Royal St. Luke’s Golf Club (Est. 1603)
From: The Secretary/Aug 20
I have just returned from the People’s Republic of China where I was a referee in the inaugural Olympic Golf Tournament – and it was some occasion, I may tell you. Just as the advent of 20/20 cricket outraged the old bufties of the MCC, so the International Olympic Committee’s announcement of the format of the Beijing golf events caused a sensation at the R&A. However, the interminable 72-hole medal format – broken only by Ryder Cup matchplay – was overdue a shake-up and it certainly came here in China.
Everything was done to eliminate the unfair advantages which pervade professional golf. Players were permitted their own clubs but, as should happen in all tournaments, identical balls were issued by the committee and these were of the new DL (‘Distanced-Limited’) variety, which even T.Woods cannot hit beyond 275 yard. Players were also issued with identically sized Chinese caddies, each wearing what appeared to be a conical lampshade on his head. No verbal contact was permitted between player and caddie, all of whom were athletes capable of a sub five-minute mile, for reasons that will immediately become apparent.
The first event was the individual 36- hole Time Trial, won by the Australian Greg McDonald in a time of 1 hour 12 mins and 34.87 seconds. In the heats, Von Recklinghausen (Germany) displayed great athleticism in hitting powerful shots while running at speed but overran the 16th green, sped on into the Bollinger Tent and disappeared. The fact that the actual score was of no consequence was a new departure in golf – but the final, when McDonald and Ugorokov of Uzbekistan raced down the 18th, played their approaches neck and neck, holed out and then sprinted for the tape, was just sensational.
The Steeplechase, another novel format provided great entertainment as well as high drama due to the heavy rains of the previous night. These had raised the level of the Hwang Ho brook more than somewhat and several of the shorter competitors had to swim, some being swept away into the nets thoughtfully provided downstream. There were predictable moans that some of the fairway barriers were far too high, especially for those caddies without army assault course experience. This event was won by Ethiopia in a time of 2h.17m and 57.767 seconds.
Even more dramatic was the next day’s Final of the Team Pursuit when Great Britain (Willis and Hathaway), starting at the 14th, had played through no less than six other pairings between the shotgun start and the hooter. There was a disagreeable incident when Willis’s drive felled Agostinio (Brazil) while overtaking them on the 9th, mainly because all shouts of Fore! were banned due to the word’s gynaecological meaning in Mandarin.
Given the worldwide pandemic of slow play, the concept of golfing time trials and team pursuits is to be warmly welcomed. Not only will it speed up play but the large number of coronaries among older members will create vacancies for the youngsters which the game so badly needs. The last Olympic discipline, held at the Jade Mandarin course at Jiangshan, was the synchronised golf. Again, this was a concept rather new to the competitors from theWest, but proved to be one of remarkable aesthetic content and artistic style.
Teams of six are required to tee up and play, in perfect unison, a stroke with driver, mid-iron and lob-wedge, the balls being required to land within an area colour-coded like an archery target. Interestingly, players were to make all shots while wearing the widest possible fixed smile.
Points were awarded for technical merit and for artistic impression and there was a tariff, or scale of difficulty, based on distance and degree of bend. Strokes ranged from the straight shot up to the fade, draw and, remarkably, the shank. Initial objections to the latter shot from the USGA were rejected by the hosts who pointed out that Shanking in Chinese means “good shot”.
The sight of the GB team spending hours shanking away on the practice range while exhibiting fixed grins was remarkable, as was the effect on the press, whose tent was unfortunately just to the right of the playing area. Team GB scored well technically on the hook and especially the high-tariff reverse shank, but fell away badly on artistic impression compared to the Oriental teams, whose matching hairstyles and dental work were simply streets ahead.
Indeed the selection of the GB Team will continue to be a headache. The pros refused to take part in what they saw as target golf, as did the entire Walker Cup squad. The team thus ultimately consisted of half a dozen competent amateurs also capable of doing the 1500 metres, the long jump – or the breaststroke.
At his press conference, the Organising Committee’s Chairman, Mr. Wu Hsien produced compelling evidence that their game of Chuiwan, dating from the Ming Dynasty (11th Century AD), was indeed a 6-man, or woman, team effort of synchronised whacking. As Chuiwan actually features in Dr. David Hamilton’s magisterial book Golf – Scotland’s Game we were not in a strong position to argue.
Handing over to the Chairman of Royal St George’s Golf Club where the golf of the 30th Olympiad will be held in 2012, MrWu expressed the hope that the final event, not included this year, would be sand-iron tossing, known in China as Ping Fling. Akin to hammer throwing, this event sees a competitor spin up to five times in a defined circle before releasing the club.
Distances of over 60 metres have been achieved. However, as club throwing of any description is rather frowned upon at St George’s, the Sandwich Sandwedge event may have to await more enlightened times.
RJM /Warren-Dawlish, Secretary.