Roger McStravick’s excellent and entertaining guide to the Auld Grey Toon will have golf lovers laughing out loud and nodding in appreciation.
From the word go, Roger McStravick’s fabulous guide to St Andrews and its historic Old Course, St Andrews A Comfort Blanket for the Hapless Golfer, is delivered with a heartfelt and personal touch that embraces the reader and takes them on a stirring tour of the Auld Grey Toon.
In the Acknowledgements for his latest book, Roger McStravick, author of the award-winning, St Andrews in the Footsteps of Old Tom Morris, explains the context in which this book was written – during a very tough spell for the author in which he lost three close family members in the space of 18 months. In under 175 words, he sums up his grief in the most delicate and moving fashion. He explains that he’s written the book as a comfort blanket for himself as well as his readers – With a lump in my throat, I was sold from that point on.
Things get decidedly more light-hearted as the book begins in earnest. A brief history of the town of St Andrews gives a flavour for the concise, amusing but considered approach taken by McStravick. In six pages he covers Jesus, the Picts, David I, Old Tom Morris, Pope Benedict XIII and the Duchess of Cambridge – very skilful.
Things get even more concise in Chapter 1 which is comprised of just one word… The title is “Can you get me a time on the Old Course?” … I’ll leave you to guess what the word is.
The next three chapters give some sage instruction on how best to get on to the hallowed turf of Golf’s “Grand Old Lady,” how to prepare for the experience and how to deal with the 1st tee nerves as you stand up to play on golf’s most famous links. Just reading the instructions on the latter had me hyperventilating – rather amusing though and I felt better to know that, in 1946, General Eisenhower found the prospect of the opening drive at St Andrews so daunting that he had walked the 1st hole.
It should be noted that the book is beautifully illustrated by Kate Scurfield of Horse & Hound who perfectly captures the spirit of the book in a series of characterful, tongue-in-cheek depictions of golf and life in St Andrews.
Back to the writing, the chapter on Old Course etiquette is particularly enlightening – covering a broad range of thorny issues, from pace of play to terrorism. There’s good advice on what to wear, how to spot when a caddy is taking “the proverbial” and why GPS devices are tolerated but not admired.
There’s a comprehensive tour of the Old Course itself with some excellent anecdotes thrown in amongst the facts on bunkers and yardages. Many of these cover the author’s experiences in golf and life in general and all are very cleverly woven in.
We’re given a brief trip around the other courses in St Andrews before we’re taken back in time with some excellent guidance on the tremendous history waiting to be explored in St Andrews – there’s far more than just golf to enjoy in the Auld Grey Toon! McStravick is clearly a knowledgeable historian and this is confirmed by one line that had me chuckling; “the movie Braveheart is as accurate historically as The Wizard of Oz is to the early days of Australia.”
There’s plenty on the history of golf in St Andrews mind you, and a fine chapter on the notable figures associated with both the sport and the town – from Sir Hugh Lyon Playfair up to David Joy – the renowned Tom Morris enactor and artist.
To finish we are given some excellent advice on where and what to eat and drink in St Andrews and what else to see when we visit. It should be noted that this book is as useful as it is informative and entertaining. Whether you know St A’s well or not, there’s something to be gleaned from McStravick’s writing. Those who are frequent visitors will find the familiarity comforting, as the title suggests, but they will also uncover nuggets of information erstwhile unknown. Those who know less of the place, will enjoy the guidance as well as the humour.
St Andrews A Comfort Blanket for the Hapless Golfer delivers a delightful glimpse of St Andrews through the eyes of someone who knows the Auld Grey Toon like the back of his hand.