Ed Leahy discovers there's a lot more to this royal and ancient town in the Kingdom of Fife than just golf.
Walking through the old town of St Andrews in October can easily result in a chance meeting with Hollywood superstar Samuel L Jackson.
And if the star of 'Pulp Fiction' doesn't happen to be treading the cobblestones, well there's a star-studded supporting cast providing cameo appearances around every corner of this royal and ancient town in the Kingdom of Fife.
Hugh Grant, Bill Murray, Andy Garcia, Aidan Quinn, Bobby Charlton, Johan Cruyff, the list goes on and on as this already lively university town gets the celebrity treatment for one week every autumn.
It's neither a film festival nor a television awards show that attracts so many celebrities to this coastal town - just an hour from Edinburgh - but a golf tournament, the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. It's where Oscar-nominated actors and World Cup- winning footballers get to play the supporting role alongside some of the world's greatest golfers.
The event has established itself on the European Tour over the past decade, being a very unique competition for golfers and spectators alike. The tournament takes on the traditional four-day format with the first three days played at Kingsbarns, Carnoustie and the Old Course at St Andrews.
The celebs are guaranteed three rounds matched with European Tour golfers, while the top 20 have the privilege of returning to the Old Course to compete on the final day.
The town of St Andrews is rightly known throughout the world as 'The Home of Golf' but there is a lot more on offer for the thousands of tourists who pass through this once ecclesiastical capital of Scotland.
The town takes its name from the apostle St Andrew, who is also the patron saint of Scotland. And according to legend, the relics of St Andrew somehow made their way to where the town now stands. As a result, St Andrews became a very important religious site until the Scottish Reformation in the 1550s.
The town is full of historical buildings, from the ancient ruins of St Andrews Cathedral to the picturesque cliff top site of St Andrews Castle, while some of the old town walls are still intact, with the West Port gate one of only two remaining Ports in Scotland.
The Medieval centre of St Andrews, with its narrow alleys and cobbled streets, leads to the now ruined cathedral where it is said that Robert the Bruce was present at its consecration and apparently rode his horse up the main aisle, claiming to be more powerful than the church.
Just adjacent to the Cathedral sits the church of St Regulus, where you can climb the spiral staircase to the top of a 108-foot tower for magnificent views of the town and its surroundings.
On the edge of town sits St Andrews castle, perched on a promontory overlooking the sea, which was the dramatic stage for several of the most notorious episodes of the Reformation.
The University, with its elegant, ivy-clad buildings and delightful quadrangles, was founded in 1410 and is the third oldest in the English-speaking world. It is often compared to Oxford and Cambridge for its defining presence and the collegiate feel it gives to the town.
And make sure to explore the beautiful coastline throughout Fife. At St Andrews there are two great beaches, one being the West Sands, where the famous opening sequence of 'Chariots of Fire' was shot.
Among the town's many other highlights are the Botanic Gardens, the St Andrews aquarium and the Byre Theatre, Scotland's only five-star arts attraction.
It was in 1754 when St Andrews Royal and Ancient Golf Club first met and remarkably it still exercises legislative authority over the game throughout the world, apart from North America. The Old Course is the most famous of the town's seven courses, and remains a public course with daily ballots allowing locals and visitors from around the world to play on the hallowed turf.
With the Dunhill Links taking place, I was unable to enter the ballot to play but I did get to walk the Old Course on the final day's play, following eventual winner Martin Kaymer along the back nine. Actor Matthew Goode was also part of the fourball, partnering runner-up Danny Willett.
And while every professional golfer will tell you that winning a tournament at St Andrews is their ultimate goal, for me to stand by the 18th tee and look along the final fairway, which leads back into the town centre was my memorable moment that will only be bettered if I ever get a chance to play the majestic Old Course. It is reason enough to return to this beautiful ancient town and the rugged coastline of Fife.
Golfing St Andrews and Fife
Watching some of the world's best players in action really gives you the urge to get out and play, and with seven courses in St Andrews and scores more throughout Fife, you really are spoilt for choice.
First up was a trip to the pretty Fife town of Crail, 10 miles out the coast from St Andrews. The Crail Golfing Society is one of the oldest in Scotland and is home to two very challenging links courses.
I played the Craighead course, which is a traditional links track with little protection from the elements and a very tricky test when the wind is blowing. Playing in October, the course was still in great shape and there are plenty of hazards to keep you on your toes with the sea coming into play on several holes and some ancient walls to be negotiated as well.
The following day, it was off to the Championship Torrance Course at the Fairmont resort on the outskirts of St Andrews.
The John Letters Golf Company was on site for the week of the Dunhill tournament, offering a free club fitting service to players staying at the Fairmont or spectators attending the golf.
The John Letters professional took a good hard look at my technique and recommended the T9+ driver with 13 degree loft, compared to the 10 degree equivalent I am used to playing with.
So with new club in bag, I set off to tame the Torrance track. And it worked a treat - the driving was exceptional (by my standards). The only problem being that every other club in my bag got the hump with the shiny new arrival and conspired to sabotage my round at this fantastic course that is as aesthetically pleasing as it is architecturally astute.
The Torrance really is a world-class golf course, and even though I didn’t play very well, I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and its amazing setting on the St Andrews coast. The very tasty club sandwich in the clubhouse afterwards helped me to see the positives and put me in good form for a well-deserved night out in St Andrews.
St Andrews Nightlife
Being a university town, it is not surprising that a thriving nightlife exists in St Andrews. My night started with some cold beer, a dart board and a pool table at the Sports Bar in the Fairmont before heading into town for dinner at the renowned Rusacks Hotel.
The Rusacks' best feature is the amazing views of the adjoining 18th hole of the Old Course, and with fine dining or gastro pub options available, all tastes are catered for. It would be worth your while just popping in for a coffee to get a close-up view of the Old Course and also take a look at local artist Joe Austen's Champions Collection, which is a fantastic gallery of oil paintings of the great winners of the Open, including our very own Padraig Harrington in full swing.
The food and atmosphere in the One Under gastro pub were the perfect combination to kickstart the weekend and get the Torrance Course horror show out of my system. A bar crawl around the town will result in a great night out, but don't forget about that early tee time planned for the following morning.
Where to Stay
I stayed at the spectacular Fairmont Hotel on the outskirts of the town. The resort is aimed primarily at golfers with two Championship courses, the Torrance and the Kittocks, hugging the rugged Fife coastline and was voted 18th in the World's Top Golf Resorts by Condé Nast Traveler readers' poll. But even if you don't play golf, there is plenty here to keep you enthralled from the welcoming open fire keeping things cosy in the lobby to the sensuous Spa offering a range of treatments, which include locally-themed massages, facial and relaxation therapies featuring exclusive Kerstin Florian products. There are five dining options where you can sample some homemade Dundee cake for traditional afternoon tea and signature dishes, such as locally caught lobsters from the East Neuk of Fife for a gourmet dinner.
For more information on St Andrews and golfing in Scotland, go to: www.visitscotland.com/autumngold.
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