Close to the fray yet far away

July, 17, 2010

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- Stuart Gatherum puts on water for the coffee. A little black ball of fur scurries around the kitchen and he smiles.

"Hi, dog," he says.

Outside, their family horse farm is in full swing, a kid shoveling dung, another worker trying to fix a forklift to haul hay. Animals circle their stalls, sticking their heads out for food. Riders in equestrian gear mill about. The Open Championship is on in the kitchen. He nods toward the television.

"You wouldn't think you were a couple of miles away from the golf out here," he says.

His mom, Elizabeth, comes into the room. She points up at a framed picture on the wall of a young woman, leaning into the nape of a horse, jumping a gate.

"That's his late sister," she says.

Theresa died in a car wreck 23 years ago and the family never really got over it. Mom still flinches when a car slams on its brakes out on the road. Raymond Gatherum moved out here not long afterward, finding peace and comfort in the animals he always loved. They've grown since then, a true family business. Stuart's brother, Alister, is a champion jumper who competes all over America.

This farm is their life, and it doesn't slow down because the circus is a few miles away. In some ways, it's surprising to find out St. Andrews is about so much more than golf. And then, when you spend time here, it's equally surprising to learn that the opposite is also true: The game is intertwined with everyone's lives in an organic and pervasive way. Residents can play all the courses for about $250 a year. All the kids play. Stuart says everyone he grew up with is a good golfer. He plays the Old Course several times a week and always breaks 80.

"My dad's out playing golf this morning with Sergio Garcia's dad," he says.

Stuart, who is 43, walks down into the den, standing at the sliding doors, the ocean and the farm in front of him. He opens the door and walks into the cool morning air, past the shed where his dad keeps many spare sets of golf clubs. He crosses his arms and takes it all in. He can see the land left exposed by the receding tide, the waters of the estuary and the sea, the rolling hills and his stables. It's peaceful out here, quiet, and if there weren't a row of private jets parked at the RAF base across the way, you'd never know that the biggest event in golf was happening three miles down the road.

He motions me to his black truck. He wants to show me around the farms and woods surrounding the town. Places unaffected by the Open. We head up between the fields, taking turns, finally rumbling down a tiny, dirt road. He's got some horses out here on this land. A woman stays out here, named Rona. She's in her 70s and handles all this land by herself. Feeds the animals. Cuts the grass. When the water freezes, she lugs it out to them by herself in a bucket. Tough as hell. She lives in the small house she grew up in; the big manor house is next door and it's empty. There is mesh wire visible through all the windows: she keeps chickens in there. "She trains dogs," he says. "She's got chickens on the tennis courts. An old eccentric."

We get back in the car and he drives to the Duke's Course -- a new, country club-style development on what used to be a wealthy family's estate. The place is full of golfers. He drives over to the former castle, with a turret and two big gables, that's being turned into a resort. The Younger family, beer moguls, lived there, and after that, it was a maternity hospital. The truck idles and he looks at the big, red monster being brought back to life.

"I was born in there," he says.

Wright Thompson is a senior writer for ESPN and is executive producer of TrueSouth and co-executive producer of Backstory. He is the author of New York Times bestselling The Cost of These Dreams.



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