Eyes of the world on St Andrews

Tiger Woods’ comments at a packed press conference on Tuesday morning reinforced what we all know, St Andrews really is ‘something special’.

The Open championship returning to the Home of Golf doesn’t only bring with it legions of famous golfers and golf fans but thousands of visitors eager just to soak up the atmosphere which is simply buzzing.

The Old Grey Toun has taken on a truly international feel over the last few days and there can be few who fail to be caught up in it - despite changeable weather.

From the massive grandstand at the 18th to the huge ‘Open for All’ marquee in the University’s Lower College Lawn and golf-themed window displays in many shops, not to mention restaurants where booking systems have been suspended and parking spaces being like gold dust, the impact of Open fever is everywhere.

Although the battle for the prestigious Claret Jug - and the small matter of £1.5 million prize-money - only started yesterday (Thursday) there has been plenty for visitors to enjoy.

The early arrival of the aforementioned Mr Woods had the media excited from early on and visitors flocked to see him in practice sessions.

The excitement around the arrival of 2015 Masters and 2015 U.S Open champion Jordan Speith was also palpable.

His recent success had the world’s media in a frenzy, everyone eager to question the 21-year-old about his hopes for success on a course he’s never played albeit on a full swing simulator at home.

And while the media have been kept busy asking questions - often focusing more on William and Kate’s romance in St Andrews than golf- Wednesday afternoon the Champion Golfers’ Challenge was a golf fan’s dream come true - six teams of Champion golfers whose victories span 60 years of Open history took to the Old Course under suddenly clear blue skies.

Two of the sport’s greatest players, Peter Thomson and Tom Watson, celebrated historic milestones in their remarkable careers - Thomson marked the 60th anniversary of his win in The Open at St Andrews in 1955 while Watson played on the 40th anniversary of his debut in The Open in 1975 when he became Champion Golfer of the Year at Carnoustie.

The challenge was won by Arnold Palmer’s team - the 85-year-old alongside Darren Clarke, Paul Lawrie, Bill Rogers - much to the delight of ‘Arnie’s Army’.

Fans were also delighted to see three-time champions Sir Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods playing in the event alongside the 1963 and 1969 champions, Bob Charles and Tony Jacklin, and more recent winners such as Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Padraig Harrington.

Among the other champions who played were Louis Oosthuizen, who won The Open in 2010, the last time it was played in St Andrews, Stewart Cink, David Duval, Mark O’ Meara, Justin Leonard, John Daly and Sandy Lyle.

Proving to be a big attraction off the course this week has been the Land Train (see page four).

Who’d have thought a simple little train on wheels chuntering around would be such a hit with visitors but it has and it’s certainly helped people get into the holiday spirit. This week, Fife’s Provost Jim Leishman, known for his out-going nature and willingness to give anything a try, couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel.

The Open may be a multi-million pound operation, primarily for the rich and famous, and one which is simply on a circuit of exclusive venues but when that venue is St Andrews and the town gets in the swing, then it’s ‘open’ for everyone to join in.