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Eben Harrell

The Old Course in St. Andrews is closed every Sunday, a rarity for a sport that sees its participation soar on weekends.

The Sunday closures stem from the town’s fishing heritage. Sunday was the day fishermen would return from sea. After church, St. Andrews’ fishermen would use the massive patch of ground that constitutes the 1st and 18th fairways to lay out and inspect their nets, forcing the closure of the course.

In honor of this tradition, no golfers are allowed on the Old Course on Sundays. The local links trust (the governing body of golf in the town) made a rare exception last summer, when for several consecutive Sundays the cast and crew of “Stroke of Genius: The Bobby Jones Story” swarmed the old course to shoot footage for the film.

The movie, which stars James Cazeviel and is currently showing at Stage 3 in Aspen, makes much of how revered Bobby Jones was in Scotland.

He still is. I spent last year in the town, and his name pops up everywhere – there’s even a scholarship at the university named after him.

Aside from the last round of the British Open, only the ghost of Bobby Jones could have kept the Old Course open on Sundays. It’s just a shame the film so drastically missed the point.

The Scots didn’t love Bobby Jones because he could hit the ball high, straight and far. The Scots are an austere, dour bunch, and know that throughout history many will come and go with such ability. What made Jones stand out to the Scots was his character, his dedication and his life achievement.

The greatest golfer of his generation, Jones refused to turn professional. Instead, he earned degrees from Georgia Tech, Harvard and later Emory University on his way to a successful practice as a lawyer. At the height of career, he gave up competitive golf to spend time with his family.

Glossing over this aspect of his lore, the movie chooses instead to focus on his golfing achievements, making him just another wooden, slightly dull man who happens to hit the ball better than anyone else (um, Tiger Woods?).

If there’s one thing that saves the movie it’s how accurately the film portrays the Old Course. Ignoring the fact that several scenes were filmed at other courses in St. Andrews and passed off as the Old Course, the filmmakers used simple footage and elegant music to get the atmosphere just right.

At one point, Jones complains to his caddy about the gale-force wind. “Aye,” the caddy replies. “Even the crows are walkin’ today.”

Come to think of it, I did see birds walking in St. Andrews. If they can’t handle the wind, what chance does a little golf ball have?

Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is

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