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Friday, 29 April 2011

The Jigger Inn

The Jigger Inn - The Old Course Hotel, Old Station Road, St. Andrews, Fife

I have noticed an occurrence in Britannia’s capital. Sometimes awareness is no blessing. For republicans this is a difficult time but the Ed. insisted I do a piece in honour of the happy couple. So I turn to the one area that I have in common with the HRHs, a corner of Fife, specifically the Royal Burgh of St. Andrews.

The Royal Burgh

I don’t know whether either of the couple play golf but I did, and thus the Auld Grey Toon was a place of occasional visit, especially in August when the Eden tournament took place alongside the medieval Lammas Fair. It was a bonus, to some, that summer meant no students.

It wasn’t all golf and fairground rides of course. Pubs were frequented. The first I experienced was probably Ma Bells on The Scores, the road that runs west to east away from the rear of the Royal & Ancient clubhouse. It has the reputation of being a ra-ra joint but for me then it was just a normal pub. I remember the Scottish rugby team appearing one evening during their preparations for a world cup, their physical size up-close almost comical.

Nearer the town centre and Market Street, upstairs at the Victoria Café, was a favourite meeting point. It’s now one of the G1 group, but I haven’t seen the refurb. The Balaka India restaurant was also a place for late-night drinks, but the visitor has to remember that the town has no real clubs nor any great howffs, just joints dominated by the university or the golf.

Return to The Jigger

A couple of months back I returned with The Muse, and the centrepiece of our visit was The Jigger Inn, St. Andrews’ ultimate golf pub. We had sampled a reasonable coffee in the Rusacks Hotel after being chased out of their One Under Gastro Bar. Next we made use of the suntrap of a patio outside the Playfair Restaurant/Bar on North Street before making the stroll down to The Old Course Hotel.

This five-star refuge wasn’t our destination, rather its adjoining pub, The Jigger, which sits in the hotel grounds, alongside the most famous hole in golf, the 17th. The Jigger has a whitewashed exterior that contrasts with the ugly mustard of the hotel walls. Unsurprisingly, the carpet is green, but the irreverence of the staff does shock. Maybe it’s what turns on the tourists.

Not that there’s many of those today, the pub virtually empty, a massive difference from the high summer evenings when folk rendezvoused after their respective tournament rounds and gave shot-by-shot accounts of their day, after depositing their golf bag in the pile of them by the entrance. It could get messy though. One Sunday a pal and I had had a few too many and, after leaving The Jigger, proceeded to play the 18th on the Old Course. Halfway along the fairway a middle-aged gent came running out from one of the clubhouses and swept us from the course, shouting something about the sacrilege of playing the course on a day of rest. It was an interesting scene next morning when we arrived on the first tee to find he was the official starter for the tournament.

I ordered at the compact, staff-friendly bar, and we retreated to the far corner. This nook is surrounded by old photos of the golf courses, not views of the generic type seen in many sitting rooms across the world, but originals such as one dated 1850 in which there is a yawning gap where the iconic R&A clubhouse now stands. And the row of poor dwellings lining The Links road tells of humble days before the coming of the railways – the Jigger used to be the Stationmaster’s house - and mass tourism.

Our drinks were soon accompanied by a complimentary basket of sesame sticks. A nice touch, which along with the actually quite funny banter coming from the bar staff made us feel welcome. After my initial reaction against the perceived familiarity I was growing to like the inclusiveness of the chat here, as opposed to the type of staff conversations that are conducted to the detriment of good service and ignore the presence of customers.

The interior is smaller than I recall and I don’t remember the more private area to the right as you enter, with cosy booths and smoother furniture. Maybe the rich golfers from the US and other prosperous places appreciate this more luxurious aspect to the pub or they may prefer to mingle in the main area believing they are getting something authentic. Moulton & Brown soaps and orchids in the bathrooms certainly aren’t but in St. Andrews and other tourist-faced places across the world, authentic is virtually impossible to define, let alone find.

But going back, to a time before such frivolous questions were ever considered, I gave a silent toast to Old and Young Tom Morris, the patron saints of professional golfers, whose ghosts pervade the grey streets and the land around this pub. I would be lying if I said I also raised my glass, in advance, to the wedding of William and Katherine, but let the Royals and the royalists have their day, because after all, as I look out today, there are no street parties in Knightswood.

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