1. You are 32 years old as of this interview. What a first book to start! Tell us how Links to St. Andrews – Love Letters to the Home of Golf came to pass.
Links to St Andrews has been in development for a decade. By that I mean that the relationships required to bring this project to fruition have been forming for more than ten years, each one adding a compulsory component to the final product. The last eight years have been a whirlwind. In 2007, I first traveled out of the U.S. to study at the University of St Andrews for a semester abroad. That experience changed my life. In 2008 and 2009, I interned with the USGA at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines and then at Bethpage Black. My singular goal was to return to St Andrews to do a Master’s degree in economics while enjoying more rounds on the Old Course.
In 2009, while working for the United States Senate Budget Committee, I was informed that I had been accepted to St Andrews, once again. While my studies were rigorous, I was actively engaged in business development for golf artist Lee Wybranski and volunteer work at The R&A. Finally, I was given an opportunity by Dr. Louise Richardson, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of St Andrews (and newly named first female Principal and Vice-Chancellor of England’s oldest university – also the oldest in the English-speaking world, Oxford University), to work on the 600th Anniversary Campaign as a development officer with a golf-centric focus on The St Andrews 600 golf tournament in June 2013. These experiences led me to write this book.
Approximately four to five of the last eight years have been spent living in the UK, from St Andrews to Edinburgh, Cambridge to London. I’ve enjoyed researching and experiencing every aspect of the game I love. For those of you who wonder how a young man from North Dakota and Colorado could publish such a book, I hope this provides some clarity.
PinWheel Press is a small publishing house we founded to publish this book. Golf willing, we hope to produce a few more books if we are so very fortunate.
A special thanks to my parents, Mitch and Lois Evenson. Without them, this project would not have come to fruition. The same is true of Mr. Palmer, Howdy Giles, Carol Haralson and a few other close friends.
2. Please summarize the finished product.
Links to St Andrews is an anthology of memoirs relating to St Andrews as the Home of Golf. The stories are a variety of love letters to the town and game, linking people to one another as well as to our game’s home. More than 100 people were kind enough to contribute. They include Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tom Watson, Sir Michael Bonallack, Rory McIlroy, Jim Nantz, Annika Sorenstam, Lady Angela Bonallack, Ben Crenshaw, Tom Doak, Lorena Ochoa, Mike Keiser, Herb Kohler, Archie Baird with Mungo Park and many more.
Commissioned Artists: Michael Klein, Lee Wybranski, Linda Hartough, Kenneth Reed, Joshua C. F. Smith, Robert Kelsey, Jill Previti, Nicola Wakeling, Mark Holden and more; as well as English photographer Matthew Harris.
In all, there are more than 400 beautiful images from the world of golf. As part of this effort, 100 sheets of handmade paper were commissioned that have grass infused into them from St Andrews. Each contributor is signing one hundred sheets to be part of a very limited edition that will be donated to various charitable organizations, including Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital, The First Tee, Evans Scholars Foundation, and more than 50 other organizations.
3. What are the pros and cons of living in St. Andrews?
To live at the Home of Golf is like a dream come true every day. If a golfer is able to make the pilgrimage once in their lifetime, they are grateful–the visit will surely be unforgettable. Any perception of a pro or con associated with living in St Andrews depends upon whether you’re a local, student, or visitor–and your general disposition. For me, I love it all the same: There are no real cons to living in St Andrews, just a different ebb and flow to life than one might be used to.
The best part (for me) of living there is the proximity to the ancient grand game. It’s all around you. You can walk on and play golf most any time, especially in the off-season. One of the best attractions is the Himalayas. I loved walking over and putting for hours while exchanging enjoyable banter with my friend, Neil, who manages the course, and Bracken and Bob, two of his many dogs, were always there with Dot. Many nice evenings were spent with them as the sun went down over the Old.
Not only have I enjoyed the opportunity to visit dozens of times, I had the privilege to live in the Auld Grey Toon for more than three years. For a young American golfer, it was like living your bucket list every day. The opportunity to meet friendly locals, students from diverse countries and golfers from all across the world really has been the greatest privilege. Today, I am grateful to be a regular visitor. I never really was a “local,” because that takes centuries, although one is always a welcomed guest. Seeing friendly faces and lifelong friends with each visit has been my dream come true. As a young man from North Dakota and Colorado, such things were unfathomable.
The pros of living in St Andrews greatly outweigh whatever one might deem a con. If there was a “con,” it would be that one can forget how special it truly is to be that close to the Old Course. As a local, it’s hard not to see the Old Course every day; therefore, it feels as though it will always be in your backyard. The environs around you are, at once, both in the past and also the very present, which is all good. The beauty of it all is inescapable.
However, most people would agree that living in a small community “where everyone knows your name” can feel a bit invasive, like an unwelcomed golf ball flying at you when the striker of it never named fore. Once it misses you, you simply move on. Should it strike you, well, that’s another story. By that, I mean one has little real privacy because almost everyone knows your face or your name. There is little anonymity as one would experience in a major city such as New York or London. This can cut two ways: If you’re a very sociable person, this situation is perfect. For some, it is a dilemma. For me, I have been at both ends of this spectrum. At times, I appreciated the smallness of St Andrews. At other times, I felt I must get to Edinburgh or some larger place where one is seen and forgotten at once. There’s a reason students refer to St Andrews as “The Bubble.” However, once graduated, most recall only the glory days in this rarely sleepy seaside town, especially when the students are about.
As a golfer, there are no real cons to living in St Andrews except for the darkness of winter (which I avoid like gorse on the Old), mostly because one cannot play as much golf. The pro in this situation is that usually you have the course to yourself.
As a student, the pros of living in St Andrews are truly endless. From Day One, to the end of our studies, one is immersed in international relations as we make new friends from Hamburg to Geneva, Beijing to Capetown, San Francisco to Rio de Janeiro, and many small towns all over the world–I grew up in Minot, North Dakota, after all. The ancient university town is an incubator for thought and knowledge, as well as exploration, enjoyable activities and a familial community.
And finally, as a matriculating student golfer, there is no more coveted treasure than the “links pass.” For the equivalent of a few hundred dollars, one can purchase a pass enabling the golfer to play as much golf as they wish on any of the seven courses of St Andrews. YES, including the Old Course.
Just for fun:
PROS – 9 Out:
• As a ‘local’, the opportunity to try to par or birdie the Road Hole tomorrow.
• May Dip will allow the student and golfer alike to be forgiven for their sins.
• Proximity: One rarely needs transportation – you can walk or bike anywhere in town.
• Intellectual stimulation is at the heart of this ancient university town.
• The University of St Andrews keeps the town young, diverse and dynamic.
• The town is full of good, kind, interesting people.
• As a student, it is very easy to travel Europe while based in St Andrews.
• You never know who you’re going to meet on the first tee – a new friend, future employer, prince, etc.
• The Links Pass – ‘nuf said.
CONS – 9 Back:
• As a golfer, the impulse to want to hit another tee shot off the first of the Old Course and then realizing that you cannot; no breakfast balls allowed.
• It would not be good for the waistline to eat a club sandwich every day at The Jigger Inn or the chili bowl at The Dunvegan.
• The walk from New Hall to Castlecliffe on a cold, windy winter day; three to four times per day because you forgot a text book or assignment.
• More people ought to know about/experience St Andrews Botanic Garden.
• As a student, the realization that Empire isn’t open 24 hours per day – at 3 A.M.
• There’s not enough live music. A summer festival or outdoor amphitheatre would add more flavor and fun.
• As a Denver guy, I must say that Chipotle would be an incredible addition, including breakfast burritos!
• Being offered mushy pees with EVERY meal.
• Never making it out of the Road Hole Bunker, or the fact that you might have to admit hitting the ball into the bunker on the 9th fairway while playing the 10th.
The best part of living in St Andrews is the proximity one has to the ancient, grand game. It’s all around you. You can walk onto the Old Course almost any time, especially in the off-season, and play. If you love architecture, what better place to be? The Old never runs shy of lessons.
4. Desirous of a quiet round away from tourists, where did you head within easy driving distance?
As a rule, I seek out courses I have not played. If I chose to not play one of the seven courses managed by St Andrews Links Trust, I started local by trying to play all the courses of Fife – of which I have a few to go. It goes without saying that both courses at Crail are excellent; and if you go to Anstruther for fish and chips be sure to stop off to play nine holes. The par three fifth hole known as “The Rockies” won’t let you down. The Dukes is a welcomed change of pace.
However, it needs to be said that locals can, almost anytime, walk on any of the courses of St Andrews for a quiet round. It was normal for me to walk out to play a round at dusk on my own. As long as there’s not a competition, one ought to be in luck to find a place to swing. In the end, you can’t beat walking on to the Old at the end of a day. To make a new friend or perhaps (at their request when not taking a caddie) show someone around the Old for the first time was my favorite thing of all.
5. You lived in St. Andrews off and on over a six year period. How many rounds did you play during that period on The Old Course?
St Andrews was my home from January to June of 2007, then again from August 2009 to August 2011. From fall 2011 to September 2013, I was a development representative for the University of St Andrews, so I spent approximately half the year in St Andrews and the other half in Colorado (but mostly traveling). I would guess that I’ve enjoyed the privilege of walking those fairways 50 to 100 times; and I’ve played the other six courses in St Andrews a total of about 100 times as well. On the Himalayas I have approximately 50 rounds logged, including countless hours putting on the practice putting green just below the Royal & Ancient Golf Club–adjacent to the first tee of the Old. While working for the Heritage Division of The Royal & Ancient Golf Club/British Golf Museum, I used to putt for 30 minutes each day after lunch. It was grand. To this day, I envy my Australian friend who played 147 rounds, I believe, during our degree program. As many people say, I hope the best rounds walking the Old are ahead of me.
6. Please single out a single hole and how your perceptions changed from your first round to your last.
The twelfth hole: It is excellent, and it usually gets the best of me. While working on Links to St Andrews, I learned a lot about this hole. In speaking with Mr. Nicklaus, Mr. Watson, Mr. Norman, Mr. Parsinen and others, my perception evolved. Quite a few of my finest shots were on the twelfth, making it hard not to be somewhat romantic as I reminisce. Going for the green is fun, but it can end very poorly when you block your tee shot wide right or hit a snap hook left into the gorse. Tending to the latter, I often opt for an iron and then try to hit it close. If you leave yourself 100 yards, it’s tough to get close to the pin because it’s so flat and firm, unless the pin is in the front bowl. Once on the green, the breaks in the green are just subtle enough to be invisible. One tends to question themselves again and again. Instead of trusting the line and then focusing on the stroke and pace, they forget and leave it short or blow it ten feet past the hole.
7. Patrick Leigh-Pemberton and Moritz Weisel pen an instant classic in your book when they wrote, ‘St. Andrews is famously so boring golf was invented here.’ Where does an insider head in the winter when cold rain and dark descend?
If you’re a student, you’re in the library or in your room studying. For me, I spent my time at Taste (the local coffee shop) or The Jigger Inn to sit by the fire–they have the best club sandwich, excellent ambiance and unparalleled charm. For students and locals alike, the pub is the place to talk about current events, from a hole-in-one to Foucault or Arendt on “refugees.” My other favorite nightly spot was Taste. Jan is a fine proprietor, always with a smile on his face and listening ear.
My first visit to St Andrews was in the heart of winter. The days are about 7 hours long. It’s rare to see more than an orb in the sky, something that resembles the sun. There’s a reason vitamin D lights are always sold out. At one point, I may have been translucent. Seeing the stars in St Andrews is but a wish. If granted, it is a dream.
The heat in my room was on twice per day for about an hour, therefore I was always cold. It’s the bone-chilling cold that prevents you from warming up, even if you stand in the shower for an hour–you’ll still have the chills. To get out of the cold, I would walk over to the Jigger Inn each evening. Antoinette became my close friend. We’d speak for a quarter of an hour, then I’d order the finest club sandwich (my norm) with a Jigger Ale on occasion, or else a very good cappuccino. I’d always sit by the fireplace, or the small single seat just to the right of the front door.
Conversely, if you have time and find a cheap fare, you might choose to jump a Ryan Air flight for $30-40 to Spain, Italy, Cyprus or elsewhere on the Mediterranean!
8. What advice would you give to a first-timer visiting St Andrews?
• Have a game on the Himalayas–it’s my favorite thing to do when not playing the Old Course. Neil’s bark is bigger than his bite.
• Enjoy the club sandwich at The Jigger Inn and chili or nachos at The Dunvegan Hotel.
• Befriend your caddie, he will save you strokes and time while providing a much finer experience every time you play.
• Watch out for the rooks and seagulls, they’ll definitely steal anything you’ve got. I call them the “villains.”
• Do not miss the British Golf Museum, it’s a terrific experience. The history of the game fairly glows.
• Late at night, visit the Old for the first time. Walk the 1st and 18th, as well as the tees and greens, over Swilcan and back. It’s magical.
• If you happen to visit while the students at the University of St Andrews are in session, do not miss May Dip or Raisin Weekend: the town of St Andrews comes alive.
• Visit the church and cemetery where you can see the resting spots of many past Open champions, including those of Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris.
• If it’s the Sabbath, as they say, I suggest a service at St Salvator’s, Hope Trinity or any other church of your preference.
• DO NOT be late for your tee time on the Old.
• If you have the opportunity to see David Joy perform as Old Tom Morris, do not miss it. He is a talented man who really loves the game. You can also check out a charity he is associated with called Keepers of The Green, they provided powered mobility to those in need and presented 5 chairs at The Open Championship at St Andrews in 2015.
9. Talk to us about Michael Klein. His work is truly of exception.
Michael Klein is one of a kind. His body of work speaks for itself, and I am grateful to call him a friend. Michael’s work is as interpretive, moving and pleasantly unpredictable. It exceeds expectations or any preconceptions one might have of his art. His work evokes the beauty of John Singer Sergeant, especially his portraits and still life work. His flowers are especially unique, and when you compare them to other great classical painters, I believe his work stands out as the finest. One must see it to believe it.
Evolving from a focus on still life and flower paintings, moving on to include golf landscapes was not difficult thanks to his knowledge and skill. For example, his paintings of Swilcan Bridge were meant to be interpretive and less literal; I simply provided a few photographs for him to work from and then he imagined himself about to walk over Swilcan, as he painted the iconic landmark. His work speaks for itself, but I think he hit a hole-in-one with what was accomplished. We hope to do more work together in the future, hopefully in golf.
Michael and I grew up in the same small Midwestern town called Minot, located in northern North Dakota, about 100 miles from the Canadian border. My mother worked for Michael’s father, who is a general dentist. I became familiar with his work thanks to her. She was always talking about how much she loved his beautiful art. After a few years, I reached out to Michael to see if I could commission a painting. It was to be a gift. He rejected my request, though he was very kind. Michael more or less paints what he is inspired by and does not generally accept commissions.
Like myself, Michael moved away from Minot upon graduation from Minot High School. I went to Denver. He to Minneapolis. He trained under very talented painters, then moved to New York City. His career took off. He met his wife and then moved to Argentina with her. He’s back in NYC, but not for long.
Being as persistent as I am, I followed up with Michael a few more times and his response was always the same. As I made progress on Links to St Andrews, I reached out one last time. I told him about the project and he was enthused. Kindly, he accepted my request to do a dozen works.
Michael’s work is featured on the front and back covers of the book and is sprinkled throughout. In all, he did six thistles, three images of Swilcan Bridge and a few scenes looking into town from Old Course Hotel. St Andrews has been painted by so many people, but Michael’s approach was such that I thought it would capture the feeling and spirit of the place, while being utterly artistic and special. Michael and I intend to work on a few more projects together. He is a special talent. For more, go to www.michaelkleinpaintings.com.