Roger McStravick is so fond of St. Andrews that he delves so deeply into his explorations of the history of the Auld Grey Toun that he almost needs a breathing apparatus and a bathysphere.
There is no finer place to be for a golf historian. “St. Andrews may be world-famous as the home of golf, but it is also the “home of golf research,” as McStravick says, and researching everything about the cradle of golf is not a task for the faint of heart.
McStravick says of this tireless, historical spade work, “There’s so much work to be done that it’s almost overwhelming because new things keep popping up,”
Of course, much of that history revolves around old Tom Morris and young Tom Morris, the celebrated, decorated father of golf and son of yore who, in the revered pantheon of the game, remain colossal, iconic figures.
‘I am a total nerd,’ adds the Irishman, whose birthday on June 16 is the same as Old Tom’s. For me, St. Andrews has become an obsession. I was hypnotized by Old Tom Morris a few years ago. And I was like Halle Berry on Oscar night when I was told the story of the death of young Tom. I was a complete mess. I just started researching and researching. I was insatiable. Where other people are passionate about soccer teams, I have a huge passion for anything to do with St. Andrews and Old Tom Morr.
That enthusiasm has gone into the development of various, award-winning books. A delightfully descriptive tour of the streets, squares and landmarks of a town full of legends and lore is his wonderfully researched and superbly realized “St Andrews – In the footsteps of Old Tom Morris”.
The latest publication by McStravick, “St Andrews – The Road War Papers,” tells the fascinating and sometimes absurd tale of a dispute that in 1879 caused a huge uproar.
The Road War Papers document a bitter legal tussle that divided St Andrews and involved all the major figures of the day, including Old Tom, centered on one of the most famous streets of golf – The Links, stretching from the corner of Golf Place to Grannie Clark’s Wynd and beyond –
As the book’s preface states, from today’s perspective, the turmoil sparked by the creation of a simple asphalt strip would seem like a “tempest in a teapot”. But the impact of a road on this treasured piece of public land sparked a gripping, heated national interest debate in St. Andrews in the 1870s, which eventually landed in the House of Lords.
There was an outcry of outrage when they wanted to allow a road in front of the Old Tom Morris store and across the old connections,”When they wanted to allow a road in front of Old Tom Morris’ store and across the old links, there was an outcry of outrage,”
“There was a box called ‘St Andrews Links,’ but they said they weren’t sure what was in it. There were statements for Old Tom and others. I almost had my head in a brown bag and hyperventilated when I discovered it. This wasn’t just someone writing about Tom Morris. They were actual statements by Tom Morris. It was a gold mine and the transcripts are very revealing.”
Studies by McStravick also shed light on the growth of the Old Course itself.
“Everyone had written that the first hole was laid out in the 1840s or so,” he said. “But I found a receipt from the 1830s that showed the wagoner was paid to haul garbage away from St. Andrews, dump it on what was then the beach and level it, and that’s how the first hole was created. The man who actually did this, John Carstairs, talks about the whole case. The first hole is effectively built on top of the trash.”
For McStravick, the gift that keeps on giving is the Old Course and St. Andrews as a whole. “There are so many wonderful twists and turns in the history of St. Andrews and that’s the beauty of the place,” he said.
Roger McStravick’s “St Andrews – The Road War Papers” is published by St Andrews Golf Press and distributed by The Golf Book Shop.