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May 23, 2013

Book covers much more than caddies and golf

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Cooperstown Crier

---- — St Andrews in Scotland is famous as the birthplace of golf. Every few years the “old course” hosts the British Open so all television viewers are reminded that the place is hallowed ground.   

Unless you are a golfing fanatic or rich enough to travel and play there, you probably don’t know anything about St Andrews. You simply assume it’s a quaint old Scottish village that has a storied golf course. But it’s much more than that.

Thanks to a young American golfer named Oliver Horovitz, who also excels at writing and filmmaking, we learn that St Andrews is one of the most charming places on earth. Horovitz was a champion junior golfer in high school who quickly learned that he wasn’t good enough to turn pro. But he was bright enough to get into Harvard on a deferred basis.   

Horovitz decided to spend his off-year attending college at the University of St Andrews. He was drawn to the village by its golfing history and the fact he had a great uncle there. What started out as simply a year in school turned into a recurring summer job as a caddie at the old course and a set of adventures that Horovitz captures in a wonderful memoir called “An American Caddie in St Andrews: Growing Up, Girls, and Looping on the Old Course.”

What makes this book so terrific is not the golf per se but the characters Horovitz meets and befriends. Whether it’s his uncle, his friends from school or the caddies at the golf course there is an underlying charm and decency to these people. It’s little wonder that Horovitz keeps returning to this golfing Mecca.

The biggest focus is on the caddies and how seriously they take their jobs (with their Scottish charm and unique sense of humor, of course). Many of them have been around for years and have turned their knowledge of the old course into a science. Tourists, especially those from the U.S., come and play the course every summer and rely on the caddies to guide them through the course’s complexities (I once saw Jack Nicholas on television take four shots to get out of one of Britain’s notorious bunkers).

Horovitz discovers that it takes time to be accepted into the “club” of his fellow caddies. He learns quickly that you never second-guess advice from a veteran caddie. He finds out that the veterans can make you feel welcome but not part of the crowd until you’ve earned your “stripes.”

The book covers much more than just the caddies. There is the charming village itself, the author’s friends from the university, his uncle and his uncle’s best buddy, the “model” caddies (read the book to find out about those), the tourist golfers and the celebrities and touring pros that he is lucky to meet.

Horovitz paints a picture of a setting that feels like Eden. The book is like a travelogue of a place that every golfer and tourist interested in Scotland should visit.

If nothing else, “An American Caddie in St. Andrews” is a fun read. Anyone interested in a feel-good, coming-of-age story that provides lots of laughs and fascinating characters will not be disappointed. It might even provide an incentive to visit St Andrews yourself.

David Kent is the director of the Village Library of Cooperstown. He can be reached at co.david@4cls.org.