The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.
Early on a glorious September morning in St. Andrews, Scotland, former president of the United States George W. Bush approached the first tee of the world’s most famous golf course to play a round of golf he would not finish.
Assembled around the first tee were a few hundred local residents and a handful of members of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club. Known simply as the “R&A,” the club is the governing body and custodian of the rules for all golfing countries except the United States, which has its own governing body. The occasion was the annual driving-in ceremony of the newly elected captain of the R&A. Mr. Bush arrived at the first tee, scanned the Old Course, which had been the site of many historic championships, and began to mingle with the members.
Precisely at eight o’clock, the retiring captain preceded the new captain as they marched out of the R&A Clubhouse, down the ancient stone steps, and onto the first tee. In typically understated R&A fashion, nothing was said. The new captain took a few modest warm-up swings, addressed the ball, and hit a lovely tee shot down the middle of the fairway.
BOOM. At the precise moment of contact, an ancient cannon situated off the first tee was fired to mark the occasion. A few dozen local caddies scattered about the fairway scrambled for the ball as it careened down the fairway, until the winning caddie scooped it up, raised it over his head triumphantly to the jeering of his peers, and proudly strutted up to the first tee.
When the caddie arrived, the captain shook his hand in congratulations and, as was the custom, gave him a gold sovereign coin worth about two hundred pounds.
If it sounds unusual, it is. No other club has such a ceremony, and it has occurred in exactly the same way since 1863, when the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, “drove in” as captain.
The tee times following the driving-in ceremony are traditionally reserved for former prime ministers, presidents, or other visiting dignitaries. And so it was on this occasion that George W. Bush and two club members stepped onto the first tee and were greeted by R&A secretary Harold Maxwell. “Gentlemen. Mr. President. Good day to you all.”
“It’ll be a good day,” Bush said, shaking hands, “if I don’t make a fool of myself by chunking it into the Swilcan Burn on the first hole, or yanking it into the Road Bunker at seventeen.”
“I’m sure you’ll do just fine.”
“You’re more sure than I am.”
Secretary Maxwell chuckled. “We were very pleased to welcome your father here as a new member after he finished his presidency.”
“Yeah, he loved golf and he loved St. Andrews, that’s for sure.”
“There’s a little-known story about your father that says a lot about him as a man. In December of the year he played his first round at the Old Course, he sent his caddie a handwritten letter thanking him for making his experience in St. Andrews so special and wishing him a Merry Christmas. I do believe that was a first.”
“He must’ve been a good caddie.”
“Must have been.”
“Guessing you fellows don’t allow mulligans,” Bush said, looking out at the fairway.
“No mulligans, but we can offer a swallow of scotch if that will settle your nerves?”
“Not my nerves I got a problem with. It’s my damn golf swing. Forsakes me every time when I need it the most . . . like now!”
The secretary commented, “That’s just about the widest fairway in the world, so it shouldn’t present much of a problem. Enjoy.”
It would be fair to say every golfer in the world dreams of playing the Old Course at St. Andrews. Bush approached the ball, took his stance, and then nervously jerked the club away and swung. Mercifully, the ball curved only slightly to the right and came to rest in the fairway.
Bush smiled mischievously. “Not bad for a broken-down ol’ president. What’s the course record around here anyway?”
“In the Open Championship . . . sixty-three.”
“Sixty-three, hell! I will’ve hit it that many times by the twelfth hole,” Bush said as he winked at the secretary and stepped aside to allow his playing partners their turn.
From a position three hundred yards away on a public footpath that bordered the fairway, a middle-aged man of generic features lowered his binoculars and turned to saunter away, whistling as he went. As he reached up to scratch his nose, he spoke quietly into a microphone buried inside the sleeve of his sweater. “Blue sweater, white shirt, gray pants, black shoes, no hat.”
In a secluded wooded area two kilometers from the golf course, a nondescript brown van and midsize blue car were parked side by side. Huddled inside the van were eight British paramilitary commandos. Sitting inside the car were four more commandos. Six of the twelve were carrying assorted weaponry. Hearing the description of Bush’s wardrobe, the driver of the van keyed his radio and answered in a noticeably British accent, “Copy that. Cowboy Justice a go.” The drivers of the van and the car exchanged informal salutes, started their vehicles, and sped away.
Poised with engines running on the edge of a runway at the Rotterdam Airport, pilots strapped inside the cockpits of a Hawker 800XP and Learjet 85 received the same message and answered back in turn: “Cowboy Justice a go. Hawker 1 copy.”
“Learjet 1, copy that as well.”
The Hawker took off in an angry roar, followed quickly by the Learjet.
The most famous hole on the Old Course at St. Andrews is the seventeenth, commonly referred to as the Road Hole. The green sits hard by a cobblestone road, on the other side of which is a stone wall that for centuries has presented unusual and difficult challenges for golfers.
George Bush, midway through a Cuban cigar, and his caddie, Oliver Croft, stepped onto the seventeenth tee along with his playing partners and their caddies. Bush tossed his cigar to the ground and considered his options as Oliver offered a word of encouragement
“Nice and easy does it, sir.”
“Nice and easy? Not my strong suit,” Bush said before pushing his tee shot into the right rough. “More or less like Jack Nicklaus did it.”
“More ‘less’ than ‘more,’ I’m afraid, sir,” Oliver responded.
Bush picked up his cigar and headed down the fairway, saying, “Let’s go see if we can birdie this bad boy.”
As Bush made his way along the seventeenth fairway, the brown van and blue car pulled into the parking lot of the Jigger Inn, a famous St. Andrews watering hole located short and to the right of the seventeenth green.
Just as Bush arrived at his ball, the twelve British commandos poured out of their vehicles and precisely according to a well-crafted and rehearsed plan, sprinted straight for the former president, his playing partners, and their caddies.
Immediately realizing what was happening, Bush turned and ran for his life. The much faster commandos quickly tackled him to the ground. With the former president lying facedown on the turf, one commando lifted his head back allowing a second commando to put a cloth soaked with diethyl ether over his mouth and nose to both mute and anesthetize him. Two other commandos strapped a leather belt around his ankles, slapped handcuffs on his wrists, and slipped a hood over his head. Once Bush was unconscious, gagged, shackled, cuffed, and hooded, the commandos carefully lifted him and carried him away.
Simultaneously and similarly, five commandos contained Bush’s caddie, his playing partners, and their caddies.
Immediately upon seeing the attack, three distinctly American-looking men dressed in Scottish golf attire rushed to Bush’s aid. Expecting Secret Service protection for the former president, the remaining commandos fired stun guns at the oncoming agents, who, one by one, stumbled and fell to the ground.
The commandos carrying Bush placed him in the back of the van and fled.
The entire series of events took less than six minutes and occurred with little commotion and hardly any noise. The stealth abduction of a former president of the United States from the world’s most famous golf course—against his will, in broad daylight—was a stark contrast to the peace and grandeur of this ancient town, the resting ground of Saint Andrew the Apostle.
Eventually, a few passing townspeople noticed the bound bodies strewn over the seventeenth fairway and rushed to help. Once Bush’s playing partners and the caddies were untethered, the lot of them raced up the eighteenth fairway waving their arms and yelling hysterically, “Help! Help!” “They abducted the president!” “Help, please, for the love of God!”