“Coming all the way over here to Scotland and being exposed to a different culture is eye-opening, but golf is a language we all share, a commonality, like music”.
Misa Church, who is about to start an aerospace engineering course at San Jose State, was looking back on the New Links event of 2019, organised in partnership with Youth on Course, which involved four young Americans from California joining local counterparts in a week of golfing, educational and cultural activities centred on St Andrews.
The group played on seven different courses, including the Old Course, Kingsbarns Golf Links, and the unique Kingarrock Hickory Golf Course at Hill of Tarvit, toured the Royal and Ancient clubhouse, had an introduction to the extensive opportunities offered to international students by the University of St Andrews, which provided en suite accommodation for the week, explored the coastline in kayaks courtesy of Blown Away, and heard from world-class golf experts Frank Thomas and Valerie Melvin, and PGA Master Professional David Scott at The Duke’s Course.
Misa, a 2.5 handicapper, took in the beauty of the land and sea, especially at Kingsbarns – “the views, the peacefulness out there” – but it was a classic hard-running St Andrews course that came out first for her: “the Jubilee was my favourite. I am used to sticking the ball, but out here it’s more placement involved because of all the mounds around the greens. My skill set has expanded”.
Rudy Vega, heading for Texas State to study criminal justice, agreed with Misa’s assessment of the benefit of playing links golf.
“It’s completely different from what we have back home. Although it seems daunting, it’s the most fun and memorable golf I have played. It is the best experience of my life so far – a once in a lifetime opportunity. I met some amazing people who I will have a long relationship with”.
Rudy was thrilled by Kingarrock, where antique clubs are provided to take guests back to the days when legendary figures such as Bobby Jones, Joyce Wethered and Old Tom Morris were defining the sport.
“Seeing how golf was played back in the day was truly inspiring”.
For Michael Wang, heading for UC Berkeley to study computer science, the sheer variety of courses around St Andrews was a stand out.
“It helped my golf game, especially putting from off the green. You learn how to use the ground more, using the slopes. I was chipping with 6 and 7 irons rather than a 9 iron or lob wedge. There is more variety of shots”.
Michael’s best strike of the week was on the ninth hole of the Old Course. “I pured my shot and I drove the green”.
As for the Home of Golf itself, Michael said; “St Andrews was vibrant and welcoming”.
Haley Ali, who will be attending UC Davis to study cell biology, praised the “really friendly people” she had met.
“They are proud of their history and, listening to their interactions, they are more direct and friendly. They are unconsciously warm. With all the history, it is even more welcoming and laid back than you’d imagine, even the dress codes”.
On the courses, “there are more variables to overcome, like the bunkers and the weather, but you still have a smile on your face”.
One of the local golfers who joined in with the week’s activities was David Wilson, who benefitted from seeing how the Americans approached the game. “It has been fabulous. I have learned different ways to play golf. I’ll definitely be back next year”.
Chaperone Michael Lowe was delighted with the way the 2019 event panned out despite a problem with flight transfers having given the group an unexpected Saturday in New York City.
“People often talk of golf as a metaphor of life, learning to play the bounces that the game gives you…a journey like this, you never know what is going to happen. We got stuck in New York but we took advantage of the opportunity to explore. We almost had two trips within one. It was an experience for the group to bond”.
Visiting NYC and then St Andrews so close together allowed Michael to see the trip to Scotland in a wider context.
“In California, and in the US in general, we have this constant pressure to be always working, always studying, this very competitive culture; but pressure can break you at times.
“To have the opportunity to come to St Andrews and breathe in the fresh air from the sea and walk these fairways that people have been walking for hundreds of years, it is a spiritual experience”.
New Links co-founder Kenny Wood was delighted with the success of the event.
“This would not be possible without the help and encouragement of many people. I am especially grateful to St Andrews Links Trust, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, Kingsbarns Golf Links, Ross Wilson at Kingarrock, David Scott and Tom Ogilvie at The Duke’s, Frank Thomas and Valerie Melvin for again taking time to share some of their vast expertise, and Guy and Jamie McKenzie and their wonderful team at Blown Away.
“I also want to thank all the local participants and their parents for their tremendous contributions, especially Sam Wilson, David Wilson, Adam Duncan and Robin Hamilton”.
Almost 200 young people from Scotland, Kenya, South Africa and the USA have participated in New Links activities since it was founded in 2006 and the organisation has also funded a four-year scholarship at the University of St Andrews.