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CLINE: The British Open at St. Andrews brings back memories for Nelson

The Associated Press. Tiger Woods putts on the 16th hole at the Old Course in St Andrews, Scotland, on Sunday. With the British Open beginning Thursday, Brookwood High School teacher David Nelson is reminded of his time at the University of St. Andrews near the historic course.

The Associated Press. Tiger Woods putts on the 16th hole at the Old Course in St Andrews, Scotland, on Sunday. With the British Open beginning Thursday, Brookwood High School teacher David Nelson is reminded of his time at the University of St. Andrews near the historic course.

Like many golf fans, David Nelson will be watching the British Open this week. But for the Brookwood High teacher, the tournament's location is as interesting as the pursuit of the claret jug that is awarded the winner.

"It brings back a lot of memories," Nelson said of St. Andrews, Scotland, which is hosting this year's tourney.

Nelson resided in the town for a year, starting in September of 1993, while doing post-grad studies. There he lived every golfer's dream -- a chance to play the fabled Old Course almost any time he wanted.

For Scots, golf is like a religion and the Old Course at St. Andrews is their shrine. Known as the birthplace of golf, St. Andrews began hosting The Open Championship (as its called on that side of the pond) in 1873. The course is hallowed ground for pros and amateurs alike, a golf vacation destination, mecca in the form of sod and sand.

It's also a historic university town, and a program in marine biology and cell physiology led Nelson there. After graduating from Presbyterian College, Nelson earned a Rotary International Scholarship that he used to earn his master's degree at the University of St. Andrews.

While he studied biology in school, the town itself gave him a lesson in history. The oldest university in Scotland, St. Andrews dates back to 1410. Nelson lived in a dormitory, an old monk's home near the ruins of the cathedral, which you'll see many times in the background during this week's broadcasts of the tournament.

He lived about three blocks from the Old Course, his morning jogs taking him past the course, the famous Royal and Ancient Golf Club clubhouse and sometimes onto the sandy beach that flanks the course, which was made famous in the movie "Chariots of Fire."

"It was really kind of surreal," Nelson said of his daily workouts. "We'd jog by (the clubhouse) every day."

Nelson said for $125 he bought a pass that allowed him to play any of the town's courses for a year. He'd jump in with threesomes, enjoying the Old Course while meeting new people. A 5 handicap in his prime, Nelson's best effort at the Old Course was a 76 "on a day the wind wasn't blowing."

Links courses are always by the sea, and the North Sea can make the Old Course a monster. Because of the wind, Nelson said he played the par-3, 11th hole with everything from an 8-iron to a 3-wood, pulling out the bigger club when the gales were strongest.

"The wind could be brutal," Nelson said. "If it wasn't blowing, you had a chance. But when the wind's blowing, it's tough."

More than the 76, Nelson remembers the round he played with his father. His parents visited for a week and he was able to get his dad on the Old Course.

"There are a couple of rounds you play that you remember for the rest of your life," Nelson said. "The day I got to play the Old Course with my dad was one."

Not only did Nelson get to play with his father, but they got a rare chance to eat lunch at the exclusive Royal and Ancient Golf Club. You'll see the clubhouse in many shots on TV this weekend, and Nelson said the dining room was near the giant clock on the right. It is for members only, jacket required.

"(The Scots) like to tell the story that Bob Hope showed up one day with a friend and they wouldn't let him in," Nelson said. "I got to eat in there twice with my (Rotary) sponsor, who was a member. I'm not sure how we got in, but I didn't ask any questions."

Nelson, who lives in Monroe, doesn't play much golf these days. He stays busy with his family and coaching football at Brookwood, where he also played. But he watches golf when he can, and this weekend's tournament will take him down memory lane.

"I still remember the day I got off the train in St. Andrews," Nelson said. "Just seeing that golf course as you came into town, it was just amazing. It's a neat little town."

E-mail Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.