Tears greet wounded soldiers on Old Course in St Andrews

St Andrews Legacy participants and representatives,  Old Course, St Andrews, August 2014
St Andrews Legacy participants and representatives, Old Course, St Andrews, August 2014

Hitting a winning shot on to the 18th green at the Old Course in front of a packed gallery might seem the ultimate for a golfer but it pales by comparison to the experience of a group of war-wounded Commonwealth servicemen on Tuesday.

Their approach up the fairway and arrival at the final hole was welcomed by pipers and crowds of spectators, many shedding tears.

Locals and visitors alike turned out to applaud the eight veterans for their individual bravery and in playing the round commemorate the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, which added even more significance for the soldiers.

“Words can’t really describe it,” said Lt Riad Byne, who has had serious back injuries and just been discharged from the Canadian military after 23 years’ service, including tours in the former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan.

He had been able to keep his emotions in check until he approached the green, when the sound of the pipes and the crowds overwhelmed him.

“Just making it to Scotland and playing here was incredible enough but the poignancy of the occasion brought back a lot of memories of good friends lost,” he said.

Fellow Canadian Kevin O’Brien said the WWI anniversary hit home on Monday night during Lights Out hour.

“We were walking through St Andrews and could see single lights burning in so many homes,” said Kevin, who has a broken neck and leg and shoulder injuries sustained during a 24-year military career in which served in Croatia, Bosnia and Afghanistan, and as part of UN and NATO peacekeeping missions.

“It just had so much more impact being here together.”

One of the landmarks observing the occasion was the R&A Clubhouse, where a single strong light shone out like a beacon from the famous balcony of the darkened building.

The veterans from the UK and Canada are the third group brought to Scotland to play golf this year by St Andrews Legacy, whose founder is local guesthouse owner Graham Proctor.

Graham said: “The soldiers are amputees or have undergone multiple surgeries and are veterans of some of the most intense and difficult conflicts of recent times, including in former Yugoslavia where World War I broke out a century ago.

“It was fantastic to see so many locals and visitors around the 18th supporting the lads when they finished.”

The British troops have all served with the Grenadier Guards.

Among them was Lance Corporal Scott Blaney, who lost his right leg and had his right elbow shattered in a landmine explosion in Afghanistan in 2007 but has overcome his physical challenges with incredible acts of endurance, including marathons, swimming the English Channel and being part of a four-man team that rowed 3000 miles across the Atlantic.

Scott had a further unexpected honour on Tuesday night when, at a trip to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, he was given a standing ovation by the sell-out audience on being presented with a quaich by the organisers in recognition of his achievements in raising the profile of wounded war veterans.

Leading the Canadian contingent was Major Jay Feyko, who suffered blindness in one eye and severe shrapnel wounds after a suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan and now heads the Soldier On programme in Canada.

He paid tribute to St Andrews Legacy: “These opportunities change the lives of ill and injured people who really need the support as they recover from visible and non-visible injuries.”