Winged Foot Golf Club Mamaroneck, NY, USA
Now approaching the end of a most enjoyable and instructive 3-week lecture tour of our ex- Colonies, this comes to you from just north of New York City and from one of the finest – and most hospitable – of US Open venues.
American interest in the history of the game is intense, audiences here being keen to know if the game did originate with the Scots – or was it a variant of Kolf from the Netherlands. Interestingly, this was being played in 1690 at the Dutch colony of Fort Oraanje on the Hudson river, long before golf first arrived from Scotland at Charleston, S. Carolina in 1743.
The Chinese have also been busily at work here, alleging that their game of Ch’ui Wan (hit ball with stick in Mandarin), was the original game. Indeed to the consternation of the R&A, the Cultural Ministry in Beijing has now released a 14th Century print of the Emperor Wu Ping playing a ball towards a hole with a flag in it. I patiently explained that Ch’ui Wan was brought to China from North Berwick where to this day the 10th hole on that great links is named Eastward Ho! This commemorates the arrival, in 1430, of a Chinese squadron in the Firth of Forth and the sensational disruption of a Monthly Medal competition by a landing party of armed marines escorting Admiral Zheng Ho.
Now, I am not making this up! Zheng Ho was a real admiral, commanding a fleet of large oceangoing junks. He returned to China with the game, his home port of Wusan being now hailed in the Orient as ‘The Ho of Golf’.
In my last column I reported an invitation I had received to attend a ‘ball game’ in Washington DC. Sadly, this proved not to be golf, but a baseball match between the local team, the Washington Nationals and the San Francisco Giants. Having been a keen cricketer in my youth and never having seen live baseball, I was keen to go. As is well known, baseball evolved from cricket, just as their football, with its outrageous forward passes, evolved from rugby.
Right enough, baseball proved to be as far from cricket as New York is from Middle Wallop. The whole thing is illegal. For example, the pitcher (bowler) was guilty of blatant throwing from the very start, subjecting the hapless batter (batsman) to an unending series of full tosses, wides, no-balls and flagrant beamers, all totally ignored by the umpire. The batter swung furiously at the occasional ball within reach, but the game largely consisted of the pitcher and the catcher (wicket-keeper) throwing the ball to each other, to the noisy delight of the 45,000 crowd. Quite astonishing.
In the rare event of a connection, the batter then legged it in the direction of First Base (midoff) where, if the fielded ball arrived before he did, it was a run out. Hitting the ball anywhere to the rear from square leg round to cover-point was a ‘foul’ and it was no surprise that after two hours of this behaviour – and six innings by each side – not one single run had been scored. There would have been 150 scored in any competent game of cricket, which is nevertheless dismissed outright by the Colonists as ‘boring’, convinced as they are that the result is always a draw.
Even more disappointing for myself at this game was the non-appearance of the ‘sausage mortar’. This is a device similar to the military variety – i.e. a near-vertical steel tube with a gas canister at its bottom – which fires pre-cooked sausages into the crowd. Apparently there had been problems with the mortar at a previous game; when the sausage blasted out of the mortar barrel, the force of the slipstream had stripped off its protective wrapping – and that of the accompanying sachets of ketchup and mustard. This resulted in fans in the bleachers (cheap seats) being regularly splattered with red and yellow condiment, while the sausage sailed on up to the appreciative nobs in the galleries. Anyway, the game ended, after nine innings each, in a 2-0 win for the Nationals to the delight of the crowd which streamed off to ‘grab a dog’, apparently a culinary treat – and also the best way to actually get the runs…
But to return to golf; one remarkable feature of some older US golf clubs is an attitude to women which would attract prison sentences here, following the Equality Act (2010).
At one club in Columbus, Ohio, I was told that women were not only banned from the course and clubhouse, but might not even leave the car when delivering their husbands for a round. One evening at the clubhouse, a wife was denied the urgent use of a restroom (toilet) when dropping off her husband for a Board meeting. When he got home she read the Riot Act.
‘Do you know,’ she snapped, ‘that the nearest restroom was down at the far end of the road at an Esso gas station? There I was given a rusty key with a piece of wood on the end of it. I was then sent round the back to find, and use, the dirtiest, most insanitary restroom in America. Something must be done!’
‘Honey,’ said her husband. ‘You’re absolutely right. I apologise. I’ll raise it with the Board – and something will be done.
A month later, as he got home from the next Board meeting, his wife demanded: ‘Well, has action been taken?’
‘Honey, it has. They were just appalled at what happened to you. The Board has voted eight thousand dollars to upgrade the restroom at the gas station...’