Royal St. Luke’s Golf Club (Est. 1603)
From: The Secretary
The recent decision by Lord Fanshawe, the President of the R&A, to issue a series of ex cathedra Statements on the origins of golf’s often obscure terminology is to be welcomed. For example, the origin of the classic warning cry of ‘Fore !’ turns out to be a shortening of ‘Forecaddy!’ referring to those largely defunct attendants who were positioned well ahead of the players to spot errant drives. They had an uncanny ability to find the ball in deep rough – and often in a remarkably good lie…
Lord Fanshawe has now asked me to make a Statement on the origin of the ‘The Mulligan’, the term for the retaken drive. I am happy to do this and, in doing so, to clear up the very real confusion over the etymology of this useful but totally illegal activity.
Dermot Fingal Mulligan was a respected horse breeder and dealer from Ballinasloe, Co. Galway, in the west of Ireland. A witty and gregarious man with a wide circle of friends in the equestrian community of Erin, Mulligan was also a golfer and a prominent member of the Correenbeg Golf Club, known locally as the Golf & Hurling club. The latter title referred not to any Gaelic game activity, but to the propensity of exasperated members to fling errant clubs into the river Suck, a tributary of the Shannon, which flows peacefully beside its narrow fairways.
Now, Dermot Mulligan had a rare but distressing medical problem which would flare up episodically and without warning, causing its victim embarrassment without limit and sometimes injury. Like its neurological cousin the Tourette syndrome, in which the patient suddenly shouts imprecations without provocation, Mulligan’s disability was autonomous and capricious. However, unlike Tourette’s, his problem was not up in his head, it was down, well down, below…
Dermot Mulligan had Type II progressive anorectal stenosis (PAS). As its name implies, this is a condition in which the rectum, or terminal bowel, becomes progressively narrowed or stenosed, leading to a spectacular increase in the speed of gases passing through it. In most cases, classed as PAS Type I, this is not a major issue since the problem can be detected by barium studies and corrected surgically.
However, in the rarer but more embarrassing PAS Type II, as in Mulligan’s case, the rectal narrowing is further increased by bowel spasm induced by the gas hydrogen sulphide (H2S). This narrows the rectum even further, thus accelerating the already fast passing gas, or wind, to extremely high Mach numbers.
The actual velocity of emergent wind can reach up to 250 mph and effectively turns the terminal bowel into what is known in aviation as a ramjet.
The patient receives only the briefest warning of what is about to happen, when a touch of colic indicates that the rectal ramjet is about to operate. He knows then to hold on tight to any available structure, since he is about to be powerfully subjected to Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion. Depending on the precise direction in which his rear is pointing when the ramjet blasts off, the patient is instantly propelled forwards up to 8 feet if standing, or one foot upwards if recumbent. The volume of expelled gas being relatively small, the episode is not malodorous, while the noise it creates – a thin, high pitched scream – is usually drowned by the even higher-pitched yell of the victim and the alarmed cries of those toward whom he is suddenly and rapidly projected. Not surprisingly, those afflicted by PAS Type II go to great lengths to avoid dietary items that generate colonic hydrogen sulphide. The precise labelling of foodstuffs in recent years has helped, greatly reducing the incidence of attacks and, consequently, injuries to the patient and innocent bystanders. However some foods remain unlabelled and intelligent men like Dermot Mulligan have to take precautions.
Now, you can probably see where this is leading. Mulligan took great care with both his diet and his bodily positioning in order to minimise an attack. He never stood less than eight feet from a precipice and always descended staircases backwards, talking the while and keeping pace with those descending conventionally. In bed he wore a crash helmet (as did Mrs Mulligan) and he slept prone rather than supine, the bedstead reinforced by multiple cushions nailed to the headboard. Nevertheless there were casualties, sadly including his own equestrian career. This ended in the final of the show jumping at the Dublin Horse Show when he was unfortunate to experience a major ramjet just as he and his mare Doonbeg were approaching take-off at the High Wall. To the astonishment of the crowd, it was not Doonbeg but Dermot who took off, incurring a record 28 Faults and pithy comments from the wall reconstruction squad. And then there was his golf.
His fellow members at Correenbeg GC knew that tension fuelled the ramjet and that Dermot was at his most tense on the first tee, where an attack would result in the ball ending up OB and Mulligan in the gorse bushes. After many incidents when he had rocketed into one of his playing partners in the act of driving, a Local Rule had to be enacted whereby any player distracted, cannoned, or otherwise jetted into by Dermot Mulligan might retake their drive without penalty. This dispensation naturally became known as a Mulligan and rapidly spread worldwide as the generic term for a free reload.
Other clubs visited by Mulligan during his lifetime were rather less accommodating and following a spasm at The Open at Carnoustie when he jetted into the leader Fernando Gonzalez who was putting on the 17th, he was politely asked by the R&A to restrict his activities to the tented village. Here, however, he was for years the life and soul of the splendid Bollinger Tent.
“Ah, sure and ’twas no hardship at all, now” said the ever cheerful Dermot later, “and doesn’t good Champagne put out the pilot light on the gas!”