Thousands of visitors to St Andrews, sadly, might never bother to investigate the town's historic aspects or, indeed, wander very far away from the 19th hole. They have come for one thing and that is to 'play golf'.
Despite rather weak counter-claims that it started in Holland, St Andrews is regarded as the conceptual home of the game. The naturally formed Scottish coastal margin or links land, created over thousands of years by the receding sea, was used by locals as common land for the grazing of animals or drying clothes.
Here, by the sixteenth century the game of golf began to take shape and direction.
Even before 1457, when the Scottish Parliament tried to ban the game, golf or a distant relative of it was enjoyed on these links. Mary Queen of Scots was known to enjoy the odd round. It was not until 1895 that a second course to the Old, the New, was laid out by the R&A. The Jubilee course came next in 1897.
The sandy peninsula next to the town of St Andrews was gifted to the people by King David in 1123 and, despite once being sold by an unscrupulous and bankrupt Town Council for rabbit breeding, it remains the property of St Andrews citizens. St Andrews golf courses are, therefore, essentially municipal, allowing anyone to play providing they can obtain a ballot or tee time. For the Old Course, this requires a handicap certificate and a deal of patience.
The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, set in its honey-coloured citadel overlooking the 1st and 18th holes of the Old Course, is, along with the USGA, the ruling body of golf world-wide. The men-only clubhouse buit in 1854, may only be entered by invitation.
It may be hard for non-golfers to fully grasp the significance of St Andrews to the game of golf, but most will enjoy a tour around the well-presented British Golf Museum, situated behind the Royal and Ancient clubhouse. The museum has taken a potentially 'stuffy' subject for non-golfers and brought it to life with the use of audio-visual and hands on presentations.