A Lesson from a Lady in Scotland
by Gib Papazian
‘What is it, exactly, that you Americans are doing on a golf course for four hours?’
The query had come from my newfound Scottish friend as we were sharing a pint in a modest hotel bar in East Lothian, Scotland. We had been discussing the cultural differences between the American and Scottish attitudes towards golf. He was a member of the Royal and Ancient on a weekend golf outing with some of his fellow members. My companions and I were a foursome of traveling pilgrims who had journeyed to Mecca in search of the true roots of golf – and a sad example of the results of reading ‘Golf in the Kingdom’ too many times.
Naturally, our conversation turned to the most glaring and sensitive difference in our two golfing cultures, the pace of play. Sensing and international incident in the making, my American companions bravely excused themselves off to bed, leaving me to fend for myself.
I explained that, while four hours seems like an eternity to a Scotsman to play a round of golf, in the United States we have been conditioned to consider that acceptable.
Unfortunately, I then made the mistake of revealing that it is hardly unusual to suffer through five or even six-hour rounds on our public courses at home.
THE ROOM fell silent . . . an astonished silence. In a less civilized age, I would have been convicted of heresy and burned at the stake.
You see, there are very few private clubs in Scotland. The local public course is a source of great pride in the community, and the idea of a golfer being so thoughtless and rude as to take up that much time is unthinkable.
Golf in Scotland is played in 3 Ã‚½ hours maximum. Period. Players holding up the parade are firmly admonished by marshals that they must keep up – and everyone does.
In our country, marshals are often so worried about offending somebody that they hesitate to push slow groups along. They ought to worry far more about not offending the players stacked up behind them. We should take a lesson fro the Scots, and empower (90’s newspeak buzzword) our marshals with the authority to crack the whip on the donkeys, or toss them off the track.
Give the worst offenders the hook and the word would get around quickly that slugs are not tolerated. Any course with the guts to follow through with this policy would soon find itself a haven for fast players. It also doesn’t take a mathematician to to calculate the increase in revenue from the additional green fees.
Golf’s popularity grows every day all over the world. We need to educate the new crop of converts that a five-hour death march is not normal.
Tournament play is one thing, and it is understandable how in pressure situations golf can take slightly longer. What is not understandable is how a guy can plumb-bob an 18-inch putt for quadruple-bogey while the rest of humanity are pitching tents waiting.
PEOPLE WHO watch and emulate professionals on the PGA Tour should remember that there is a huge difference between playing your brother-in-law for a two-dollar nassau, and playing for a Green Jacket with 20 million people watching.
I though of my Scottish friend several days later at St. Andrews, when in the shadow of the Royal and Ancient, we stumbled upon the true roots of golf. Her name was Clara McInnes, and she was 78 years old.
We were seated on the steps behind the 18th green of the Old Course watching groups come in.
She came marching down the fairway with a canvass golf bag slung over her shoulder.
Stopping only to swat the ball with her old brassie, her much younger playing partners – and their caddies toting enormous golf bags – struggled to keep up.
Clara wisely played a perfect bump and run shot up the front of the green through the ‘Valley of Sin,’ the ball coming to rest 10 feet from the pin.
While the rest of the group was busy chili-dipping their pitch shots, Clara pulled her ancient putter out of the bag and walked briskly onto the green directly behind her ball. She read the line as she did.
When it was her turn to putt, she barely hesitated and rammed that 10-footer into the back of the cup.
Naturally we all began clapping. Looking back, maybe it wasn’t just her putt we were applauding. Maybe it was that Clara McInnes represents golf as it was meant to be played, or perhaps we were clapping for Scotland, and the game we love so much.
There is a lesson here for all of us.
She acknowledged us with a curtsey and a wink, picked up her bag and set off for home.
What is it then, exactly, that we Americans are doing on a golf course?