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 THE MAJOR

Major RJM Warren-Dawlish M.C. has been Secretary of Royal St Luke’s Golf Club in Suffolk since 1985. A leading authority on the Rules of Golf, guerrilla tactics and continental drift, he has graciously agreed to publish items of his correspondence is these columns. The opinions, prejudices and obsessions expressed are his alone and do not (necessarily) reflect those of Golf International or Golf Today.
EDITED BY PROF. DAVID PURDIE - ILLUSTRATION BY SANDY ROBB

Royal St. Luke’s Golf Club (Est. 1603)
pulsa inveni repulsa

From; The Secretary,
The Clubhouse,
1 Links Road,
Carrington Magna,
Suffolk SU3 1GC

Golf was formally introduced to the United States in 1888 with the founding in Yonkers, NY, of the St. Andrew’s Golf Club, presently enjoying its 125th anniversary celebrations.

Incidentally, this 125th lark seems to have begun with Royal Belfast GC, at which I received an invitation to speak. “But why a 125th ?” said I to the Captain on the phone. “Sure, we had such a grand time at the Centenary” came the Ulster brogue, “and sure we’ll all be dead by the 150th!”

I went. As usual with Ulster golf, it was marvellous. Anyway, back to the Land of the Free drop. John Reid, a Scottish emigrant and friends played their first games on a three-hole course routed through an orchard: Hence, the sobriquet ‘The Apple Tree Gang’ for the founders of the St Andrews club.

However, balls and clubs had crossed the Atlantic long before Reid teed it up among the fruit trees. Known originally as The Ancyent & Healthfulle Exercyse of the Golff, the game became sufficiently popular in Scotland to get itself (and ‘ye fute-balle’) banned in 1457 by a furious King James II because of their interference with archery practice. The Scottish Army was then regularly involved in a series of major strokeplay events with its English counterpart and the King wanted the air full of feathered arrows, not feathery golf balls.

The union of Scotland and England in 1707 precipitated a great series of emigrations that took the Scots all over the former British Empire and wherever they went they took their beloved game with them. The first club in the Americas was Royal Montreal in 1873, but the game itself preceded any Club by well over a century, arriving in Charleston, South Carolina in 1739.

Now, how was it that golf remained essentially the same game on both sides of the Atlantic? The question initially seems odd, until one reflects on what happened to other Great British field games in the hands of our American cousins: cricket metamorphosed into baseball and rugby into American football. The changes are major: after a hit, a baseball ‘batter’ sets off at high speed in the general direction of mid-off, while footballers consistently get away with outrageous forward passes. However, similarities remain. The distance from pitcher to batter is the same as from bowler to batsman – while a score in football still remains a ‘Touchdown!’, despite the helmeted and armoured scorer flinging the ball skywards as he crosses the line.

So why has golf escaped the Darwinian evolution of the other field sports? Enter Charles Blair MacDonald of Chicago.

Thanks to his membership of the Rules Committees of both the R&A and the USGA – and to his seismic personality (measuring over 8.0 on the Richter Scale) golf did not follow the trend. It remained on parallel tracks except for rare divergences such as the Schenectady Putter and the size of the British golf ball.

But what if… What if the game had been left to evolve in America, unrestrained by its ties to the Old Country? What then?

A fascinating question.

I have been discussing this with Anthony Pioppi, author of several books on the US game and a fellow Machrihanish Dunes devotee.

To understand what could have happened, says Anthony, you need to understand the American sports mentality. There is a deep and overt military terminology in all US games. A long pass in football and a long home-run in baseball are both referred to as ‘bombs.’ The top of the batting order in baseball, or the scorers in basketball are ‘Big Guns’, while in both hockey and basketball, the more deft scorers are ‘snipers.’

In football, quarterbacks fire ‘bullets’ from the ‘rifle’ they have for an arm. Got it? Sport is a shooting gallery.

Americans are also not fans of what they see as ‘unfair’ (i.e. unpredictable) bounces. That is why their courses are lush green, where balls land and behave themselves stay put. Sharp kicks to left or right on firm, brown, summer links are loathed and cursed. In other words Rubs of the Green are despised – and would have been rubbed out, though not with a ‘rubber’. What about The Rules? Take the 14-club rule: The US is a country that worships all-you-can-eat buffets. Anything worth doing is worth overdoing. You wouldn’t send an army to battle with a limit on its weapons, would you? Of course not.

Carry as many clubs as you like – and have your caddy bring more. Follow the mantra of our politicians, “I have Principles – and if you don’t like ’em, I have others!”

Fourteen clubs indeed – it’s a restraint of trade.

What about The Hole? Take that restrictive 4¼ diameter cup. Far too small! George Thomas, author of Golf Course Architecture in America thought there was far too much emphasis on putting. Putts would be counted as a half-stroke and the cup as a half-foot – i.e. 6 inches, minimum. Bombers cannot be deft with a pocketknife. Putting and quiche are for cissies. Driving of all sorts in the States, is for real men. Big heads; big grips; big cars; bigger trucks; the biggest nuclearpowered aircraft carriers on Earth. Yeah!

Take Architecture: The US is a country that thinks carpet-bombing wins every war. With no time for nuance or strategizing so, carpet-bomb the fairways! This style of golf course was the norm as Robert T. Jones changed the way Americans viewed golf courses. A born huckster in the P.T. Barnum mould, Jones gave himself the middle name of Trent because he thought it sounded good. He waxed poetic about the Old Course and the links of the British Isles – and then convinced Greens Committees to let him disregard their heritage.

Jones created long tees, referred to as ‘runways,’ for his human B52s and pinched landing areas with no preferred side from which to approach the green. He put hazards in front of putting surfaces, forcing approach shots to be flown in and not run on. Long hitters, especially long bombers, were to be given the greatest reward in the Home of the Brave...

Enough. The game grew to fame in America and came of age in 1913 when a skinny kid called Ouimet won the US Open. I leave for that course, The Country Club at Brookline outside Boston, next week to speak at their Centennial – and, if I survive the carpet-bombing, I shall report in GI’s next issue.

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

 

 
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