A PAL of mine once asked, “if you were a golfer and could win any major, which one would it be?” The answer was simple: it would be the Masters almost every time – and the only exception would be when The Open came to St Andrews, as it has just done.

While our opinions might not mean much, you can take your pick of almost any pro over these past few days and they’ll tell you The Old Course is like nowhere else. The greatest of them all, Tiger Woods, echoed sentiments he’s expressed many times before when, following on from what is looking likely to be his St Andrews swansong, he said: “This is my favourite course in the world. I fell in love with it back in 1995.”

The 15-time major winner will forever be etched into the history of The Old Course given his two Open Championship wins there. Pieces of memorabilia from his two wins currently sit in the Royal and Ancient World Golf Museum located right opposite the clubhouse.

“It’s a really special place to be, we’re right in the heart of everything,” says museum director Angela Howe.

The Museum first opened in 1990 having been established by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club because “their collection had grown so big that they needed somewhere to house everything”. As time went on and the Museum grew in stature and popularity, the time came for a refurbishment and it closed for a brief period between August 2020 and June 2021.

Like almost anyone who loves their golf, Howe speaks with great enthusiasm about the history that can be felt, not just in and around the course, but throughout the whole town.

READ MORE: The Open: Things to do in St Andrews if golf isn't your thing

“It’s a really unique place and a fascinating little town, it carries so much. The history, the golf, the university, you’re just surrounded by it everywhere you go. The cathedral cemetery is an amazing place to go because it’s where Tom Morris Sr and Jr are laid to rest,” she adds. Both are key figures in the history of the game having eight Open Championships between them.

When you think about the history of golf’s oldest major, it’s easy to think about Woods’s two wins in 2000 and 2005, the triumphs of Seve Ballesteros – currently the subject of a World Golf Museum exhibition which includes a bronze sculpture of the Spaniard’s grip– or as far back as 1860 when the very first Championship was held in Prestwick.

In comparison to the history of The Old Course itself though, those events are relatively modern.

“The course was really created out of a natural piece of land which was unsuitable for agriculture,” Howe explains. “The first documentary evidence of golf in St Andrews dates to 1552 and it’s a parchment deed, it’s really fascinating.”

This bears the seal of Archbishop Hamilton and acknowledges that the possession and property of the land resided with the authority of St Andrews, thus giving them the right to play golf, football or any other games they were keen on.

“This document really tells us that golf must have been played for many years and it’s interesting to note it embraced all social classes. Anyone could play.”

Golfers these days should probably count themselves lucky though, given that at one point the course had 22 holes as detailed in the earliest minutes from the Royal and Ancient Golf Club.

Amongst the collection of mementos in the museum, of which Howe says there are “thousands” to choose from, is the oldest known set of clubs in the world – The Troon Clubs. They were discovered in Maister House in Hull and wrapped in newspaper which was dated to 1743. Having survived a fire owing to their concealment in a cupboard, they’ve passed through various hands and are currently on loan at the museum.

“They’re a real feature and star attraction. They’ve got some interesting markings on them – a crown, a thistle and a star – but we’re not sure how to interpret them. There’s been some theories it’s something to do with the Jacobites or it could be to do with the maker. We may never know,” says Howe.

It's a course where lots of traditions remain to this day. The collection holds Tom Morris Jr’s 1872 Open Championship medal.

“From 1872, Prestwick Golf Club where things started began discussing reviving the Championship after a break in 1871. Each contributed £10 to the Claret Jug but it wasn’t ready in time and Young Tom Morris was presented with a gold medal.”

The winner still receives a gold medal today and keeps the Claret Jug for a year.

People treat it differently though. There’s some brilliant footage of last year’s winner Collin Morikawa downing beer out the jug following his win in Kent.

For Howe, that sense of history is what makes the tournament so special. As any golf fan knows, there’s been much debate over the newly introduced LIV Tour in which many top pros have fled the regular season to play for far greater prizes and a less intense schedule. Whatever anyone’s thoughts on it, the feeling around courses like St Andrews is one that no amount of money will ever be able to buy or recreate.

“I think when you listen to the interviews that winners of The Open give, it feels as if it’s something extra special. That’s not to say the Masters and all the other majors aren’t great but when they do it here it’s not just winning The Open, it’s doing it at St Andrews,” Howe adds.

For all its history and scenic beauty, there’s no denying the practical impact the game has on Scotland and the surrounding area.

The National: National Extra Scottish politics newsletter banner

“Golf is one of Scotland’s major selling points to visitors. No other country can match our history and heritage in the game,” says Chief executive of Visit Scotland Malcolm Roughead.

It’s hard to argue with. The previous week’s Scottish Open coupled with last week’s tournament has provided some of the best advertising viewers across the world are likely to see for Scotland.

“Major golf tournaments play an important role in recovery of the tourism and events industry post pandemic and benefit the wider economy,’ Roughead adds.

Indeed, the game brings in around £286 million annually and helps to support over 4000 jobs.

Before things get wrapped up on Sunday, whichever golfer finds themselves standing on the Swilcan Bridge with the Claret Jug aloft, they’ll need to make sure they leave a little memento behind.

Howe says that they always try and take something from the winner, be it a driver, a putter, a shoe or even just a signed cap to go in the museum.

“It’s not just about the past and history, it’s about what’s happening now,” Howe says.

Whoever it is though, they’ll make themselves another part of the history that makes the game, the town and, most of all, the course one of a kind.