Feature Interview with Alfie & Harry Ward

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You quickly realised you needed a facility for golfers – is this modern or was it always so? Was that discouraging? Are modern golfers mostly wimps?

Ehm. Excuse me Mr Morrissett. That’s three questions! No! I don’t think that the modern golfer is a wimp … although the jury may still be out on that one? Golfers, both young and old, have just been led astray for many years now. The ruling bodies, in collusion with the industry, have been allowed to forcibly evolutionise (new word BTW) golf in areas which should have been more thoughtfully considered. They (R&A/USGA) have always known that wee Jimmy Gowfers will do exactly as they are instructed to do in  accordance with rules and etiquette. Aye! Maybe they are wimps after all.

Anyway. Golfers have always necessitated a facility in some shape or form. It may have been a simple hut for basic shelter and storing their clubs, to a typically modest wooden pavilion type building, to a proper stone and mortar building complete with shunky and lounge area (think – rear of 18th green at TOC). Of course, the act of playing golf was only half of the day’s entertainment. Those early gentlemen of golf were far from being daft because they would have their woman-folk organised to make the tea and organise all sorts of ‘soiree’ after the actual game was over. Golf was a truly social event in the old days with Ran on the piano, Harry on the fiddle, and me the accompanying baritone. Well, that sort of thing.

In regard to a facility at Arbory, we tried to ‘get away’ with not having one pre-Foot & Mouth but it became blatantly obvious from our first customers’ reactions that we badly needed a reasonable facility complete with – shunky! If we’d been a small group setting up our own private golf course, we could have gotten away with just having a hut. In reality, we were setting up a golf tourism attraction. So, at considerable outlay, we plumped for the pavilion type … with a shunky. And a bonnie wee place it was.

Happy smiling faces. Post golf – Arbory style.

Happy smiling faces. Post golf – Arbory style.

Tell us about the thought process behind offering free golf to juniors.

Financially, we were never going to make much money from a junior section because we only had about ten kids who used the course and they used their own clubs and balls. So long as they weren’t causing any agro or getting in the way, we welcomed their presence. Of course, our terms and conditions were made distinctly clear to both the kids themselves and their parents that no nonsense would be tolerated. Otherwise the deal was off! Harry, in particular, has keenly supported the juniors for many years now and I’m sure it would have been him who raised the question of allowing juniors to play the course. A decision which required little debate, other than those terms and conditions!

I remember being chastised early on, from an American collector (and possibly – purist?) for allowing golfers to use to their own modern clubs on this historic course. We took exception to such criticism and he was promptly ‘put in his place!’ We were more than happy to see a few fathers and son, grandfathers and grandchildren, out on our wee course enjoying golf with any equipment. Arbory Brae was a place for all golfers.

What does the saying “the green will improve with play” mean in practice and how true did you find it?

Try walking your dog on the same line through a field for a fortnight and see what impact you’ve made on the land! Then you have the sheep and the tracks they make by retracing their steps uphill and down dale? Why they do that, I don’t know, but golfers are just like marauding sheep except with far bigger feet, and golf being golf, golfers are all over the place! There can be little doubt that the early courses, especially inland, certainly did improve with play. I think there was also an element of – ‘please be patient’ until the green-keeper has had a chance to make things better?

However. This question raises a hypothetical minefield of unanswered questions that will remain unanswered, unfortunately. To explain, Harry and I had already witnessed a mini-evolution of Arbory Braes over those first few years of tinkering. We visualised a potential problem as a result because we didn’t actually want this course to improve or change from the time capsule we had nurtured it into! I have little doubt that the course would have continued to improve as more players passed over it. That would have been a problem for us!

What do you make of “restorations” that seek to take account of the changes in distance and playability that modern equipment has brought?

Oakhurst Links is pretty much a restoration. Arbory Brae was pretty much a ‘true’ restoration by definition. I’ve criticised the American model of restoration in the past purely by definition of the word restoration. I do feel that it’s a complete travesty that golf clubs have to hire architects to have their course ‘upgraded’ to try and keep apace with technology, but that’s the way it is. Until everybody involved with the sport dedicates their mindset to the best interests of the sport – then we will forever need, so called, restorations. Perhaps a cure for this aging disease may be for the golf clubs to simply leave their course as it is, and to hell with further distance improvements!

Those who came loved their experience, please share with us the story of the visit from Mr and Mrs Smith?

Oh I wish I could remember their real names. They were a really lovely retired couple from England who appeared out of the blue one day as they were returning home after a St Andrews pilgrimage. The full story is in the book but I’ll give the shorter version here. When they arrived I gave them full complimentary hospitality (tea/coffee and biscuits) and an explanation of what they had come to. A few people had turned up in the past and discovered it wasn’t for them because ‘they didn’t get it!’  That was OK from our perspective – it was their loss! Anyway, Mr & Mrs Smith had a great day of golf and learned quite a lot along the way. Mr Smith was the golfer and Mrs Smith had a good walk (unspoiled).

After nine holes of golf we adjourned for tea and biscuits once more with more chattering and a gutta golf ball lesson, as was the norm. I offered them another nine holes free of charge which was politely declined as they wanted to get home to England. As they gathered their bits and pieces, Mrs Smith asked what was owed for their splendid day out. I confirmed the £25 fee as stated at the start of play, and I remember the expression on her face. Then she started to protest that – it wasn’t nearly enough! I explained that Arbory wasn’t going to join the Scottish Tourism rip off merchants and they both shook their heads in amazement.

The fee was paid and as they were leaving Mrs Smith turned to shake my hand again but this time trying to slip a £20 note to me which I immediately refused …
‘Oh no, no, no! There’s no need for that. You’ve paid your dues,’ I exclaimed.
‘Please take it, Alfie.’ . . . I interrupted, refusing the money again and stating that I should be thanking them for coming in.
‘Listen to me,’ she said. ‘You don’t understand. We’ve had a wonderful end to our holiday in Scotland.’ . . .
Interrupting again, I argued, ‘But . . .’
She pulled my arm and gave a stern look that clearly said, ‘Just shut your bloody face, son.’ So I did.
‘No. Please listen to me. Jim had always wanted to go on his pilgrimage to St Andrews, but we’d never got round to it. The place is marvellous up there, but we came away very disappointed by the cost of everything. On the way down here, we both agreed that the box was now ticked and that . . . we would never be back in Scotland!’
She smiled and looked into my eyes. ‘But you’ve changed all that, Alfie. This place is like a breath of fresh air, and you’ve made us think again. This was better than St Andrews! Maybe we’ll be back with some friends some day. Keep up the good work and stick with it. Thank you so much.’

I still choke when I think of that parting, as I do with so many others. If only I could have convinced the powers of enterprise that ‘this place’ was indeed special. Then . . . who knows? And as far as St Andrews is concerned, it is undoubtedly an incredibly special place regardless of the tourism exploitation going on there. However, I also believe that every golf course on the planet is an incredibly special place! Bad golf course? Never seen one in my life!

But it’s all in the book, you guys – and gals!

You eventually came to the writings of Max Behr, what did you find most attractive to them?

Ah. Dear Max. I had been blabbing on about the technology factors for some considerable time, before I found the writings of Max Behr, here on this very site! Personally, I experienced a self-satisfying ego blast from his writings from a long gone era in golf. I was amazed at how so many things that were relative to the sport in Max’s day, were so bloody relevant in this modern era, and felt angry as to why that should be. Here is a small extract from his amazing essay of 1927 – The ball problem.

But today the manufacturer of the golf ball is in possession of flexible materials. He is not handicapped by a material which established a natural balance between weight and size. Thus we see that, as the art of the rubber core ball making developed, the manufacturer tried to evolve a ball that would driver further and even further, just as previous generations had by leading and compositions tried to do likewise. This ambition was only natural. The seller of goods generally panders to the blind instincts of his customers. Rarely do we find him an artist considering what the result must be when his goods reach their destination. And the blind instinct that he catered to was an insane desire to merely hit the ball a long way. Having the means now to accomplish this, and one might say aided and abetted by uninstructed authority, he proceeded to add weight and reduce the diameter of the ball, and the traditions surrounding this most important implement of all went by the boards.

And so it goes on, in this year of the Lord, 2014! WHY?

I think there are so few people in golf who possess a really deep grasp of what golf is all about. When I come across Behr’s writing I tend to think of GolfClubAtlas.com’s Tom Paul and all his comments and threads on this site from which, I would like to think, I learned so much from! Thanks go to both of them.

You had some interesting interactions with people along the way including Sandy Tatum and Sean Connery. Tell us about them.

The link with Sandy came by way of an (poorly written) essay I wrote about ten years back. I was circulating this little effort relating, of course, to technology and its effects on our beloved sport … come game? I was on a crusade, and that essay found its way all around the world to various contacts, magazines, and past customers who would now relate more easily to its contents courtesy of their experience at Arbory. Paul Laveroni from the States was one such customer and he offered the essay to his friend Sandy Tatum. I was as chuffed as hell when Paul got back to me saying that Sandy was in agreement with most of my sentiments – so much so, that he presented the essay before the AGM of the USGA! No doubt, the USGA have other opinions on the matter too?
Sean…. eh’mm ‘Sir’ Sean to you guys, was another story. Harry was actually first to encounter The Big Man about a year prior to my own little state of exaltation. Sean was kind enough to pick up the phone to Harry at his home in Lanark and lend his vocal support long before the shit hit the fan. Then, when things were heating up at Arbory under the strain of it all, I decided to try him once again in the hope of securing something more tangible than a phone call. As it turned out, the phone call was Sean’s best offer because he was going to a bloody football game instead of coming to wee Arbory! He protested to me that his producers just wouldn’t give him more time off from the film set! Damned rascals that they were. Who knows what that visit might have secured? It was another feather in our cap though, along with Sam Snead, John Panton, Hazel Irvine, Nick Faldo, Ben Crenshaw, Jim Dodson, and a few others.

Explain Bogey golf.

Here’s an extract from The Golfer’s Handbook 1967 ; Bogey – Origin of the term. The term first was used in 1891. Hugh Rotherham, Coventry, suggested what was termed the “ground score” of the Coventry course. The scheme propounded by Rotherham was taken up by the Great Yarmouth Club Hon. Secretary, Dr T. Browne, who inaugurated matches for Great Yarmouth on the lines indicated. About this particular time the popular music hall ditty,-” Hush Hush, here comes the bogey man” was on everyone’s lips, and it must have been uppermost in the mind of Major C. Wellman one day when he exclaimed to Dr. Browne, “This ground player of yours is a regular, Bogey Man.” So the expression “Bogey” was at once adopted at Great Yarmouth.

The whole ‘bogey’ issue is rather ambiguous, and I wouldn’t dwell on its insignificance to golf too much. Early on, the ‘bogey’ score was effectively the ‘par’ score for the course. It was the number of strokes (ground score) which a good scratch player would expect to play each hole in, i.e. 3, 4 or 5. The term completely changed in definition around the 1920’s when British golf adopted the Standard Scratch Score and, effectively, par. Bogey then became the term for one over par. Of course, those bloody Americans had been causing mischief by using par much earlier! Many UK golf clubs continued to print their scorecards using the old traditional ‘bogey’ scores up to the 1940’s. Very confusing and it was all the Americans fault – AGAIN! …. Only kidding?!

Finally the book is a tale of brotherly love. Twice you Quote Harry saying “Ach. Ye canny do all this work without something good coming out of it. I really believe that.” So what good came out of this adventure?

Awww. That’s nice of you Ran. He was wrong – Bugger all came out of it!

Nah. There were countless positives taken from this trip of a lifetime. Essentially, we both lived our dream regardless of the outcome. Not many people can say that they’ve done that! We’ve both learned so much about golf and golfers. There is a humanity in golf that very few people relate to in the modern era, but we witnessed so much of it on our travels. Perhaps the modern golfer is embarrassed to make open reference to humanity? They shouldn’t be, because if we lose our humanity, we’ve lost our speciality in golf, the unequivocal ‘essence’ of the sport.

Many of those who graced the slopes of Arbory will remember their experience with fondness to their dying day. That has to be regarded as a good result and ample reward for making the try. Golf has given the Ward Bros so much in our lifetimes even though it has taken a great deal back and appears to be continuing with that trend? Hey ho. Golf owes us – nothing!

Most businesses require time to find viability and profitability. We were not afforded that luxury. The Arbory project was more important to golf and its history than many (rascals) either cared or wished to appreciate! I’m afraid we’ll just have to learn to live with that disappointment while letting the rascals know that our glasses are still half full!

“Fairways! What Fairways ?”

“Fairways! What Fairways ?”

I hope this interview is different in the same way as I hope people find the book different from any other. You’ll find a few laughs along the way. That’s the way it was at Arbory! If anybody has become curious enough to buy the book, then please go to the books website www.fairwayswhatfairways.co.uk where you’ll find lots of pictures and info. Please bear in mind that the website is a ‘work in progress’ and like all other projects, done on the cheap! But it should “Improve with play.”

Oh yes. Remember the first question where I referred to the layout of Biggar’s first golf course? Well, Harry continued our line of research into defunct courses and came up with that layout sketch as well as loads of other forgotten courses. He has a book coming out next year which he has co-authored with Alan Jackson titled – The Forgotten Greens of Scotland.

May all your hooks or slices be little ones!

Happy New Year.  
Alfie & Harry Ward

The End