2004: History, good and bad, imbues R&A home

St. Andrews, Scotland

Think of St. Andrews and one image stands out: the clubhouse of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, the most imposing, majestic building in golf. Since its construction in 1854, it has stood sentinel over the Home of Golf, symbolic of all things Royal & Ancient and, for many, all that has blighted golf’s development in the last 100 years.

This sandstone building is the most photographed in the game. It also is one of the most inaccessible. The clubhouse belongs to arguably the world’s most exclusive golf club.

Because of the R&A clubhouse’s proximity to the first tee, golfers from far and wide mistakenly think the R&A owns the Old Course. It doesn’t. The R&A is only one of seven local clubs with access to the Old Course.

Even today, visitors pull up outside the R&A clubhouse and begin unloading their golf bags, intent on using the clubhouse to prepare for battle with the Old Course.

A brass plaque outside the main entrance soon thwarts their plans. It reads: “Members of Royal & Ancient Golf Club Only.”

For years, the plaque just as easily could have read, “No women allowed,” for this building was off limits to females for much of its existence.

The R&A, even though it’s an all-male club, has softened that stance in recent years. Women now are allowed inside for various functions and during championships.

Nonmembers, regardless of gender, who try to gain entry to the clubhouse are politely turned away. Those intent on changing their shoes are pointed toward the Links Clubhouse adjacent to the first holes of the New and Jubilee courses.

Those lucky enough to gain access – accompanied by an R&A member – find themselves in rooms befitting the structure. The august entrance hall contains lockers with the names of prominent members Jack Nicklaus, Kel Nagle, Peter Thomson and other such luminaries.

Two rooms are accessible off the foyer. To the left is the Trophy room, where the R&A’s crown jewels are kept. It is here that you will find the Silver Belt with Moroccan leather that was awarded to the earliest winners of the Open Championship at Prestwick. The belt’s successor, the Old Claret Jug, also is on display, as is the British Amateur trophy, the Walker Cup and the silver club to which each new R&A captain adds a silver ball.

The main room is aptly called the Big Room, for it is a spacious chamber with tall ceilings. It overlooks the first and 18th holes on the Old Course, and is where members meet for libations. Also on the ground floor is a library and a snooker room, which once was a committee room. Upstairs is the dining room and the secretary’s office, commanding the best view in golf. The basement houses the members’ changing room.

The building has been upgraded and modernized over the years, and is now more symbolic than functionary since many R&A departments have been moved to offices in other R&A-owned buildings nearby.

To many, the R&A clubhouse represents all things traditional and good about golf. To others, it is emblematic of a bygone age.

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