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Alistair Cooke
Most famous in Britain for his weekly "Letter from America", Cooke was a keen player and observer of the game.

In golf, humiliations are the essence of the game.

Golf is an open exhibition of overweening ambition, courage deflated by stupidity, skill soured by a whiff of arrogance.

To get an elementary grasp of the game of golf, a human must learn, by endless practice, a continuous and subtle series of highly unnatural movements, involving about sixty-four muscles, that result in a seemingly natural swing, taking two seconds to begin and end.

It is a wonderful tribute to the game or to the dottiness of the people who play it that for some people somewhere there is no such thing as an insurmountable obstacle, an unplayable course, the wrong time of the day or year.

There is even - as with no other game - a fascinating detective literature, a wry commentary on the human comedy, implicit in the book of rules.

The Masters is more like a vast Edwardian garden party than a golf tournament.

The Scots say that Nature itself dictated that golf should be played by the seashore. Rather, the Scots saw in the eroded sea coasts a cheap battleground on which they could whip their fellow men in a game based on the Calvinist doctrine that man is meant to suffer here below and never more than when he goes out to enjoy himself.

I have an insane desire to shave a stroke or two off my handicap.
(On why he was retiring from Masterpiece Theater)

They have been playing golf for 800 years and nobody has satisfactorily said why.

The emblem on the necktie reserved for the members of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews -- The Vatican of golf -- is of St. Andrew himself bearing the slatier cross on which, once he was captured at Patras, he was to be stretched before he was crucified.Only the Scots would have thought of celebrating a national game with the figure of a tortured saint.

For every game of golf is an open exhibition of overweening ambition, courage deflated by stupidity, skill sourced by a whiff of arrogance.

The best thing about Eisenhower's Presidency was his Jeffersonian conviction that there should be as little government and as much golf as possible.

[Golfers] are a special kind of moral relist who nips the normal romantic and idealstic yearnings in the bud by proving once or twice a week that life is unconquerable but endurable.

I hasten to say to snobs from the Surrey pine-and-sand country that no invention since the corn plaster or the electric toothbrush has brought greater balm to the extremities of the senior golfer than the golfmobile, a word that will have to do for want of a better.

It rose slowly like a gull sensing a reckless blue fish to close to the surface, and then it dived relentlessly for the green, kicked and stopped three feet short of the flag.

Sir Guy Campbell's classic account of the formation of the links, beginning with Genesis and moving step by step to the thrilling arrival of 'tilth' on the fingers of coastal land, suggests that such notable features of our planet as dinosaurs, the prairies, the Himalayas, the seagull, the female of the species herself, were accidental by-products of the Almighty's preoccupation with the creation of the Old Course at St. Andrews.
(Foreword to The World Atlas of Golf)

Americans are less mystical about what produced their inland or meadow courses; they are the product of the bulldozerm rotary ploughs, mowers, sprinkler systems and alarmingly generous wads of folding money.
(Foreword to The World Atlas of Golf)

More than anything else, though, to anyone who would write about it, golf offers a four-hour drama in two acts, which becomes memorable even in the tape-recorded reminiscenses of old champs, and which - in the hands of someone like Herb Wind - can become a piece of war correspondence as artfully controlled as Alan Morehead's account of Gallipoli.

For many years I had an impression of my golf swing, which was that I vividly resembled Tom Weiskopf in the takeaway and Dave Marr on the downswing. Unfortunately, there came a day when I was invited to have my golf swing filmed via a video camera. Something I will never do again. When it was played back, what I saw - what you would have seen - was not Weiskopf and Marr but a man simultaneously climbing into a sweater and falling out of a tree.

I wrote to Mr. McEnroe, Senior. I said: "Here is the sentence once written by the immortal Bobby Jones. I thought you might like to have it done in needlepoint and mounted in a suitable frame to hang over Little John's bed." It says, "The rewards of golf - and of life, too, I expect - are worth very little if you don't play the game by the etiquette as well as by the rules." I never heard from Mr. McEnroe, Senior. I can only conclude that the letter went astray.

When that happens [the demise of golf], old men will furtively beckon to their sons and, like fugitives from the guillotine recalling the elegant orgies at the court of Louis XV, will recite the glories of Portmarnock and Merion, of the Road Hole at St. Andrews, the sixth at Seminole, the eighteenth at Pebble Beach. They will take out this volume from its secret hiding place and they will say: "There is no question, son, that these were unholy places in an evil age. Unfortunately, I had a whale of a time."
(Foreword to The World Atlas of Golf)

It became slowly but painfully apparent that playing a different sized ball in the championship matches of each country would present a problem, if not an ultimatum. The R & A followed the usual practice of British diplomacy. They thought a sensible compromise was possible, in the shape of a ball somewhere in between. They manufactured two experimental balls, 1.65 and 1.66 inches in diameter respectively. They were offered to the Americans as a proud solution. The Americans, however, remembering Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase (which was unconstitutional, and sneaky, but worked), had a better idea. Why not compromise, they suggested, by using our ball. And so it was. The bigger American ball is now compulsory in all R & A championships and in British professional tournaments.

So the British, of all ages, still walk the course. On trips to Florida or the American desert, they still marvel, or shudder, at the fleets of electric carts going off in the morning like the first assault wave at the Battle of El Alamein. It is unlikely, for some time, that a Briton will come across in his native land such a scorecard as Henry Longhurst rescued from a California club and cherished till the day he died. The last on its list of local rules printed the firm warning "A Player on Foot Has No Standing on the Course."

 

 






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