In my head the atmospheric Old Course was going to be lit up by autumnal sunshine, showing off the home of golf in all its picture postcard perfection.
In reality, the stoating rain that had threatened to derail my morning round at the Crail Golfing Society, had followed us up the Fife coast. A dreich morning had seamed effortlessly into an even more dreich afternoon. The rain bouncing off the tarmac, wind buffeting the exposed links.
Sensing an air of reluctance, I offered words of encouragement: “I don’t think the heavy stuff’s going to come down for quite a while.”
My three children and wife – all non-golfers and only really here to humour me – missed the joke as much as I had mis-read their enthusiasm. Coats were zipped up and putters and balls were plucked from the boot of the car. No other clubs were required because we were heading for a late afternoon tee time on The Himalayas putting course, St Andrews – home of the St Andrews Ladies Putting Club.
The club is tucked neatly between the right-hand edge of the Old Course’s first hole and the first tee of the New Course. Formed in 1867 as the St Andrews Ladies Golf Club, it was the world’s first ladies only golf club.
The need for it became evident when several adventurous women began playing on a putting green laid out for caddies, who would practice while waiting for a bag to carry. It was decided that the women should play on their own course and an area of rough ground used by washerwomen was identified.
The pioneers played a nine-hole ‘miniature links’ that had been laid out by the legendary Old Tom Morris, who was also the course greenkeeper until he retired in 1895, when he became an honorary member.
The first competition took place in 1867 and the gold locket and silver pebble brooch that were the first and second prizes are still played for by the 200 current members.
Today, there is an 18-hole and a 9-hole layout at The Himalayas putting course, St Andrews, providing a test as challenging as you’ll find anywhere across the links. That’s not to say this is a course for seasoned golfers only. This is family fun. And at a bargain price. At the time of writing, it was just £4 for adults and £2 for seniors and under 16s.
Well, it started out as fun. It quickly turned competitive. Super competitive. There were doughnuts at stake. We weren’t the only ones braving the weather. A family of eight, ages ranging from 8 to 80, were finishing up as we started and they huddled together as they shuffled off, trying to add up the all-important scores on a soggy scorecard.
I was accused of sabotage by my wife before a ball had been struck. Because of Covid-19, players had to provide their own clubs and balls. It was only on the 1st tee that I remembered I’d cobbled together three right-handed putters and my wife is a lefty.
Thankfully, a helpful assistant in the clubhouse loaned us a suitable flatstick and the game was on, although I knew by the 3rd hole that I’d given my 12-year-old daughter too many shots; I had three twos, she had three threes, net ones.
Even my 17-year-old, the least sporty of our quintet, stopped playing air guitar on his putter between every shot when he realised his 14-year-old brother was beating him.
By the 5th hole, the umbrella had been ditched. It was impossible to stay dry but that did not detract from the enjoyment. There is, as you would perhaps expect, barely a flat piece of turf on the Himalayas – it looks like the course was routed over a camels’ graveyard, such are the humps that beguile and entertain.
Balls that look way offline suddenly catch a slope and flirt with the hole, while others tracking the cup agonisingly slide off, to the amusement of rivals. Three putts are not always a disaster! We also had to negotiate natural lochs, growing larger by the second, although the saturated slowness of the green may well have been a benefit.
A footpath, called ‘Jordan’ runs through the middle. It used to be a passage for fishermen and frequently flooded, with planks of wood put down to allow the ladies to continue playing. Nowadays, the path is just another layer of complexity to consider.
The later holes at The Himalayas putting course are metres away from the Old Course and the views down the 1st and last are sensational.
Through the gloaming, we could see a fourball teeing off on the 18th; another group was just about visible on the 17th green. My daughter, peering out from under her hood, water cascading off it, asked why they were allowed to not wear coats and had trousers tucked into knee-high socks.
I had no sensible answer but sensing this was my moment to draw one child deeper into the game, we sloped over to the edge of the hallowed turf to watch the drives fly. I pointed out the Swilcan Bridge, the Valley of Sin and explained that in July, thousands of fans would, like us, be lining the fairway, watching the 150th playing of golf’s oldest and finest championship, The Open.
We returned our attention to our own championship. There were putts for dough…nuts to hole. A local inn proved to be the perfect drying room as we pored over pulpy paper, steaming mugs of marshmallow-filled hot chocolates warming hands as debate raged over twos that looked like threes and fives that were ‘definitely’ fours.
In the end, it was doughnuts for all and, as the only player to score a hole-in-one, I was buying…