Jul
20
2010
A Spooky Night With the Ghost of Tom Morris
By Stephanie Wei under British Open

As I was leaving the media center late last Saturday, I ran into SI‘s Alan Shipnuck, who had also been burning the midnight oil. “I’m going to the cemetery to see Tom Morris’ grave with Brian Gay and his wife [Kimberly],” said Alan. “Do you want to come?”

Um, sure, why not! I hadn’t been yet and there didn’t seem like a more appropriate time to visit a graveyard than this ungodly hour.

Before we exited, we came across a security guard and Alan asked, “Do you have a flashlight?” She shook her head.

We walked to Dunvegan’s just up the street from the Old Course, and per usual, a lively crowd had spilled out to the sidewalk. I popped in the bar next door to say hello to a friend while Alan waited for the Gays.

A half hour later, I figured I’d missed Alan and would just wander home to bed. After all, the final round of the Open was starting in less than seven hours. But as luck would have it, Alan was still standing where I left him. A group of some familiar faces and their friends had gathered out front. (I have no idea who half the people are in the picture.)

As we started to stroll toward the cemetery, a familiar face greeted Alan. It was Jim Nantz. For the love of God. “Jim, do you know Stephanie Wei? Jim Nantz, Stephanie Wei.”

He extended his hand, “Jim Nantz, good to see you.”

“Pleasure is all mine,” I replied in all sincerity.

Gay, who had been walking next to us, said, “Oh, you’re Stephanie Wei. I’ve seen you on Twitter.” Oh crap, I hope it wasn’t one of my snarky comments.

Moving on! There was a stone wall that required a little skip and a jump. Here, Shipnuck wrote about the scene in this week’s SI.

“I’ve never been in a cemetery at night,” Brian Gay said, his eyes as big as full moons. “This is some freaky s—.”

Gay had just hopped an old stone wall and was now traipsing through the St. Andrews graveyard with his wife, Kimberly, plus a giddy crew of friends and friends of friends. The weathered headstones were scattered among the old bones of the Cathedral of St. Andrew, which was built in the 12th century and looted during the Reformation in 1560. The stone walls were left to decay in the elements, leaving behind spooky ruins. Gay — the down-home Southern boy who won twice on the PGA Tour last year — had other reasons to be suffering the heebie-jeebies. The dank, foggy air was right out of a slasher flick, and the night sky was alive with the nerve-jangling screams of seagulls. A lone bell rang out in the gloaming.

The seagulls screeching and flying overhead in circles through the Medieval towers was enough to give anyone goosebumps. It was straight out of a Hitchcock movie. “This is spooky,” I muttered to myself as I followed those leading the way.

We traversed across the maze of headstones and other stone obstacles, like a picnic table. I’m surprised no one hurt themselves as most of us only had the glow of the moon to guide us through the eerie grounds. We finally reached the resting spot of Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris near the back right side of the cemetery.

Alan describes the scene:

Old Tom’s grave was satisfyingly no-frills, while Young Tom was memorialized in a life-sized bust. A volunteer was needed to read the inscription celebrating Young Tom, and luckily, Jim Nantz was on hand, as the voice of golf for CBS was enjoying a busman’s holiday working an hour a day for the BBC telecast. The crowd hushed, and Nantz’s magisterial baritone suddenly brought Young Tom to life.

Luckily, I recorded the reading with my camera. There’s no light, so you can’t see, but you can hear Nantz’s moving narration:

Meanwhile, Brian was taking pictures and tweeting about the excursion. But Kimberly was disappointed she didn’t have her camera on hand to capture the moment for their family Christmas card. “Oh, I’ll take one for you,” I offered. (I didn’t take down their email address, so hopefully someone will get this to them.)

For those in the group who had been to past Opens at St. Andrews, they had started this late night cemetery run back in ’00 or ’05. A few had even made the trip earlier in the week. Apparently people leave a calling card of sorts to Old Tom and Young Tom — like a business card. Nantz pulled out a CBS Sports cap out of his pocket and set it in front of Young Tom’s bust. (See that blue object below?)

After we made sure there were no menacing St. Andrews police officers who don’t carry guns, we took the leap back over the wall, which proved to be a little more difficult from that side. (Just imagine the characters in the top picture all jumping over a cemetery wall.) On the walk back, one of the guys spotted this sign.

And then I heard Nantz describing the commune to someone on the phone. “It’s a tradition,” he closed his eyes and paused for effect. “Unlike any other.”

I looked at Alan in disbelief. (This was the second time he used that famous phrase unprovoked.) “Honestly?”

“He just can’t help himself,” Alan explained.

While the rest of the group frolicked ahead, I quietly turned onto Murray Park toward my B&B. I shook my head and smiled to myself, thinking, it’s random happenings like tonight that are part of what make the Open at St. Andrews so spectacular. There’s nowhere else in the world that shenanigans filled with mischief and history fuse to form such mind-boggling memories. As much as it is about golf, the other half is about the atmosphere and the off-the-course adventures.

I couldn’t have asked for a more fantastic week. I’m already counting down to 2015 — when the Open returns to St. Andrews. Heck, why don’t they just have it there every year?