Merion G.C., Ardmore, Pennsylvania,USA.
This is the first column I have submitted to Gi from a location other than Royal St. Lukes. Not without trepidation, I have left the Club for three weeks in the charge of the Captain, Sgt. Maj. Watkins our gate guardian and my assistant Harriet Harrison known (with justification) as The Harridan.
So, greetings from the far side of the great water hazard, where I am midway through a 12-stop lecture tour, speaking on the history of the Game – and promoting my book, The Greatest Game: The Ancyent & Healthfulle Exercyse of the Golff.
With text from me and original artwork by the artist Hugh Dodd (Muirfield) the book is a thundering good read and, if you ask me, cheap at twice its price. It achieved remarkably healthful sales in the US, to our surprise given its somewhat Pythonesque sense of humour and liberal use of irony, which Americans are not supposed to understand, but do! However, it resulted in a splendid set of invitations to lecture at Golf Clubs here, one of which is the outstanding Merion which will host the US Open in 2013.
Our ex-colonists are truly a remarkable lot.
Adamant that they will never give up the Independence they rebelliously declared on 4th July 1776, they were nevertheless prepared almost to a man – and certainly to a woman – to get up at 4 a.m. last Friday to gaze adoringly at the wedding of the Queen’s grandson.
Before Prince William’s birth in 1982, odds were offered by Ladbrokes on the name of the still unborn Prince – and will undoubtedly be offered again when the very bonny Princess Kate is expecting. American audiences found these to be hilarious:
Evens (fav.) William
500,000 :1 Elvis.
The next week, Private Eye had a splendid cartoon of Prince Charles and a very pregnant Princess Di looking into a Ladbrokes window where these odds were displayed – with she saying to him: “Oh come on, Charlie! After all, Elvis was King…”
My tour began with The Country Club, Brookline, scene of a famously noisy Ryder Cup in 1999 and also the venue for American golf’s true coming of age. This was in 1913 when young Francis Ouimet, with a schoolboy for his caddy, sensationally overcame Harry Vardon and Ted Ray to win a playoff for the US Open. The tour then takes in Pine Valley, Merion, Baltusrol and Winged Foot, finally ending in Boston. Your exhausted correspondent will then be hoisted aboard a flight back to Blighty with an armful of memories to inflict on Gi readers in the coming months.
As usual the English language both unites and divides the nations. For example, I had forgotten that my Plus-fours are not Plus-fours in the USA – they are knickerbockers, usually shortened to knickers. In one locker room, I distinctly heard a member behind me say to a friend, “Waal, looky there Harry, that guy’s wearin’ knickers!”. Naturally one did not turn round – but said to oneself, “How on earth can he tell?”
It was equally odd to find that a jacket is a coat here, a blazer a vest while, alarmingly, braces are suspenders. I duly warned my hosts that if they were, for example at Carnoustie, it would be inadvisable to confide to a gnarled Scots caddy that one’s suspenders were getting tight and that a new pair of knickers was on the shopping list. The oldest golf courses of America are marvellous.
Pine Valley, most difficult of them all by common consent, opened in 1919 having been carved out of a New Jersey wilderness by George Crump, a Philadelphia hotelier and sportsman, who brought in – or rather brought over – the great Harry Colt, course designer and Secretary of Sunningdale, to advise on the layout and the routing of the track. The whole atmosphere of the Club is devoted to the finer points of the game. In the Dormy House annexe where I lodged, my room had a carpet, a bed, and a ‘closet’ (wardrobe.) It did not have a telephone, TV, minibar, Wi-Fi, ensuite khazi or indeed any impediment to the sole function of the room; a place to repose and gird one’s loins before facing the great beast next morning.
The whole country is golf mad. But what is most interesting is the fact that the game is played to the same Rules and etiquette as we use at home – while cricket and rugby have, well, altered somewhat in evolving into baseball and their football. The latter game had a connection with golf through the great Payne Stewart, US Open champion and Ryder Cup stalwart. He used to be contracted to the ‘NFL’ apparently the Premier League here, to wear on each day of a tournament, the colours of one of its teams:
“Steward, who on earth is that?” once cried an octogenarian noble of the R&A as Stewart, magnificent in green and white, swept past the windows of the Big Room. The team colours deal was explained.
“How extraordinary” said the old boy, “so, who is he today?” The steward said, “Today, my Lord, I understand that he is a Dolphin of Miami…”
At the weekend, I am invited to attend a baseball game between the Nationals of Washington and the Giants of San Francisco – which will feature the famous ‘sausage mortar’ a device which apparently fires pre-cooked sausages into the crowd. One suspects the occasion will little resemble an afternoon at Lord’s.