, or as he put it, “a long time ago to know his stuff”. He usually comes over once a year and plays. (He is also a member of Royal Dornoch #Jealous.)

The entrance to the R&A Clubhouse in St Andrews. (Photo by Adam Schupak)

Blazer and tie are required for entry and unfortunately no photos or videos are allowed. In the main lobby is a cabinet that houses many of golf’s most prized trophies – from the amateur and ladies amateur trophies to the Claret Jug itself. There are two versions – one dedicated to the Champion Golfer of the Year awarded custody for a year, and the one I’ve studied closely, which never leaves the grounds and was last given to Bobby Jones when he won in 1927, and didn’t want to risk taking it home to America.

Continue to the trophy room where my eyes were drawn to the silver balls and Derek told the backstory of a notorious club tradition. Every year since 1754, the new captain has hit the ceremonial drive from the first tee and the local caddy who collects him is presented with an award. A silver cover of the ball is then attached to the cluster, which hangs from a silver putter like grapes on a vine. (Royal captains – there were four – have golden balls.) Later in the evening, at a dinner party, new members must touch this jewel to their lips and kiss the captains’ balls.

The Big Room, the main social room on the ground floor, features floor to ceiling bay windows and stunning views of the first tee. We sat and watched Trey Mullinax and others tee off and had drinks. The room is adorned with paintings of Queen Elizabeth II, Sir Michael Bonallack, five-time British amateur champion, and old Tom Morris. To have a locker in this room you have to be a member for 50 years.

R&A members watch Tiger Woods before he tees off on the first hole from the R&A Clubhouse during the second round of the 150th Open Championship golf tournament at St Andrews Old Course. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Interestingly, members don’t otherwise have their own lockers; Rather, they find an empty one and pay a pound to use it. They have thought of almost everything including a space to dry clothes in the locker rooms.

On November 30th or St Andrews Day the clubhouse is open to the public to take a tour of the ground floor and I encourage everyone to do so. But you need a member to accompany you upstairs.

The walls going up the stairs display an impressive art collection that is changed regularly. There were original oil paintings of the Grand Triumvirate – Harry Vardon, John Henry Taylor and James Braid, the three leading British golfers of the late 19th centuryth and early 20sth Centuries – by Francis Ouimet, the American who won the US Open at the country club in 1913 and was R&A captain in 1951, and a painting of the 2003 annual meeting when Prince Andrew was made captain. Former Open champion Peter Thomson and course architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. were easily identifiable in the painting. The staff prepared lunch while I admired the bird’s eye view of the first tee.

Spectators watch Tiger Woods (not pictured) on the 18th hole from the Secretariat’s balcony at the R&A Clubhouse during the second round of the 150th Open Championship golf tournament at St Andrews Old Course. Photo by Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sport

The clubhouse is a museum piece housing museum pieces from the great game. With chamber after chamber of old hickory putters, mashie-niblicks, brassies and cleeks, you’ll wonder why the British Golf Museum across the street is necessary. It houses so many priceless antiques such as Old Tom Morris’ Baffy Spoon and Allan Robertson’s rod iron from the 1850’s. These clubs were made by true craftsmen, but are so primitive that they seem more suitable for gardening. There is also a wall of unusual clubs including a rake niblick and the evolution of the golf ball from badminton (1840), gutty ball (1890) and even a leather ball (1943) in the billiard room.

The list of honorary members, which has already included former Open champions Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino and Tony Jacklin, grew by three this week with the addition of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Paul Lawrie. As I went back downstairs, I spied a small wooden box with a slot cut out at the top. Hidden on a table, it said: “Letter of support for candidates”.

Excuse me while I stuff it full.

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