"It's not allowed, is it? To peek into the trophy room?" The two English women Glance anxiously at Tom Wallace, the stern-looking hall porter, who watches from his post behind a waist-high desk. The door behind them is one-third open, providing a glimpse of glass cases, ancient golf clubs and storied medals.
"Go ahead!" says Wallace with a gallant wave. The Englishwomen break out in smiles.
A gentleman in a blazer, waiting at the desk, watches the ladies nudge the door open—an inch at a time, as if they still expect to be rebuked—and turns to Wallace.
"Not sacred territory anymore?"
"Ah, nooo," Wallace says. "The public's been in there now. The portraits have all fallen off the walls."
It's not just the Englishwomen. Everyone who visits the Scottish coastal town of St. Andrews wants a peek into the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. The building's exterior is so familiar from photographs—the gray stone that looks as if smokers have been breathing on it for centuries, the sturdy gables and chimneys, the whimsical wind vanes, the big round clock, the stark background of sky and sea. But the interior...that is less well known. Tourists may catch a glimpse of chandelier or fireplace through the club's tall bay windows, but only the unusually bold will cup their hands around their eyes and press against the glass.
So when one does venture inside, there is a tendency at first to rush, to seize images and impressions: giant portraits in gilded frames, dark corridors, high ceilings, light the color of limestone falling from tall windows.
"It's a dreamy kind of place," says Grant Spaeth, the president of the U.S. Golf Association (USGA) and a member of the R&A. "You lose track of time."
"There isn't a setting anywhere remotely like it," says another American member, former USGA president Sandy Tatum.
When strangers come—that's how the club refers to outsiders, as strangers—they pad about the rooms, speak in whispers and practically genuflect at the door of the Big Room.