Archive for the ‘Scotland’ Category

Excerpt from my book “Never Despair” – It All Comes Back to Character

February 4, 2015

Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.

Khalil Gibran

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.

– Winston Churchill


“Golf is the closest game to the game we call life. You get bad breaks from good shots; you get good breaks from bad shots – but you have to play the game where it lies.”[i] So claimed O.B. Keeler, the famed golf writer who, from 1916-1930, travelled over 120,000 miles covering the career of Bobby Jones. We do indeed play the game where it lies. Each day is different, even if the course remains the same, and the challenges are at once maddening and intoxicating.

We play the game. It doesn’t matter if frost covers the ground in winter, if rain water fills the cups on the greens in the spring, or if wind blows sand in our eyes after a bunker shot in the summer. We just love to play.

Walter Simpson, in his 1892 book The Art of Golf, seemed to understand the golfer’s psyche. He wrote that the game “has some drawbacks. It is possible, by too much of it, to destroy the mind.”[ii] His admonition notwithstanding, true golfers rarely get enough of it. We know that if we keep plugging along and keep trying, sometimes good things come to us when we least expect them, just as in life.

Golf is a game with incredible staying power, having been played for over 500 years. Men and women; young and old; royalty and artisans; CEOs and taxi drivers; people with bad backs and creaky knees; amputees and the blind, all play it. A few even play from wheelchairs. What is it that draws people to golf and holds them in its grip until they are too old and feeble to play any longer? The reasons are many. The game engages both body and mind in a very particular way, and some might argue, the soul as well.

James Balfour, who began playing golf in Scotland in the 1840s, explained it this way in Reminiscences of Golf on St Andrews Links:

It is a fine, open-air, athletic exercise, not violent, but bringing into play nearly all the muscles of the body…It is a game of skill, needing mind and thought and judgment, as well as a cunning hand. It is also a social game, where one may go out with a friend or with three, and enjoy mutual intercourse…It never palls or grows stale, as morning by morning the players appear at the teeing ground with as keen a relish as if they had never seen a club for a month.[iii]

It is a game requiring not only physical skill but the ability to control our emotions, as we try to beat our best scores each time out, as well as the scores of our friends who join us in the endeavor.

The game is different because the ball must wait for us. It isn’t baseball or tennis where a ball comes towards us that we have to react to in a split second. The golf ball just lies there passively, sometimes seeming to taunt us.  It’s up to us to make it go.  “There is no hurry,” wrote John Low in Concerning Golf, rather “we fix our own time, we give ourselves every chance of success.”  It is this deliberate quality of the game which “makes it so testing to the nerves; for the very slowness which gives us opportunity for calculation draws our nerves out to the highest tension…”[iv]

Golf certainly can make our stomachs churn and scramble our brains.  Mark Twain famously described it as “a good walk spoiled.”  In the short space of the fifteen minutes or so it takes to play a hole, it’s possible to experience a full gamut of emotions – you name it and it can be felt, in a million different combinations.

Fear and trepidation of the opening tee shot, followed by joy and relief after a great drive nailed straight down the middle, then consternation at the fat second shot plunked into the water, and ending with sadness and disappointment as we walk off the green with a triple-bogey. Herein is a great part of the golf’s attraction.

People are also drawn to the game because it takes them into the great outdoors; to open spaces away from the office. Theodore Arnold Haultain discussed the tactile lure of the course, each with its own personality and varied terrain, in his book The Mystery of Golf. Speaking of the delights of the game in 1910, he described the varied elements that stimulate our senses:

The great breeze that greets you on the hill, the whiffs of air – pungent, penetrating – that come through green things growing, the hot smell of pines at noon, the wet smell of fallen leaves in autumn, the damp and heavy air of the valley at eve, the lungs full of oxygen, the sense of freedom on a great expanse, the exhilaration, the vastness, the buoyancy, the exaltation.[v]

“We live in small spaces,” wrote Henry Leach in The Happy Golfer, “with many walls and low roofs.”[vi] Away from the city, and its cacophony of angry noises that strangle silence, the golf course provides us with a few hours of refuge. Steaming asphalt and concrete, honking horns, and the incessant buzz and clatter of people coming and going gives way to a quiet oasis of cool grass, green trees, chirping birds and the smell of pine needles. “A golfer on the links is uplifted to a simpler, freer self,” claimed Leach.[vii]

Michael Murphy, in his classic book Golf in the Kingdom, spoke of golf in terms of “walkin’ fast across the countryside and feelin’ the wind and watchin’ the sun go down and seein’ yer friends hit good shots and hittin’ some yourself.  It’s love and it’s feelin’ the splendor o’ this good world.”  To David Forgan, who crafted “The Golfer’s Creed” in the late nineteenth century, golf offers “a sweeping away of mental cobwebs, genuine recreation of tired tissues….It is a cure for care, an antidote to worry.”[viii]

ENDNOTES

Epigrams after chapter title from http://www.goodreads.com/quotes

[i] Sidney Matthew, Bobby: The Life and Times of Bobby Jones (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Sports Media Group, 2005), 48.

[ii] Walter G. Simpson, The Art of Golf (Edinburgh: David Douglas, 1892), 5.

[iii] James Balfour, Reminiscences of Golf on St Andrews Links (Edinburgh: David Douglas, 1887), 54.

[iv] John L. Low, Concerning Golf (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1903), 6-7.

[v] Theodore Arnold Haultain, The Mystery of Golf. 2nd ed. (New York: Macmillan Company, 1910), 244.

[vi] Henry Leach, The Happy Golfer (London: Macmillan and Co., 1914), 13.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Michael Murphy, Golf in the Kingdom (New York: Viking Arkana, 1994), 65; “Golfer’s Creed” by Forgan,in The American Golf Teaching Method (Ft. Pierce, FL: United States Golf Teachers Federation, 1999), 68.

David Joy and the St. Andrews Golf Festival

April 28, 2012
David Joy as Old Tom

David Joy as Old Tom at Younger Hall, March 31, 2012

I have written about my time spent in St. Andrews, but feel the need to give a public thank you to Mr. David Joy, author, artist and the man who since 1990 has been doing his one-man show on the life of Old Tom Morris, who was kind enough to meet with me and give me a tour of his studio.  Some of you may David from the commercials he made with John Cleese for Titleist golf balls a few years ago, or from his books The Scrapbook of Old Tom Morris and St. Andrews & the Open Championship. Anyway, I contacted Mr. Joy before leaving, telling him I was a big fan and asked if we might be able to meet.  He thanked me for the kind words and told him to ring him when I got into town. 

I did and we met for a pint and a chat at the Dunvegan, a wonderful bar/hotel two blocks from the Old Course that has a room devoted to David’s illustrations of Open Champions.  The place has a warm, friendly atmosphere and before I left he invited me to come out to his studio the next week.  He lives a couple of miles outside of the city in the bucolic countryside, and it’s a lovely walk to his house.  He was gracious enough to allow me to spend most of the day in his company, chatting about Old Tom and golf history while he worked on an illustration for a job he was doing.  He has a large collections of books in his collection and let me peruse them, and even allowed me to go out into his front yard and swing the replica clubs he has that are like those Old Tom and Allan Robertson used.  Very neat stuff.

During the course of that afternoon we talked about all sorts of stuff – his dealings with Jack Nicklaus, Ben Crenshaw, and Peter Alliss, of the fun he had working with John Cleese on the commercials, of Jim Caviezal doing push-ups during the filming of Stroke of Genius, the movie about Bobby Jones, and how a scene with David was sacrificed to the cutting-room floor.  Oh, I had a hell of a time.  He also informed me that the first annual St. Andrews Golf Festival was to take place the following week, five days of speakers and exhibits on all things golf.  How lucky could I be, I thought?

I saw him at events during the Golf Festival, including his opening night talk on Old Tom and the awards show at Younger Hall, where Bobby Jones had received the Freedom of the City award in 1958, joining Benjamin Franklin as the only Americans to be bestowed this honor.  David did a Q and A session with the evening’s hostess Pat Norton for about 40 minutes, and they showed videos of Bobby Jones and Mike Reeder, a Vietnam vet who shot a 79 on the Old Course from a wheelchair in 2010.  It was a wonderful evening full of emotion and the director of the festival, Richard Wax, did a heck of a job in pulling it all together.

The last night I was in St. Andrews I was able to catch up with David one last time at the Dunvegan, and bought him a couple pints as he offered his impressions of the Festival and how they can make it better.  I volunteered my services for the next one, since I consider myself a good manager of projects.  Before I left he showed me again the seat Tip Anderson used to occupy as a regualr of the place.  Tip caddied for Arnold Palmer and helped Tony Lema win the 1964 Open.  People come and people go, I thought to myself, but the memories remain and nobody can take those from us.

David told me before we parted that night that we’d keep in touch, and I hope we do.  He is a character in the nicest sense of the word, an artist, an actor, a scholar, a wonderful raconteur (have him tell you the story of Gladys Cheape and the wedding), and a very gracious gentleman to put up with my million questions.  Thank you David and I can’t wait to see your new book (with illustrations of all the Open champions).  I hope to see you again soon.

Reflections on My Last Trip to St. Andrews

April 28, 2012

(What follows is a rambling synopsis of a wonderful trip to Scotland).  You arrive in Edinburgh from Portland, Oregon at 6:30 a.m. after twelve hours on the plane and a two hour layover in Newark, clear customs, jump on the Airlink shuttle to Waverly Station, then schlep your bags about 5 blocks up to the bus station.  You jump on the X60 to St. Andrews, pay the driver £12.50 for the round trip, and two and a half hours later you’re in the home of golf, a bit woozy and wondering what day it is, but there nonetheless.  It was nirvana to return to a place that holds so much history beyond the world of golf, but it was the history of the game that brought me back. 

After dropping off my gear at the St. Andrews Tourist Hostel (great place manager Matthew!) I made my way down North Street to the Old Course.  Today you could never build a golf course in the middle of a city, but then there wasn’t much of a town when they started playing golf here four-hundred years ago.  Quickening my pace, I turned right on Golf Place, past the wonderful Dunvegan Hotel and pub, then left onto the Links, the little road that borders the eighteenth fairway.  I walked slowly past Tom Morris’s shop, and watched a foursome playing up the 18th, crouching down to touch the turf under the white fence rails that border the hole.  Rubbing my fingers over the velvety grass and scratching at the sand underneath, I could feel Old Tom Morris there.  So damn cool!  It brought back memories of seeing Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Tom Watson play here in the 1990 and ’95 British Open.  It also stirred my imagination to consider what the place must have been like when Old Tom was indeed an old man, watching over the links from a chair in front of his shop with his trusted companion, a collie named Silver.

Rain accompanied me the first couple days as I walked around the town and the cathedral grounds, visiting the graves of Old and Young Tom, before exploring the castle ruins.  The sun came out that first weekend there and stayed around for two weeks, an occurrence the locals claimed to be extraordinary – an early summer it was!  I took advantage of it and loved walking past the harbor and along the East Sands washed by the breaking waves of the North Sea, following the Fife Coast Trail to the new Castle Course, the seventh course built in St. Andrews.  From there, high on the hillside, you have a fantastic view back to the town.

With such great weather the beach was teaming with people, as were the streets as I made my way down back to the course, which I visited every day to watch players go off the first and come up the eighteenth.  I saw a few funky shots during my stay but most of the people who come here can play the game well.  Next to the second tee lies the putting green of the Ladies Golf Club, formed in 1867 after caddies complained that the ladies were crowding them out of their own little putting course next to the site of the current Rusacks Hotel.  Mrs. Boothby, wife of a prominent R&A member, suggested that a quiet spot across the Swilcan Burn next to the second tee would be a suitable place for a putting course of their own.  The result was the “Himalayas,” so called because of its rolling layout featuring many humps and bumps.  After World War II, the ladies opened the green to public play for a small green fee, currently £2, and is it fun!!  The holes range from 30 to 75 feet generally and you must navigate huge moguls and slopes over a surface that is not so perfect, but I think it must be something like what they putted on a hundred years ago.  I had plenty of 3-putts, a few 4-putts and one 5-putt, but did make a 60 footer my first time around, so that was great.  Another time I did a shorter circuit in 44 putts and made a nice 45 footer on one hole.  On the next hole, a 60 footer running right back toward the second tee, I left it a foot to the right, and hoped the guys waiting to tee off might have noticed my – smirk –prowess.    

On Sundays the course is closed to play and people are allowed to walk it.  So with camera in hand I joined other locals and tourists with their dogs and children, and sallied about the oldest golf course in the world.  For me it was so neat to walk the fairways and greens of every hole, to imagine Sam Snead teeing off #1 in 1946, Bobby Jones hitting into Hill Bunker on  #11 in 1921, and Jack Nicklaus driving over the green on #18 in 1970.  And what was is like for Old Tom and his partner Allan Robertson in the 1840s?  How could these guys even play at all with their primitive clubs and balls? 

At the end of the day, with the setting sun casting long shadows across the last green, I felt sublime, and the place had become familiar to me somehow.  During the week it was off to the library of St. Andrews University each day to research the history of golf here (more on the “Rabbit Wars” in a later post).  One of the things I was able to actually put my hands on was a charter from 1552 signed by Archbishop Jonh Hamilton which confirmed the right of the people, among other things, in “playing at golf, futball, schuteing at all gamis, with all uther manner of pastyme as ever thai pleis.”  I could clearly read the words “golf” in two places on the document and ran my fingers lightly over it (the librarian didn’t make me wear gloves to view it – sorry guys, I HAD to touch it), and to actually see and feel the real thing made the history that much more real.

The folks at the British Golf Museum were also kind enough to allow me to look at the scrapbook of Allan Robertson, the first man to ever break 80 on the Old Course, with a miraculous 79 in 1858.  I tried to get my head around that. This was on a course that played 6,300 yards long in a day when a long drive went just under 200 yards, and with putting greens akin to a patch of grass trimmed short by the teeth of rabbits or sheep.  Wow! 

I regret that my back does not allow me to swing a club as I’d like to since surgery, but I did bring a few clubs to use at the practice center hard by the 16th hole.  I was able to hit a few three quarter 6-irons and 3-woods down the range a decent distance for me now, with the R&A clubhouse, built in 1854, in the background.  That was very cool indeed.  I was also able to hit a few good shots out of a replica of the Road Hole bunker in the short game area, which was a thrill.  I am inspired to work on my therapy and get my back to where I can play the game again, even if I never break 90 again, let alone 80 – the game is too precious to give up without a fight.  I want to go back and play all the courses before I die.  The last night I used the practice range I stopped at the Swilcan Burn bridge on the way back to the hostel, and sat there in the quiet darkness, appreciative that I had the opportunity to spend some precious time in the old grey town again.

By the time I left St. Andrews, alas, the weather had changed, and one day it hailed and snowed off and on until the afternoon, whipped around by a howling wind.  But the golfers were on the first tee, ready to play.  The poor bastards, freezing their asses off – hearty souls for sure, worthy of a salute from the ghost of Old Tom and a bark of approval from Silver.  God bless you all.

St. Andrews Sojourn

April 16, 2012

I spent a wonderful time at the University researching some esoteric areas of golf history, which I will share with my loyal readers (a little joke) in the coming days…weeks…months.  Anyone ever heard of the “Rabbit Wars” that were waged over the Old Course from 1801-1821?  Probably not, but they are a fun part of the lore of the game.  Sifting through dusty, musty smelling letters and papers, I found some nuggets of information about the game’s past, which some may find fascinating, or at least somewhat bizarre.  St. Andrews is the Mecca of golf and I enjoyed discovering the town I last set foot in during the 1995 British Open.  I didn’t have the chance to savor the town then, as all I did was watch the golf from dawn to dusk and then take a bus back to my hostel in Anstrusther, the little village a few miles down the coast. I spent half an afternoon in St. Andrews proper on that visit, and made up for that little snub this time.  I  savored the opportunity to get a sense of the place, and it was glorious.  What could be better then walking the 500 year old course on a Sunday afternoon, the setting sun casting shadows across the rolling fairways?  It was my nirvana.  More to come…….

Sunday on the Old Course

April 16, 2012

Sunday on the Old Course

The flag blowing in the breeze on the 11th green, as the sun begins to set into the River Eden.  Old Course, St. Andrews, Scotland