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That one time I played golf with Bill Murray

After 18 holes at the old course with everyone’s favourite Ghostbuster, Dan Nicholl’s golf experience can only go downhill from here.

For most golfers, the Road Hole at the Old Course at St Andrews is one of the game’s more terrifying challenges. A long, slender dogleg that counts an extremely large five-star hotel as the first obstacle to contend with. You need an almighty drive over the left-hand corner of the Old Course Hotel to set up your second shot. Too far left, and you’re miles from the fairway, in thick, unforgiving Scottish rough as impenetrable as local accents. Too far right and you’ll be playing your second from the bathroom of a third-floor suite. And even if you do master the perfect drive, you have a narrow green to negotiate and a bunker that many have entered, but few have escaped from. It’s a hole that strikes fear into all who play it. All, that is, except Bill Murray.

Perhaps it’s the experience of fighting off ghosts in the streets of New York, or dealing with the vagaries of Japanese culture, or setting off to explore the depths of the ocean armed with little more than a red woollen hat, but the famously eccentric actor is unruffled on the golf course, not remotely bothered by the demands of the game’s most famous course, or a grand sense of occasion: in this case, playing 18 holes with me!

I’ve known Bill Murray for a few years, having spent time with him at the Laureus Awards and at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, golf’s definitive celebrity event. I’ve hosted its gala dinner for the last 10 years, and it’s an extraordinary occasion. This year Jessica Biel and Justin Timberlake were part of the Saturday night audience, along with Murray, who joined the band that included Mike Rutherford of Genesis fame and, to great cheers, former Springbok Schalk Burger, his guitar looking like a ukulele in what might be the world’s largest hands.

But if Bill Murray the singer taps into one of the actor’s other passions, it’s Bill Murray the golfer that tops the list of guises adopted away from acting. He travels the world when he’s not shooting, finding new courses, returning to old ones, and discovering corners of the golfing world to whet his considerable appetite for the game. And so, despite a full week of golf at Dunhill’s marquee tournament the week before, Saturday Night Live’s greatest alumnus was back on the course on Monday morning, ready to play another 18 holes. He arrived, unhurried and smiling, and thumped his opening drive up the middle of the fairway, proceeding around the course comfortably, not missing more than a few fairways, hitting greens easily, and delighting in some long putts that confirmed he didn’t need to pull off much acting in Caddyshack, golf’s most famous film.

It’s Bill Murray the person, though, that made the experience so memorable. Missed putts elicited group hugs on the green. A rare errant drive had Murray against the spectator ropes, still in place from the tournament, taking on the role of battered boxer. The occasional line from a movie was coaxed out. And when play got held up, he’d wander off, introduce himself to disbelieving spectators, and cheerfully direct impromptu photo shoots. And then return to the tee for another immaculate drive.

We had a photo taken on Swilken Bridge – we’re in tough-guy pose. Minutes later, he was gone; off to catch a flight home, on to another film set, or more probably, another golf course. He left me with an unforgettable round of golf, a photograph that’s induced satisfying levels of envy on social media, and one stark realisation: after 18 holes with everyone’s favourite Ghostbuster, my golf experiences can only go downhill from here.

By Dan Nicholl


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