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Swilcan Bridge
The famed Swilcan Bridge has witnessed a steady parade of golf history over the years. (Getty Images)

Old Course's humble Swilcan Bridge one of golf's great attractions

The short, sturdy stone bridge across the Swilcan Burn might be unremarkable anywhere else. Because it's at St. Andrews, though, it has become a touchstone for every golfer fortunate enough to experience the Old Course.

By Melanie Hauser, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

It’s a humble little bridge made of large, well-worn stones -- a low Roman arch-type construction that dates back 700, maybe 800, years. No one’s quite sure.

It’s not long. About 8-10 paces from end to end. Simple. Sturdy. Masons built it so shepherds could move their sheep and cattle across the stream that meanders through what is now the first and 18th fairways of the famed Old Course on their way to the North Sea.

Today the Swilcan Bridge – with the Royal and Ancient and Hamilton Hall as a backdrop -- is one of the most iconic settings in golf. Few rush across it -- Tiger Woods on Friday in 2005 was an exception -- these days.

Instead, golfers crossing the bridge that spans Swilcan Burn pause for a moment in the middle. Not to reflect on its place in history or the year 1502, when Scotland’s James IV lifted the ban on golf. Rather, to wave. To sit for a moment on the edge. To have a friend -- or a gaggle of professional photographers -- snap a picture for posterity. Or maybe just your family, your friends, a tweet and your screensaver.

There are no rules, other than you can’t camp out there. You must observe -- for the most part -- pace of play. Dawdle a few minutes, strike your pose. Get creative if you want.

Sam Snead, for example, just had to do a little tap dance across it. Complete with a straw fedora. Paula Creamer cut loose and celebrated the first Women’s British Open there by doing a cartwheel in front of it.

Margaret Hamilton, a contestant in the Ladies British Open Amateur, propped her clubs on the bridge, dangled her crossed legs over the water, lit up a cigarette and posed for her iconic black-and-white signature moment in 1929.

Bob Martin, who stepped over it on the way to the 1876 title, might have been one of the most fitting champions to cross the bridge. He was a shepherd, after all.

St. Andrews starter James Johnstone got engaged on it. Ian Poulter once passed it up -- not in an Open, of course -- to jump the burn. Walker Cup and Curtis Cup teams -- and a rugby or soccer team or two -- have gathered for a trophy shot on it.

Hollywood celebrities have not been immune to the bridge’s siren call, either. Bill Murray, Dennis Hopper, Hugh Grant, Michael Douglas and his wife Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Kevin Costner -- that’s right, Tin Cup -- have all had their photographs taken there.

So has Donald Trump. No word on whether he inquired about buying the bridge.

There’s also a YouTube video in which a woman scatters the ashes of her husband -- who introduced her to the game -- under the bridge into the Swilcan Burn. The “man who taught me golf in the home of golf,” she explains.

 And some of the greatest in the game have said goodbye on it.

Arnold Palmer in 1995. Jack Nicklaus twice -- first in 2000, then again in 2005. And no, he’s not going for a third. Both waved. But they’ve also posed seated -- alone, with each other and with Tom Watson -- as well as with their pairing and caddies, with their family, with … well, you get the idea.

The two most popular backdrops are with the subject/subjects centered between the R&A and Hamilton Hall (the latter replaced by a grandstand if it’s Open week) or simply with just the imposing R&A behind them. Another shot? Straight across pointing toward the North Sea.

As for the weather?  Driving rain, snow, a wee dreich -- it doesn’t matter.  They stop. This is the bridge.

And, just in case you’re wondering, the bridge has been featured on a whisky label, been captured by just about every golf photographer and golf artist and we’re pretty sure if you look hard enough you can find a company to build a replica for you. There is, after all, one at the World Golf Hall of Fame for the perfect photo op.

The Golfer’s Bridge, as they called it back in 1754 when King James IV gave it -- and the course -- a bit of a makeover has become a spot to stop and snap. And if it’s a Hall of Fame goodbye? It might bring pace of play to a screeching halt.

You can bet Wednesday’s Open Champions Challenge will be a Swilcan Bridge showstopper. Players like Peter Thomson, Roberto de Vicenzo, Bill Rogers, Tom Weiskopf and Bob Charles haven’t crossed the bridge in a while -- and definitely not in the digital age. If only Seve Ballesteros was there, too. This will be one wave of great shots after another -- welcome-backs and good-byes in the same moment.

Talk about history on parade. The queue for fan-photographers at the wall along the fairway might start on Tuesday night.

So far, nothing has equaled the emotional farewells of Arnie and Jack, though.  The moments are etched in our minds. Jack waving, then pulling Tom Watson and Luke Donald -- and their caddies -- up there with him. Arnie in gray pants and a dark shirt waving goodbye in 1995.

No official goodbyes are set for this, the 150th Anniversary Open Championship, but some might happen anyway. Three-time champ Nick Faldo is safe -- he doesn’t turn 60 until 2017 -- so assume he’ll keep playing. Watson is exempt through 2014, but would need a bit of help to extend it to 2015, when we expect the Open will return to St. Andrews. Greg Norman needs a little help, too. He’ll turn 60 in February 2015 and would have to finish top 10 before that to extend his exemption.

Faldo will likely take a simple stroll. But -- just in case -- two-time winner Norman and five-time winner Watson are bound to bring down the house on their walks across the famous stone arch.

And Colin Montgomerie? Chances are the European Ryder Cup captain -- who once observed, “There's only one hill to climb at St Andrews and that's to cross the Swilcan Bridge” -- will likely take his final bow this year. Not only has Monty never won the Open, he isn’t playing at the level that once made him a seven-time Order of Merit champ.

The age of the bridge remains a mystery, but it was there in some form for shepherds in 1457 when King James II banned golf -- and soccer -- because it distracted his soldiers from practicing archery. Almost five decades later -- in 1502 -- James IV took up golf and lifted the ban. Fast forward some 350-plus plus years and St. Andrews was well on its way to hosting the Open Championship and being known as the cradle of golf.

Over the years, all the great ones have gathered on or walked across the Swilcan Bridge. Old and Young Tom Morris. Harry Vardon, J.H. Taylor and Henry Cotton. Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson and … well, just about every one but Ben Hogan. His only trip across the pond was to play -- and win -- at Carnoustie in 1953. Nelson played there once -- in 1955.

Lee Trevino called it a “lousy creek” but always stopped for a photo op. Or two. Or 10. And his old Scottish caddie Willie Aitchison hopes he’ll be there for one last picture. Aitchison won in 1967 on de Vicenzo’s bag (Hoylake) and in 1971 with Trevino at Muirfield. According to Golfweek, he may be the oldest living Open-winning caddie.

“I have no right to be there but the Open has been a big part of my life,” he said. “This is a celebration of golf and it would be nice if I was part of it.

“… It would be very special to see Lee one last time and I am hoping the R&A will allow me to walk the four holes with him and his son.”

And, of course, pose for one last picture on the Swilcan Bridge.
 

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