A trip inside the R&A Forgan House

July, 16, 2010
07/16/10
11:13
AM ET

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.

Wright Thompson | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
Wright Thompson (@wrightthompson) is a senior writer for ESPN.com and The Magazine. He has been featured in seven editions of Best American Sports Writing and lives in Oxford, Mississippi.
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