E.A. Sports Today

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Things come together perfectly for Anniston optometrist and sons to enjoy golf experience of a lifetime

Anniston optometrist Rob Svensen and his sons Jack (center) and Ross pause as they cross the famous Swilcan Bridge on the Old Course at St. Andrews. On the cover, the Svensens huddle up on the first tee. Below, the group walks into the sunset at the end of a golf trip of a lifetime. (Photos by Rob Svensen)

Anniston optometrist Rob Svensen and his sons Jack (center) and Ross pause as they cross the famous Swilcan Bridge on the Old Course at St. Andrews. On the cover, the Svensens huddle up on the first tee. Below, the group walks into the sunset at the end of a golf trip of a lifetime. (Photos by Rob Svensen)

(Another installment in an occasional series of local sportsmen enjoying the wide world of sports)

By Rob Svensen
Special to East Alabama Sports Today

If you’re serious about golf at all it doesn’t take long before thoughts creep into your head of all the places you want to play before life’s final putt drops.

From the time your fingers wrap around the grip for the first time or you hear the sound of a putt rattle in the bottom of the cup the dreams begin.

For serious players there are certain places you’ve just got to play for the full experience. Pinehurst. Pebble Beach. St. Andrews.

A recent business trip to Scotland for a training session on a new instrument I purchased for our office allowed the opportunity to check off a couple items on our golf bucket list.

We had already played Gullane No. 2 and Royal Musselbrough, a course that was established in 1772, but a friend, Dr. Kurt Steele, on the same trip from Tennessee was determined to play Muirfield and The Old Course at St. Andrews so we went for it like a player challenging No. 13 at Augusta.

At Muirfield you can only play on a Tuesday or Thursday if you’re not a member – and you must have a foursome, according to the website.

They take their golf seriously in Scotland; this is no place for weekend hackers. You have to have a handicap of 20 with a minimum age of 16 to play here. Jack, my youngest, got in just under the wire turning 16 on Nov. 16 – one of the many things that went our way on the trip.

We e-mailed a request Monday night after the club had closed and called Tuesday morning right when the course opened to see if they received it. Politely, they said we could tee off at the last available time – 9:50 a.m. Shuttle ordered and ready for a 35-minute drive to the course.

The caddy master met us at the gate to give instructions on where to pay and find the locker room. Winter rates were available, almost half the price of the in-season rates.

As you’d expect on a course here, the wind was brisk and steady, and the caddies proved their worth quickly. My other son Ross learned real fast to slow his swing into the wind and to hit the ball lower. Jack said he loved the links style courses the best and had never seen sand traps so deep in his life. Putting the greens with unbelievable elevations was a new experience.

Both boys loved the people they met and the various courses. Ross said, “It was a trip I will never forget.”

It was beautiful and challenging and a round to remember. We proceeded to have lunch in the dining hall – after we borrowed a coat and tie.

The atmosphere and food was the best we had on the trip. The dining hall consisted of two long tables in a modest size room adorned with historic pictures and a glass case of clubs from the 1700’s. We had place settings next to the members. A wonderful soup started the meal with fried scallops. Then steak and chips followed. We finished with ice cream and Eve’s pudding; looked like apple cobbler.

The trip to Muirfield left us on Cloud Nine and more determined than ever to play The Old Course.

Missing out on the lottery to play, our only choice was to get to the old pavilion early to get in line. It’s a lot like what I’ve heard it is to walk up onto Bethpage Black. It’s first come, first served, and during the summer people start getting in line at midnight. The starter opens the pavilion at 8 a.m.

The shuttle from Edinburgh Radisson Blu, our home for the week, took about 90 minutes to St. Andrews. The train is an option but a taxi is needed at the train station; the shuttle was easier.

The driver was delightful and acted as tour guide. He said we would know quickly if we’d get to play that day. A long line is almost a guaranteed “no”.

We hold our breath as we drive up, and – more good fortune — miraculously no one is there. We joyfully stood for 15 minutes until they opened.

This was a good time of year to show up and play. Weather was 41 degrees at 7:45 a.m. I can’t imagine being in line for more than 30 minutes at this temperature.

We give Brian, the starter, our names and he said there were several twosomes starting at 9:50; he is pretty sure we will play.

We retired to the New Course clubhouse for breakfast. The Old Course clubhouse is not open to the public. We return to the course at 9:30 and Brian soon gives us the good news. They asked the twosomes ahead of us if they’d play together; the boys, Dr. Steele and I teed off together at 10.

A tee shot at the first hole of the Old Course is a dream for all golfers. To share this with my two sons is hard to describe. We were all excited. The boys had caddies and dad decided to go it alone. Brian was confident the boys’ caddies would be helpful to me if I needed some info.

My second shot was a solid 8-iron from 148 yards. I hit it good, short of the creek almost 30 yards short of the hole. Ross told me you can’t feel the wind on that shot and you’re supposed to hit an extra club. I laughed and learned – and proceeded to birdie the next two holes.

Each hole is so unique and like opening a new present at Christmas.

The sun broke through the clouds as we were coming to the famous closing holes and we were peeling off the layers the last two holes. The smile on my face and the feeling inside as we finished were indescribable.

To have my sons on the trip and playing the game we love together is a joy that is hard to describe. To play in Anniston or in Scotland, our times together allow me to ponder the rounds I had with my dad and grandfather; my sons were named after both.

It was two days to remember, a week to cherish. All the pieces came together perfectly: Meeting Dr. Steele and him being the fourth we needed to play Muirfield and his not-giving-up attitude to play the Old Course made those two days possible. The weather was cool but no rain made it enjoyable. My boys going made it perfect.

Rob Svensen is an Anniston optometrist and a member at Anniston Country Club. His sons, Ross and Jack, play golf for the Donoho School.

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