Fergus Bisset: Such a perfect day

The Bisset Family Quaich was contested last Friday at St Andrews. It was an example of why it pays to persevere.

Over the last couple of years the annual Bisset family "Christmas Quaich" has been badly affected by adverse weather conditions. In fact, it's now had to be postponed from its usual slot in the week before Christmas for the last three straight years. The 2009 event didn't take place until July 2010 and the 2010 competition was only re-run in summer of last year.

The participants (me, my dad and my brother Roddy) were feeling a good deal more optimistic last December as we'd enjoyed unusually mild weather through the latter part of the year, and the Old Course at St Andrews (venue for the Quaich) had not been closed due to winter conditions all the way up to the proposed tournament date of 21st December.

But Mother Nature conspired against us. On the 20th it was cold and the course was frozen. Then on the night of the 20th it rained on top of that frozen ground, flooding the courses: game off. We rescheduled for 27th January not feeling overly hopeful because, over the last two years we've attempted to reschedule later in the winter with no success.

So we weren't too surprised to hear upon calling last Friday at 8.30am that the course was closed for frost and due to be inspected at 9.30am. However, we decided to go for it and hope for the best. At 9.30 we'd made it to Dundee - an hour from home but only half an hour from St Andrews - course still closed, next inspection 10.30am. Our time was 11am so it was cutting it a little fine.

The tension was palpable as we headed over the Tay Bridge. "It's three degrees here, no now two. The ground isn't frozen there.. no wait, there's a white patch... It must surely be opened... The sun's out, that ought to thaw it..."

We stopped for a bacon roll and coffee at the new Balgove Larder. Just on the way in to town opposite the Strathtyrum Course, it's an excellent emporium with a café/restaurant and a shop selling all manner of gastronomic delights as well as other nice bits and pieces, ideal for presents I'd say.

Anyway, we scoffed our bacon roll and slurped our coffee in nervous silence, looking out of the window at the clear blue skies and the motionless trees, we were all just praying that we'd see golfers teeing off when we rounded the corner and approached the R&A clubhouse.

As we made that short drive from Strathtyrum into town, nerves were fraying to breaking point as we discussed other options. "Maybe another of the courses will be opened?"... "We could always head back and play Banchory?" Those who know how seriously the Bisset Family Quaich is taken will recognise that these uncertainties were doing little for the general pressure and strain between the competitors.

But our first sight of the "Grand Old Lady" was a joyous one. The winter sun was beating down on the 1st and 18th fairways and a group of three were marching down over Granny Clarke's Wynd with bags on their backs. I actually gave a fist pump in celebration.

To say we were rewarded for our perseverance would be a pretty massive understatement. There was barely any wind to speak of, the skies were clear, we were allowed to play off the white tees, there was hardly anyone else on the course, we were round in 3 hours and 20 minutes, we all found the fairway on the 17th and, to top it off, I shot a one-under-par 71 (my best ever round on the Old from the back pegs.) All that for less than half price!

When we went for a celebratory pint in the New Club we all felt pretty smug as we looked back out over the 18th fairway. For those of us who endure winter golf in the worst muddy, frozen, cold, wet and windy conditions, these are the occasional payoffs. Those perfect winter days when it all comes together and you feel like you've been let in on a great secret that barely anybody else in the golfing world is aware of. How do people put their clubs away for winter? I don't know, but I hope they keep on doing it.

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?