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The Open at St Andrews: US star Harold Varner thanks Fife charity for helping him fulfil dream

Harold Varner (left) with New Links co-founder Dr Kenny Wood of St Andrews
Harold Varner (left) with New Links co-founder Dr Kenny Wood of St Andrews on Sunday evening

An American golf professional is fulfilling his ambition to play an Open at St Andrews 14 years after a locally-based charity helped him overcome economic adversity as a teenager.

Harold Varner III, who won the Australian PGA Championship in 2016 and the PIF Saudi International in February 2022, has thanked St Andrews-based charity New Links for giving him the opportunity to embark upon a “dream” youth visit to the Home of Golf in 2008.

Harold, 31, who represented the Bill Dickey Scholarship Association, played golf at the Castle Course, St Andrews, Kingsbarns, and Crail during the 2008 trip.

He remembers playing with hickory sticks and old golf balls at the Kingarrock course near Cupar – an experience which he recalls was “nuts”.

During that trip, he also celebrated his 18th birthday on the final day of the event, wearing a full kilt outfit for the occasion at Fairmont St Andrews.

However, until Sunday of this week when he beat fellow American pro Dustin Johnson in a practice round, he’d never played the Old Course.

“We didn’t get to play the Old Course when we came for New Links,” he told The Courier in an exclusive interview from The Open.

Harold Varner (wearing kilt) with fellow New Links participants in 2008
Harold Varner (wearing kilt) with fellow New Links participants in 2008.

“But in 2008, I said I would play an Open here one day. I didn’t know if it would be at St Andrews for sure, but I knew I’d play in one.

“Well here I am! It’s just great to be here. I’ve been playing a lot of Links golf lately. I was in Dublin all of last week.

“I’ve played in two Opens – Troon and Royal St George’s – so I have an idea what it’s like. But it feels great to finally be playing in the Open at St Andrews, where golf all began!”

How did New Links begin?

New Links was founded in 2006 by then husband and wife team Chris and Kenny Wood of St Andrews and Los Angeles-based George Davis.

Harold Varner (right) with St Andrews golfer Alan Tulleth during the New Links youth event of 2008
Harold Varner (right) with St Andrews golfer Alan Tulleth during the New Links youth event of 2008.

The charity was set up to provide life changing experiences for less privileged children through international travel, education and the game of golf.

It was set up to sponsor annual youth visits to St Andrews and also established a scholarship at the University of St Andrews.

Harold, who got into golf through his dad being “addicted” to the game, got into competitive golf aged around nine.

What he remembers most about his trip to Scotland in 2008 was that he missed his flight going over.

Harold Varner enjoys playing on the Old Course during The Open 2022.
Harold Varner enjoys playing on the Old Course during The Open 2022.

He didn’t know much about the Home of Golf at that time, just thinking it would be “super cool” to make the trip.

However, the American, from Ohio, thoroughly enjoyed spending time with teenagers from South Africa, the USA and Scotland to enjoy a programme of golf, educational and cultural activities at the famous sporting destination and university town.

Inspiring him to help others

New Links also helped inspire him to create the HV3 foundation which aims to give young people affordable access to sports.

“New Links inspired me to set up my own thing because I just know how hard it is,” he added.

“That’s what you work for. To help other people.”

USA's Harold Varner III at the Old Course, St Andrews.
USA’s Harold Varner III at the Old Course, St Andrews. Picture date: Sunday July 10, 2022.

Today, Harold is regarded as one of the most popular figures on the PGA Tour.

He has won two tournaments abroad, in Australia and this season in Saudi Arabia, showing he is comfortable in travelling internationally.

The New Links trip was his first journey overseas.

New Links co-founder Kenny Wood, who is a keen golfer and an astrophysicist at the University of St Andrews, told how from day one, New Links wanted to “share the spirit of St Andrews, where golf is a game for everyone”.

Dustin Johnson (left) and Harold Varner after their practice round at The Open 2022 on Sunday July 10
Dustin Johnson (left) and Harold Varner after their practice round at The Open 2022 on Sunday July 10.

Supported by the Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation, and Renee Powell of Clearview Golf Club, Ohio, he told how their partners used golf as a means to inspire children to learn and grow.

“We hope they will become great golfers and, more importantly, that they become great human beings,” he said.

New Links director John Stewart, who joined Kenny to catch up with Harold after his Sunday practice round, added: “It has been fantastic to see Harold developing into a world golfer, whose stature in the sport grows every year.”

FEATURE: ‘Very special’ St Andrews golf charity New Links reflects on 15th anniversary of overseas connections

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