ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- Scotch whisky scares me.

When I hear people talk about it, I feel the same way I feel when I hear people discuss car engines, or when our local handyman, Randy, comes to my house to fix something: dumb and emasculated.

BottlesWright Thompson/ESPN.comThese bottles served an educational purpose during an experiment Saturday night in St. Andrews.

Me: What's wrong with the air conditioner?

Randy: It's turned off.

Some guys start waxing about this prime Highland they had -- and can you believe the single-malt Speyside the bar got in? -- and I slink away. It's a gap in my essential man knowledge. I don't know peat about Scotch.

Since I'm here, and it's a work trip, I figured the time had come.

I went to Scotch school.

Maybe you already know this stuff, though I bet most of you are like me and just try to fake it.

Consider this The Idiot's Guide to Whisky.

ACT I: The Preparation

First, I found an expert. Peter Wood is the manager at Luvian's Bottle Shop on Market St. in downtown St. Andrews. This is the place to buy whisky. They've got everything. I asked him to pick out an airplane bottle from each whisky-producing region in Scotland, something he liked, and then give me descriptions of each and an order they should go in.

Here's his list:

1. Auchentoshan Three Wood (Lowland, light and gentle style)

2. Springbank 15 (Campbeltown, another lighter style with a little sweetness)

3. Old Pulteney 12 (Highland Coastal -- a salty, lemony, creamy whisky, very fresh)

4. Edradour 10 (Highland Inland -- rich, sweet, spicy and fruity)

5. Balblair 1997 (Speyside -- similar to the Edradour, but more dry spicy flavors)

6. Highland Park 12 (Island Whisky -- a bit of sea air freshness with some chunky chocolate flavors)

7. Bowmore 18 Year (Islay -- spicy, peaty, smoky whisky)

ACT II: Whisky River

I roped my friend, Barry, into drinking with me. He works at the Washington Post, which means he actually has to work this week. You know, cover stuff. Do crazy things like (a) talk to actual golfers and (b) write about golf and (c) make deadline. So, I sat at a local pub and waited on him to file. I haven't read his story this morning, but it better have been gold, like Dan Jenkins and W.C. Heinz traded off paragraphs. Because it was past 11 when we finally got ready to go. I snatched two whisky glasses from the pub and we headed out into the night, the seven bottles in my computer bag.

The pubs were emptying. We found some ancient ruins and sat down on the cold stones. A spotlight swung back and forth across the sky, slow and steady, and combined with the old buildings and the accents of the people stumbling past on the street, it felt like time rolled back to the early 1940s. I took out the bottles.

1. Lowland. We both agreed that it wasn't our favorite. Says Barry: "Not a big, winter's-night-sit-by-the-fire-while-it-pours-off-the-North Sea Scotch."

2. Cambeltown. To us, lots of aftertaste. Hits the back of your throat and stays there. We both agreed: our least favorite.

3. Highland Coastal. After the first sip, Barry says, "Oh, my, God." Later, he says: "Smooth. Barry White smooth." I agree. Far and away my favorite. I'd drink that again.

4. Highland Inland. I thought it was a mixture of the first two and the Highland Coastal. We tasted the spicy from Peter's description but not the fruity. I liked it a lot.

5. Speyside. We liked this one, too. It stays on your tongue, but doesn't have the aftertaste we didn't like from the Cambeltown.

6. Island. It seemed like a winter Scotch. It was much bigger. Not something I'd want all the time, but it didn't make us wince.

7. Islay. A big brother to the Island. Incredibly peaty. If it were a Cabernet, it would probably be described as chewy. And, to be honest, the notes from this one aren't that legible. At this point, everything tasted good. We were sitting on ancient ruins, drinking whisky, near a thorn tree planted by Mary Queen of Scots. The spotlight made its arc across the sky. A breeze blew. It was past midnight and the whisky burned, in a good way. In high school, I sat out in the country -- Barry sat on a beach -- and drank cheap beer. Now, we're getting paid to be at a golf tournament in Scotland, drinking whisky on ancient ruins.

ACT III: The Results

The next morning, I called Peter back and explained what we liked and why.

I asked him what he made of our choices.

"It means you're not keen on the bigger, smokier styles," he said. "You're just not keen on weird-flavored whiskies. It's a good way of knowing what you like."

He didn't say we were whisky illiterates because Peter is a very classy, kind man. He said that he's a big fan of the Pulteney, too, and is pleased we enjoyed it. Though when he said it was a "nice, gentle whisky," I did feel like he was calling our manhood into question. He said we should look for something that says Highland on it when we're ordering in the future.

I hung up, happy to at least know what the words meant. I took a picture of the dead soldiers and smiled at the thought of the expense report.

Hi, this is Kevin Maguire. I'm the golf editor and I just edited this story. I'd like to offer a few thoughts: It's extraordinarily ridiculous that Wright got paid to do this. It boggles the mind. I hope Wright's bosses back in Bristol don't decide to cancel any of his future travel arrangements because of this single blog post.

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Tom Kitchin
Marc MillarTom Kitchin

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- Tom Kitchin is one of the best chefs in Scotland. Some very smart people say he is the best. He's been awarded a prestigious Michelin star for his eponymous Edinburgh restaurant The Kitchin, a place that combines his French training with Scottish ingredients.

Including haggis.

So, given my earlier experience with the haggis pizza, I wanted to see if he could offer a defense of the stuff.

Is haggis proof that Scotland has serious, unfixable food problems?

Or has the rest of the world got it all wrong?

I turn it over to Chef Kitchin.

"Haggis is made up of the offal of the lamb. All the nasty bits. But we get this reputation for haggis -- but you go to France, andouillette in France is made of the same thing. The ears and [testicles] and kidneys. The thing with haggis is, for generations, tourists come to Scotland and they go to a traditional Scottish event and there'll be a haggis course and the piper will pipe it in. Haggis, which is one of the most filling things you can have, and then there are mashed potatoes and mashed neeps and a wee whiskey and you can't move for a week.

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Tom Kitchin
Marc MillarThe Kitchin restaurant.

"When I opened the restaurant four years ago, all my training had been heavily French. One of my chefs said to me, 'When you open your restaurant you have to try to combine the two cultures.' He said, 'What's your most traditional dish?' I said, 'Haggis.' He said, 'Why don't you try to do a variation of haggis in a modern way?' I started thinking … "

Kitchin took the traditional parts of a haggis meal -- the "neeps and tatties" -- and trimmed it down and made it gastronomically interesting. Pickled the turnip and made the potato crispy. A modern version of the Burns Night classic.

"I even decided to put a piece of foie gras on top," he says.

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- A father and son stand near the 17th tee.

The son, Lyall Rowan, goes to the concession stand and comes back with two bacon rolls, layered in thick slices. The father, Elliot Rowan, begins eating while Lyall trims the fat from his sandwich. It doesn't matter that they're both grown men. The dad is always the dad.

Elliot RowanCourtesy the Rowan familyLyall and Elliot Rowan.

"That's a good bit for you," Elliot says, pointing to a piece on his sandwich, trying to give some of his food to his boy. "There's no fat."

"I already got the large bit, Dad," Lyall says.

With sandwiches, they're ready to watch golf. Before leaving, Elliot kicks the pieces of discarded bacon fat toward a trash can, policing the course he's known most of his life.

The dad is always the dad.

Elliot Rowan is 79. Lyall Rowan is 29. They're from different eras, but both men love golf. Elliot is one of the great teachers in Scotland. Lyall played college golf at Rice University. They both live in St. Andrews, and, on this rainy afternoon, they've walked over to the Open Championship.

"You came for the first time when Sneed won the Open?" Lyall asks.

"Aye," Elliot says.

"And you played in the Scottish Open?"

"Aye. It was in Carnoustie in '51, so it would have been in St. Andrews in '52."

Elliot played golf as a young man, then turned his attention to teaching. He coached the Scottish national team, becoming a legend, working at clubs around the country, learning more about the grip than most other men on the planet. When Elliot had a son later in life, young Lyall had access to an amazing teacher. It was priceless, except that sons rarely want to take advice from their fathers, and Elliot was so busy they didn't get to play much. He had his lessons. Lyall had his tournaments. Golf wasn't the thing that brought them together. It was the thing that kept them apart.

They stand behind the new 17th tee and watch the swings. Both know a tremendous amount about the game. Lyall once shot a 65 on this course to win a tournament.

Davis Love III lets a drive rip.

"That's a bad shot," Lyall says.

"It's a wee bit hooky," Elliot says.

Lyall left for the United States, and they were separated by an ocean. Elliot stayed in St. Andrews. He worked on a book, trying to put everything he'd learned down on paper, so it wouldn't all disappear when he died. It would be his gift to his son, to everyone who loved the game. The book consumed him.

The men check the wind, find it's blowing away from out of bounds. They follow the big cuts, the pros aiming over the corner of The Old Course Hotel. The shots scream off the drivers.

Father and son peer into the sky.

"The last one was the best one," Lyall says.

"My eyes don't refocus quickly enough," Elliot says.

In 2006, after graduation, Lyall made a decision. He was coming back to St. Andrews. They look at this as a make-up of sorts. A do over. They see each other most days. The love between them is apparent after five minutes of seeing them together. "He's my best mate," Lyall says. "I feel I'm starting to really get to know him."

This past winter frightened Lyall. Elliot had a health scare, one of several he's had recently. A cough set in, and antibiotics and steroids did nothing to slow it. In a bar in November, as Lyall sat in a corner of a local pub and worked on his laptop, a friend across the room saw him, pointed him out and told me: that young man is taking care of his fading father. "He was coughing so badly I was feeling sympathy pains," Lyall says.

But Elliot is tough. Doctors figured out the problem and now he's back on his feet. He finished the book, whittling and whittling until it was as tight as he could make it, a lifetime of knowledge boiled down to about 6,000 words in a clear, plastic binder. Who knows if it will ever be published? In some ways, that's beside the point. It's a treasure. He seems full of energy these days, ready to tackle the terrain of the Old Course.

They stand side-by-side, seeing what the pros can do with their home course. They are both tall, both carrying umbrellas. They are obviously related. Conversation flows easily between shots. Golf isn't the thing that keeps them apart. It is the thing that brings them together.

Elliot takes the last bite of his bacon roll. There's a crumb on his face. Lyall takes out his napkin and brushes it off.

The son is always the son.

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ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- Everyone in town has a story about the prince.

For four years, from 2001 to '05, a student who wanted to be called Will Wales attended the University of St. Andrews. He roamed the town, hit the pubs and the restaurants, wandered around like any other student --but with pistol-packing bodyguards who reported to the Queen.

A bartender said Prince William never had money with him, then explained that it sorta made sense, since it's got to be awkward carrying around bills with your grandmum's picture on them. Taxi driver Grant Cromar laughed telling this story: "I almost killed him. He stepped out in the road in front of me. I slammed on my brakes. I looked and it was the prince. I remember being on the radio and I said: 'F---, I almost killed the king.'"

Here are 10 of the many reasons it was good to be the (future) king in St. Andrews:

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Prince William
AP Photo/Scott HeppellPrince William, after attending his graduation ceremony at the University of St. Andrews in June 2005.

1. He got into college on his own merits, unlike his father and uncle.

2. When Prince William announced he'd attend the University of St. Andrews, the female enrollment reportedly spiked as much as 40 percent. All to help him, uh, sow the royal oats. "The girls were all over him all the time," Cromar said.

3. Girls from the States thought they might somehow catch his eye and end up living a fairy tale. "That's what all the Americans would say, 'My daughter is gonna marry Prince William,'" Cromar said. "'I've already got my wedding hat.'"

4. William's security detail drove black Mitsubishi Shoguns, the backs of which were loaded with weapons. Wherever anyone saw his Volkswagen Golf GTI, they'd see his escort. "If he was at the pubs," Cromar said, "you'd see the Shoguns just circling the town. Apparently, he had a watch and he just had to press a button and they'd be there in 30 seconds."

5. He hung out at Ma Bells, a pub near the Old Course where, as the night goes on, the club music gets louder and the lights get darker. The prince supposedly liked cider. Behind the bar, they've got chilled bottles of Veuve Clicquot, regular and rosé. The Daily Mail reported that students at St. Andrew's -- nicknamed "St. Randy's" -- drink 250,000 bottles of champagne a year. The math, they informed their readers, worked out to about one bottle per student a week.

6. He lived in St. Salvator's dorm, then moved to a town house on tony Hope Street, finally ending up in a sprawling farmhouse outside of town. A taxi driver told me he frequently dropped off coeds at the security gate. He said they'd refuse to walk the 20 or so meters to the house; instead, they'd get a ride from the guards.

7. Don Johnson, he of scruffy face and pastel blazer fame, was in town for a celebrity golf tournament and saw the prince, completely covered up by what we'll call -- out of respect for Dan Jenkins, whose seat is about five seats away from me in the press center -- young shapelies. Just surrounded by women. Johnson was in awe, and he said, "That guy must be getting laid more than I did on 'Miami Vice.'"

8. William met his girlfriend, Kate Middleton, in college; she's the daughter of commoners (don't imagine a girl in rags landing an impossible catch … her parents started and own a multimillion-dollar business). The potential queen has been dubbed "Waity Katy" by the British tabs for her lack of a job while waiting -- and waiting, and waiting -- for a marriage proposal. They were apparently friends until he saw her in a school fashion show, wearing a sheer dress that left little to the imagination. The prince was smitten. History has shown that abs land more kings than personalities.

9. He reportedly liked to drink shots of Aftershock and play the drinking game "I never." (His brother, Harry, is clearly the cool one; a rumored pickup line was, "Would you like to come back to my castle?") It was while playing "I never" that -- again, reportedly (that's the magic word when writing about royals, I've found after considerable reading) -- William was forced to admit to friends that he and Kate were dating. Someone painted him into an "I never" corner, and the future king of England had to drink.

10. What happened in St. Andrews, for the most part, stayed in St. Andrews. The buzz about the future king being all over town calmed down. The other kids allowed him to be a student, and he went where he pleased, wearing a baseball hat pulled low. "People there didn't interfere with him," said Ingrid Seward, editor in chief of Majesty magazine and author of "William & Harry." "Once the novelty of him being there had worn off, they were very chilled. That's why he got to really like it."

11. If the ESPN thing doesn't work out, I now have a sample story to send to US Weekly. Up next: Lose weight by eating nothing but Dodger Dogs and Octomom gives short-game tips!

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ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- All week, you walk past the door with the guard. You try to peek in without breaking stride. The little sign out front says Royal & Ancient Golf Club: Forgan House. The white balcony sits almost on top of the 18th green. The front door opens onto The Links, the thin road running alongside the Old Course. You see the well-dressed men and women flash a small badge to the guard, whose stone face turns to a smile as he welcomes them upstairs. Who are they?

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Royal and Ancient Golf Club
Wright Thompson/ESPN.comA guard stands at the entrance to the Royal & Ancient Golf Club: Forgan House.

What is behind those windows?

******

I make plans to meet a friend who belongs to the exclusive R&A. He's a former commodore in the Royal Navy, and they've got him directing traffic out on the Old Course. If he can move the Queen's warships around the North Sea, he can handle a bunch of dudes in golf shirts. He picks the place: the private members' tent near the putting green. Only, just before it's time, another friend asks if we can audible and meet at Forgan House.

Once, Young Tom Morris lived there. This is the building where he died, overcoming by grief over the death of his wife and child -- and pneumonia from playing golf in a brutal Scottish winter. He was 24 years old. Forgan is normally an office building, but with the Open in town, it's a bar for club members. Here, they don't have to put on the coat and tie required for the main clubhouse. The views are the best in golf -- better, even, than the New Club. We head in and the first thing I see is a bottle of whiskey on sale to members: the R&A's private single malt bottled specifically for the Open.

We walk up the stairs, into a long room fronting the 18th grandstand. This is what is behind the windows. The walls are rich with a two-tone green pattern, the doors framed in blonde wood. Barmen pour pints and glasses of whiskey, the private club stock: the Open single malt, or the smooth No. 1 or the peaty No. 2. The men wear golf gear or the navy blue club tie. Here, families are welcome. The children of privilege pull up chairs to the window and check out the golfers coming into the green. This job has taken me to so many amazing places, from the veranda at Augusta National to the White House Rose Garden, but this doesn't even seem real. I think, as I often do, how much I miss my daddy, who has been dead for almost five years. He'd have loved this place, and I wipe away a tear or two. I stand at the window, too, looking down at the grandstand, the curious fans squinting up at the windows.

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Royal Balcony
Wright Thompson/ESPN.comFans watch from the R&A Forgan House balcony.

We sip our cold pints of pilsner, leaning on the end of the bar. One of my friends describes standing behind the green when Nicklaus won in 1978, hearing the sound of the crowd cascade up the final hole until everyone was screaming, chambermaids and bartenders abandoning their posts, folks hanging out of windows, everyone delirious with the greatest golfer winning the oldest tournament on the oldest course. My friend found himself crying and, as he tried to wipe away the tears, he turned to find Ben Crenshaw next to him. Ben was crying, too. My friend points out at the 18th from the greatest luxury suite in sports and smiles.

"Wait 'til you hear the roars," he says.

******

You slip out, sliding back into the mass of people walking on the narrow ribbon of asphalt called The Links. The guard is still on post. You carry the whiskey you bought under your arm, working back toward the press center. You sit down, watching the BBC coverage on the big televisions, and there it is, looming in the back of most shots of the final hole: the big white balcony overlooking the green, the men and women inside hidden by the glare.

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Haggas Pizza
Wright Thompson/ESPN.comThere it is, haggis pizza.

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- I've been here for almost a week now, reporting on haggis, whiskey, rain, soft-core pornography, the Reformation, Jack Nicklaus and choirs that sing in Latin. Yeah, I know. The daily grind. But that's just life on the edge of the North Sea.

If you have questions about the town of St. Andrews, or about the Open Championship, or about why people eat sheep's hearts, lungs and livers, or what a pint of Guinness Extra Cold tastes like, I'm your man.

Chat wrap.

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ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- There's a country inn on the outskirts of town, backed by manicured gardens. A family runs it. They've done so for almost 60 years, knowing visitors by name, welcoming them at the door. There are nicer hotels, places with bigger rooms or fancier lobbies, bars with older scotches or restaurants with better food. But they're only hotels. Rufflets is a home. The guests are family.

This year, a family member is missing.

Used to be, they'd get calls before the Open Championship with the inevitable question: Is Jack Nicklaus staying there?

The answer was always, "No Comment."

This year, the answer is, "No."

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Jack Nicklaus
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesJack Nicklaus hits a tee shot during the 2005 Open Championship at St. Andrews. It was his last British Open.

The Open is back at St. Andrews, and Jack's not playing. The staff feels the hole. Something's different. Off. For every local Open since 1964, Nicklaus stayed here. He started off a single man, and, as the years passed, his party grew.

"Family is the key word," general manager Stephen Owen says. "He became a bit like family."

They got to know him. See him up close, when the cameras were off. They celebrated in the gardens with the Claret Jug in 1978, and they knew the family was mourning in 2005 after little Jake died. They saw Jack make the transition from fiery golfer to grandfather on a victory lap.

"He was very focused and very driven still in 1990," housekeeper Heather Rothery says. "He didn't chat. You could see he was focused on the task at hand. The last two in particular, Jack was a lot more relaxed. But 1995, he was very focused. He wanted to do well. He wanted to make the cut. In the morning, he got what he needed and that's it. He didn't really chat with anybody. You felt a difference by 2000."

The Nicklauses didn't need a lot of hand-holding. Barbara Nicklaus ran the show. The staff brought any questions or anything that needed signing to her. "We knew he ate reasonably light," Rothery says. "Porridge for breakfast. Lots of fruit. Lots of Diet Coke in his mini-bar."

Once, the owners got a call from another hotel.

"What's the trick to looking after Jack Nicklaus?" they asked.

They didn't hesitate.

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Jack and Barbara Nicklaus
Courtesy Jack NicklausBarbara and Jack Nicklaus at the British Open in 1970.

"Look after Mrs. Nicklaus."

In 2005, on the last morning of his last major championship, Jack and Barbara sat in the familiar Room 11, the one with the turret, talking about their journey, so many years, so many places. They cried a little. They'd made it. It was almost over.

The last round was for everyone. He waved and the crowd whistled. Thousands of people jostled, leaned, cheered. Grown men wept, for Jack, for themselves, and Jack cried again, too. He made one last birdie and then he hugged his wife and he hugged his children. They left the Old Course, leaving behind the echoes, and returned to Rufflets. A camera crew followed them home, but it stopped at the front door. The last night was for them.

"When they came back," Rothery says, "it was just the family."

The next day, the staff saw the family off. The hotel folks sensed he wouldn't be back; they felt certain he had no interest in being a tourist. "It was quite sad," Rothery says. "There was a poignancy. There was a real sense of an end of an era."

The owner came and wanted a photo before everyone said goodbye. She took one first with Jack and Barbara, then with Jack Nicklaus, Jack Nicklaus II and Jack Nicklaus III. Everyone smiled for the camera, and that was it.

It's been five years, and those two photos are in tasteful frames on a table next to the fireplace. That's all that's left for the people who run a hotel that feels like home: photos and memories of a time gone past.

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ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- Alex Salmond is the leader of the Scottish National Party and the First Minister of Scotland -- the highest government official in the country. A graduate of St. Andrews University, Salmond loves the game of golf. He is in favor of Scottish independence. We talked yesterday while he walked to the Royal & Ancient members' tent. It was the closest I'll ever get to being in an episode of "The West Wing."

Alex SalmondRoss Kinnaird/Getty ImageAlex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland, talks with fans Thursday about the economic impact to Scotland of the Open Championship.

What is your perfect St. Andrews day?

My favorite St. Andrews day is when I used to tee off as a student at 5 o'clock in the morning. A spring morning. As soon as it got light -- it gets light very early in the morning -- and by the time you finish, its 8 o'clock or 9 o'clock, and there were hundreds of people around the 18th green. So that was the time of my life. I used to pretend I could play.

Describe why Scotland is culturally an independent nation?

Oh, Scotland has all of the attributes that make up a nation. It's one of the oldest nations, of course. It's not quite as old as China, but it's right up there. A great sense of community and distinctiveness. Scotland has that. It's a fully fledged nation. Just lacking the powers of statehood, but these are coming along.

How would it be different if Scotland were in charge of its own destiny?

Let's take a golfing example. We're in charge of golf in Scotland. So what are we doing? We are promoting Scotland and golf together. That's having a fantastic effect in terms of tourism figures for golf. The second thing we're doing in golf is every child in Scotland, at the age of 9, is now playing golf. Every single one. We have an initiative called Club Golf in primary schools, so every child -- 40,000 9-year-olds in Scotland this year -- gets to play. The point I'm making? If we can do that running golf, just think what we would do running the economy.

Should you just call it the Scottish Open?

I'm quite happy. This isn't called the British Open. This is just the Open.

How is this town different today compared to when you were a student?

It's not that different. There are more people. More students. But there's something magical about this place. People say it's the home of golf. It's the eden of golf. This is golf's Garden of Eden.

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ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- There's Tom Watson, standing in front of the Criterion Pub on South Street, talking to fans. He won the Open Championship in 1975, '77, '80, '82 and '83.

There's Todd Hamilton, leaning against the Dunvegan bar, telling stories. He won the Open Championship in 2004.

The golfers are all over St. Andrews this week, on the streets, in all the restaurants and all the bars. That never happens at other tournaments. Usually the golfers are secluded, in some security-protected area with ropes and armed guards. Not here. St. Andrews is so small. This is old-school: the athletes and their fans rubbing shoulders. Zach Johnson rides the exercise bike. Mike Weir walks on a windy, rain-swept street with an umbrella. A few blocks away, Luke Donald hangs out with his family. Swing coaches wait for a table. Television broadcasters walk past on dark, empty streets. Every corner turned brings another flash of recognition … Is that who I think it is? … Didn't that person look familiar? … Oh, my goodness, I can't believe …

… there's Arnold Palmer, headed out of the Rusacks Hotel. He won the Open in 1961 and '62.

There's Jean Van De Velde, standing behind the 18th green. He almost won in 1999.

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- Sometimes, Flora Selwyn walks the streets of her beloved St. Andrews and wonders if these are its final days. This morning, she's giving a tour, showing the two halves of her town: the one under threat and the one still hidden, just out of reach. She slips into a university quadrangle and looks sadly at the silent thorn tree.

"There used to be doves here," she says. "They were said to be souls of departed divines. I don't know why they got rid of them. They were white doves. That's the tree that Mary, Queen of Scots was supposed to have planted."

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St. Andrews
John Murray/Getty Images

The town is full of things that used to be. Chain stores are replacing once deeply rooted family businesses. Some stay. Some don't. Locals can't afford the space and big companies aren't committed to the town. She points at an empty store front, a recently shuttered wine shop.

"Here's what happens," she says. "They come and they go. This used to be an elegant tea shop when I was a student."

Selwyn walks down the end of Market Street, and that's empty, too. You'd never know that a half mile away, the Open Championship is gearing up, with tourists flooding this small town. St. Andrews, she says, is really three separate places: the golf course, the university and the town itself. She runs a local magazine; one reason for starting it was to open a dialogue between the three factions in town, she says.

They don't mix much. Students, many the children of wealthy London gentry, call the middle-class parts The Badlands. Golfers almost never venture past the hotels and restaurants within a few blocks of the Old Course. The last time the Open was here, Selwyn says, the British tax auditors investigated some St. Andrews' businesses because they didn't believe sales actually dropped when the circus came to town.

The townspeople have long been caught in the middle, but now they're being pushed out entirely. The same families have lived for a half-dozen generations in St. Andrews. But this group has been mostly priced out. Selwyn walks the streets, and where children once played, there is now silence. Once, when it would snow, she could count on the kids to push if her car got stuck on drifts. No more. Many families can't pay the astounding real estate prices, and the best property is sold to resort-seekers and wealthy students.

"The children who come back can't afford to buy a house in the town," she says. "According to the EU, the town is no longer viable."

There are still hidden treasures, places the tourists walk past and never see. St. Andrews puts on a gray, stone face. But if you're ever invited inside, the backs of homes and buildings are often made of glass, opening out to lush yards. The St. Andrews Preservation Trust runs an annual open house, called The Hidden Gardens. It allows people to see behind the curtain.

Selwyn walks to a thick wall with an iron gate on one of the town's main streets.

"Shall I show you the secret parts?" she asks.

She steps into another world. The path is just wide enough for two people, lined with gardens. There are the backs of houses and neighbors saying hello. There's a wide open space that once was the garden for a now demolished hotel. Rabbits run everywhere. She slips beneath a low, stone doorway and the scenery grows even more lush. Everything is six different tints of green; the air is musty and shaded. She smiles.

"I know," she says.

These spaces give her hope. So do the ancient, collapsed buildings all over town. They remind her that St. Andrews has suffered before, that it sat desolate and empty, that fires burned in the cathedral, and, still, it survived.

"I suppose it sounds kind of silly," she says. "We're proud of our ruins."

Selwyn keeps walking, taking small strides. There's another garden behind the Byre, with fuchsia flowers and a mulberry tree.

"I usually stand here and stuff my mouth," she says.

An ancient house abuts the garden; it was built with stones salvaged after the cathedral was destroyed in the Reformation. In the middle of a wall, there's what looks something like an angel. It's a mystery. The next house is the former home of the man who discovered how glaciers work.

She heads to the edge of town.

An old woman, stooped and fragile, stands in front of her house. Her name is Irene Cathness. She is the widow of the beloved town doctor, and she was a champion country dancer.

"It's a nice day," she says. "Typical St. Andrews, always a nip in the air."

Cathness smiles.

"Today is my birthday," she announces. "I'm 88."

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St. Andrews bern
Wright Thompson/ESPN.comA burn in St. Andrews.

A half block away is the burn. It used to be the border of the town, but now entire neighborhoods stretch out to the hills. The burn runs straight to the sea and high tides sometimes bring floods. Nearby residents want the town to turn it into drainage to protect their homes. So far, the town has resisted.

Selwyn walks along the burn, cutting into another narrow path running between a stream and a stone wall. The path winds beneath a canopy of trees. Once, she says, mills lined this tiny ribbon of water, making flour, wire and cloth for tartan and tweed. She bends down to touch a purple flower.

"Isn't that lovely?"

At the end of the path is a set of concrete stairs and, with a few strides, she's left the hidden St. Andrews and returned to the modern one, a few blocks from the Shell station. Directly across the street is the Kinness Fry Bar -- home of the fried Mars bar and haggis pizza.

"That's how a town should be," she says. "Full of secret places."

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