Wednesday, August 14

The Wall Street Caddy: The Lammas Cup at the Old Course in St. Andrews

By Mark Vigil

Guest contributor Mark Vigil is The Wall Street Caddy.

LAMMAS IS A PAGAN FESTIVAL that was once celebrated throughout Ireland and Great Britain in early August to mark the harvest of the season's first wheat crop. It is also referred to as the Gule of August.

Shakespeare understood the importance of the pagan festival. In Romeo and Juliet (1.3.19) he says "come Lammas Eve at night she (Juliet) be fourteen" — a strong symbolic reference given Juliet's ultimate destiny.

Over time, the Catholic church recognized the holiday, and somehow on the liturgical calendar it coincided with the feast of St. Peter in chains, which recognizes Peter's deliverance from prison.

In medieval times it was customary for the congregation to bake fresh loaves of bread from the new wheat harvest and bring them to the church to be blessed by the priests. The loaves of bread were broken into four pieces and each piece was placed in one of the four corners of the farmer's barn to protect the new crop.

Today, the festival is largely forgotten; however, it is still celebrated in St. Andrews with a week-long festival.

Birth of The Lammas Cup

In the mid 1970s a group of local high school students, all free spirited and passionate golfers, decided to establish their own traditions to celebrate this important pagan holiday. They organized a golf tournament to be played on the Old Course. Following the golf was a day of pub crawling throughout the town. The Keys bar, one of the two remaining independent pubs in St. Andrews, supported the young lads by donating the Lammas Cup.

The Lammas Cup is held on Lammas Tuesday (August 13 this year), and the players have held the first six tee times on the Old Course since the inaugural event in 1977, excluding a year when they played the tournament on the Jubilee Course.

The traditions include mandatory drinks the night before the event. Absence from the pre-tournament bacchanalian festivities results in a harsh penalty, a 5-stroke reduction to your handicap. The winner not only gets his name on the trophy, but also earns the right to wear the loud tartan coat, and for the next two years loses 10 strokes and 5 strokes, respectively, to his handicap (a nice tradition to make the Tartan jacket accessible to players of all levels). There's also a raucous closing award ceremony at the Keys pub, where the lads will toast each other until the wee hours of the morning.

The Lammas tournament is the only non-sanctioned annual competition for which the Old Course provides tee times, subject to appropriate annual renewal of the cherished tee time application forms. 

The Lammas Cup is an example of another rich tradition that makes St. Andrews special. A group of high school golfers wove themselves into the fabric of golfing societies of St. Andrews, and, 42 years later, they still hold court at the Old Course with the first six tee times on Lammas Tuesday.

So here's to the modern-day combatants who yesterday played for the right to wear the tartan coat and have his name engraved on the Lammas Cup.

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