St. Andrews: Golf's highest altar

June 28, 2012
David Brice, Golf International, Inc.

David Brice, CEO of Golf International, reviews destinations on PGATOUR.COM that can be experienced by purchasing a package with Golf international, a leading provider of high-end international golf travel. For more information about this trip or any other of Golf International's destination trips, click here.

There's a special magic to the name, St. Andrews that immediately raises goose bumps on the skin of every golfer. This is the birthplace of the game -- the place where it all started, more than 600 years ago. It is here in the "Auld Grey Toon", where the most sacred piece of golf real estate in existence sits -- the venerable, St. Andrews Old Course.

1. St. Andrews' history dates back more than 3,500 years..jpg
St. Andrews' history dates back more than 3,500 years.
2. St. Andrews Castle, once considered impregnable, fell to Protestant forces in 1559..jpg
St. Andrews Castle, once considered impregnable, fell to Protestant forces in 1559.
3. St. Andrews Cathedral was one of Europe's most important during medieval times..jpg
St. Andrews Cathedral was one of Europe's most important during medieval times.
4. St. Andrews University, founded in 1413, is Scotland's oldest..jpg
St. Andrews University, founded in 1413, is Scotland's oldest.
5. The Royal-Ancient Clubhouse overlooking the first tee of The Old Course has its own piece of history to tell..jpg
The Royal & Ancient Clubhouse, overlooking the first tee of The Old Course, has its own piece of history to tell.
Book your trip:
For a other ideas on golf trips to Scotland, Ireland, British Open, Spain & Portugal, click here.

Or call Golf International at 1.212.447.5003

Enjoying its privileged position, practically in the heart of town, the first tee tucked safely beneath the protective gaze of the imposing Royal & Ancient Clubhouse, there's something almost regal about the setting. Even visitors with no interest in golf, immediately recognize that this must be hallowed ground, to be treated with the utmost respect. And golfers from around the globe come to this Mecca by the thousands, to pay homage.

Golf is everywhere -- from the profusion of courses, ranging from the oldest to more recent additions - to the window displays of the shops and boutiques, the golf themed hotel lobbies, to young children bicycling off with clubs over their shoulders, eager to play a few holes before sunset, this is a place where golf is unquestionably King. Golf permeates the St. Andrews sea air and it seems each and every one of its 16,000 inhabitants - man, woman and child -- lives, eats and breathes the game.

While this is the impression, there's much more to this ancient town. If golf had never been conceived, if the Royal & Ancient Golf Club had never seen the light of day, if the British Golf Museum had not been built and the seven municipal golf courses located in and around town had remained as cow pastures, St. Andrews would still be a thriving, prosperous community, attracting visitors by the thousands.

There is another side to St. Andrews that many golf visitors never take the time to discover. Golf, despite its 600 year long residency, is a relative youngster in terms of St. Andrews' rich, colorful and often bloody history, which extends back to 1500 BC and perhaps even further.

From the very first tribes who farmed and hunted in the area around St. Andrews, to the Gaelic speaking Picts, to the Roman occupation, to St Columba who brought Christianity to Scotland from Ireland, there is history everywhere. There was the peaceful surrender of Scotland to William the Conqueror by King Malcolm in 1072, followed by the medieval years when St. Andrews experienced its most glorious period and also endured its very darkest days.

St. Andrews University opened its doors in 1413 as Scotland's first seat of higher learning. This was the third university in the entire British Isles, preceded by only England's Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Many of the impressive buildings in St. Andrews date from this time, with St. Salvators Chapel and St. Mary's college being particularly fine examples of 15th and 16th century architecture, still functioning as they were originally intended. Considered one of Britain's leading Universities, almost 6,000 of today's town population are students and faculty, among them until a few years ago, Prince William, heir apparent to the British throne, together with his wife to be, Kate Middleton.

In medieval times, St. Andrews was one of the most important and powerful cities in all of Scotland, not only as a center of higher learning, but also as the country's ecclesiastical capital. It was home to the most impressive cathedral in the land and it was from here and neighboring St. Andrews Castle, the powerful Catholic Archbishops controlled the faithful with an iron fist for centuries. Pilgrims came from across the country and indeed Europe, to pay homage, to atone for their sins and seek cures for their illnesses.

By the early 16th century, religious rebellion was afoot and the bloody Protestant Reformation was underway. St. Andrews, as the Scottish center of the Catholic Church with the largest cathedral, much celebrated throughout Europe, was in the middle of all the action.

Burnings at the stake became commonplace, as martyrs of the faith were served the ultimate punishment for heresy and other crimes. For thirty long years the violence continued unabated. The English became involved and King Henry VIII sent his finest regiment to aid the protestant cause. St. Andrews Castle, the Catholic stronghold, was besieged, attacked with cannon-fire, and then occupied by Protestants, only to fall once more to Catholics, then back to Protestants again. The Archbishop and many of his clergy were slaughtered in their beds, the cathedral ransacked and looted of its massive collections of silver, gold and fine art and by 1559, it was over.

It's difficult to comprehend how such a small town that takes no longer than 20 minutes to walk from one end to the other, could possibly contain so much history, but it's all here. From the stately ruins of St Andrews Cathedral, to the proud remains of the castle, once considered impregnable and the impressive 15th and 16th century university buildings. St. Andrews is packed with a blood and thunder history that epic movies are made of. Wander the streets of the town and there is even more to discover.

If you are searching for more history, visit 12th century, Holy Trinity Church on South Street. It was here in 1559, that John Knox preached fire and brimstone to the congregation, inciting them to ransack the cathedral, bringing centuries of Catholic domination to an end. Take time to see Queen Mary's House, the townhouse where the ill fated, Mary Queen of Scots stayed during one of several visits to St. Andrews in 1562.

The Royal Burgh of St. Andrews is a unique and thoroughly fascinating town and as handsome as any you will find in the British Isles. You may have come here for the golf, but don't miss the opportunity to see the other side, an intriguing slice of Scottish history.

For a few ideas on how to combine St. Andrews rich past with the very best championship golf, contact the Scotland experts at Golf International by calling USA toll-free, 1 (800) 833-1389, or click here.

©2012 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Golf International -- Providers of quality golf travel arrangements since 1988.