In looking back over the inaugural Festival of Golf in St Andrews, Richard Wax, the innovative Frenchman who poured £500,000 of his own money into the venture, said that the event had exceeded his wildest expectations.
“It proved the perfect meeting place for golf’s kindred spirits,” said Wax, who has been involved in the creation of as many as 30 different courses in 17 different lands.
You ask him to pinpoint a highlight and he opted for the “street golf,” an activity once embraced by Old Tom Morris and revived a few years ago by four young Frenchmen. This ancient pastime, which used to go under the name of “silly bodkins,” captured the imagination of golfers and townsfolk alike as modern proponents hit up and down the pebbled streets before signing off by chipping into the central fountain.
“People in the coffee shops came bursting on to the pavements to ask if they could have a go,” chuckles Wax, who added that the shops’ wide-eyed owners had insisted on dispensing free coffees to the seemingly stray golfers.
Now, Wax has it in mind to make this version of the game global. Already, he can visualise children in India knocking compressed waste-paper balls into doorways and other makeshift holing-out points.
The festival itself is to become a worldwide celebration. Though the main event will always be staged in St Andrews, there will be a travelling edition each October, with the venue of this year’s autumnal version to be announced during Open week.
“We feel strongly that the spirit of the game shouldn’t stay locked in the town,” says Wax.
Perhaps it is because he is a Frenchman residing in France that Wax saw better than many closer to the Home of Golf itself that the town was in danger of coming across as a bit of a closed shop. For 18 years, he travelled to and fro in a bid to awake interest in the idea of a festival and, on his 157th trip, he met up with Richard McStravik, a local and a golf course architect. “He ‘got it’ straightaway,” says Wax.
Thereafter, nothing could stop Wax and his new chief executive officer as they poured their all into the first installment.
Another poignant festival moment for Wax occurred when he came across America’s Kyle Philips and Australia’s Darius Oliver locked in conversation. As he said, the designer of Kingsbarns and the author of Planet Golf might have met in the odd airport lounge from time to time, but here they were talking in a setting which was absolutely right for two like golfing minds.
All three of the Golf Hotel, Rusacks and The Scores served as festival venues, while every hotel was full in what would otherwise have been a quiet week.
No one would deny that St Andrews has an austere beauty even on the darkest of days. But it did no harm that the week of the festival was one stolen from summer, with the 1,000-odd visitors who had packed for winter leaving with the most unlikely of suntans. And, of course, with their games nicely honed for the summer months.
There were various presentations over the five days, with David Joy, in full Old Tom regalia, giving a rendition of his specialty, “An Audience with Old Tom Morris.”
Patricia Norton from On Course Strategies hosted the Gala dinner at the Younger Hall on a final night when several awards were handed out. There was one, for example, for Brian Davis, the Englishman who called a couple of penalty shots on himself – he hit something on his backswing from the hazard scrub – in the play-off he lost to Jim Furyk in the RBC Heritage.
Laura Davies received the Babe Zaharias award for her contribution to women’s golf, while 63-year-old Mike Reeder, who had both legs blown off beneath the knee in Vietnam, was recognised for courage.
Ever since he had started golf from a wheelchair at 40, the American had longed to play St Andrews. The Challenged Athletes’ Foundation paid for him to visit the town, where he became the first person to play the Old Course from a wheelchair. (In fact, he hits all shots from 70 yards and under on his knees.) Reeder opened with a birdie and, having set his heart on breaking 80, came in with a 79.
Finally, there was a 19th hole award – The Best 19th hole in the World – for the Dunvegan Hotel proprietors, who have clung fast to the game’s spirit in the years they have managed their popular hostelry.
There are evocative golfing pictures on the walls, with the most famous artifact the Tip Anderson chair where the famous caddie would sit at the end of a day’s work. And from there regale old friends with stories of his days as Arnold Palmer’s caddie.
He won two Opens with Palmer and another with Tony Lema, with the latter ordering champagne for Tip and his brother caddies even before he had been presented with the Claret Jug.
Reproduced with kind permission of Global Golf Post - Subscribe now for free
IN THE MAY 13, 2013 ISSUE