I gather that the modern game holds no romance to you. For those who share similar feelings, what are ways to recapture it?

In general my answer must be yes. But we are fortunate here in GB that we have such a great selection of what I call golf courses, built fit for purpose and still retaining much of that which made golf so interesting to the world over a 100 years ago. So no matter what is done worldwide we still have the ability to fall back on to genuine courses; yet I wonder just how long it may be before pressure is put on many of the clubs to internationalise their course.

The game has been stripped of much which once made it great, with modern owners just seeking a short term return – money rules. Were as, in the past courses were set up for and by the clubs with many local councils (mainly in Scotland) seeking to provide a course for its locals. Money was always tight but it was never considered as a money making venture. Any extra money was ploughed back into the facilities i.e. new land to extend, club houses, etc.

How to recapture that spirit that made golf so appealing? Now that is not an easy question. As others move in tune with the game on a day to day basis, they fail to accept there is a problem, let alone how to resolve it. Where to start, that’s the real question? It’s got to be a complete rethink as clearly the path we have been travelling for the best part of 50-70 years has resulted in the rather poor state of the game IMHO. We need to be radical, and utilise lateral thinking well out of the box or do we really? Have we not been staring at the answer in the face for these last 50 to 100 years?

A little understanding of the consequence of the early 20th Century decisions may have made all the difference. Yet thanks to a total lack of foresight and serious leadership, we blundered on from mess to mess creating so many games within games. Let’s not forget that information was available years ago. Look at the article from the American scientific journal on energy vs. the bag, from the 1920’s, yet their conclusion was that the physical effort was irrelevant as the saving on energy could be turned into skill. Translated into any language that simply means that the individual concerned, while noticing the energy required to play golf or on this occasion lift and set down a golf bag, has IMHO completely misunderstand the whole concept of Golf. That of walking and thinking being of paramount importance, the solid building blocks that help develop and generate the experience and define, if not anchor the real skill levels. I feel it gives credence to the early complaints by many GB golfers, that the aerial game favoured by the Americans was questionable in that it changed the game. The actual cost (and not just in terms of money) is not down to Nations or Countries; it’s down to the actual loss of the spirit and traditions of the game.  It’s the fast and willing abandonment of walking; the similar ease of allowing the mind to apparently be turned off in preference for distance aids; and the head long race to destroy our golf courses every decade just for the glory of a few long hitters, all because no one had the foresight to understand the consequences of their actions, or, in this last case, their inactions.

The game needs Golfers. We need Golfers in place of Players. The game needs golfers who accept and work within the rules of the course etiquette. Also, the teaching of the game of golf to novices should incorporate more than just how to grip a club and hit the ball.

Winning is important to so many, but you need to comprehend the whole game because we are not all going to win. Nevertheless, we still want to play golf – why? because as I said it’s not all about winning. A brief understanding of the game is required, of how to navigate a course,  why traps and hazards are scattered throughout the course. In other words, a short induction into the game is so desperately needed. If we do not give the duffers (beginners) the same basic information, we end up with national variations on a theme as we have today. At least by giving a consistent induction into how the game is played and just as importantly, how a course functions with its traps and hazards, we have a chance of getting all to play a uniform game. One other major point is to limit the length of the aerial game. A golfer can enjoy the game just as much if he only hits 200 yards, it’s a questioning of controlling technology to give consistency in general length. Link this to more aggressive fairway designs and we have our game of golf back. Then perhaps we will again understand the greatness of GCA which might just keep the game, not just honest, but totally alive; perhaps even a third Golden Age.

Golf is a game to enjoy. Winning can only be achieved by the really good golfer which constitutes a small percentage of all those playing golf.  One final point in the form of a question to the reader, is it right that day to day golf opens its doors allowing all forms of activities and variations which are banned when it comes to the Majors? Why should the Majors remain close to the traditions and heart of the Royal & Ancient Game of Golf? Do you think it’s a confusing message the Governing Body sends out? You can ride, use aids and be drunk and abusive on a general course, but once it’s a Major you have to walk and electronic aids are not allowed/tolerated (we will say nothing for the moment re the bad language). Is consistency lacking in the modern game, be it through the governing body, majors or day to day golf? Do you play or believe that golfers should show some courtesy of playing the game in the time honoured way?

If you were the Czar of golf, what changes would you implement?

I would call for a moratorium on all developments, be it in equipment or course design. Then arrange by Nations, a full debate upon the subject of all things that have been included into the game since the introduction of the Haskell ball. IMHO the cancer goes that deep in the game.

Once we have an understanding of how each Nation sees the game of golf, I would work out a new document of strict guide lines as to how the game may best be played in the future.

My own wish is, of course, to use the Scottish model as it was when exported worldwide. I would like to match the distance obtained at the time of the Gutty/Haskell balls change over, thus maintaining distance and club design.

However, I would seek the latest technology to get the best out of the game by maintaining the consistency of distance, as I see that a priority in saving so many of our great old course still in play, not just in Scotland but worldwide. Bring back that which has been missed or lost when designing a golf course; promote courses on sustainable sites to reduce costs and make golf more appealing to all wanting to get involved.

The most important is getting an even balance between the Majors and normal PGA or club competitions. By that I mean walking and no aids, whatsoever.  I would suggest one final rule, that being, if it is to be called a ‘Golf Course’ then golfers must adhere to the traditions of the game.

Fail to do so would evoke the immediate right to call the course a Golf Course. Like a good marriage both sides have to work to make it survive. This clearly has not happened in golf to the point that the game and courses have been so watered down that one has to struggle to call the game being played ‘Golf’.

Oh yes, one point I would clear up is the power and influence of the ball and club manufacturers. They have to be put in their place. They serve and should not dictate. They have no rights re the game of golf.  I would also suggest that each Tournament and Major uses the clubs and balls from one manufacturer, changed yearly, with the said manufactures providing the clubs, bags and balls for each major competition and for all those participating. Similar in the way FI selects its tyres. In that way we achieve consistency also allowing the Governing Body to govern. Now would that not be an interesting challenge (for all), adding some real spice to the major competitions too?

If we select to play the game of Golf then we must commit ourselves to the standards and traditions of the game. Some fail to meet the simple standards golf seeks from a golfer. So in their wisdom (possibly debatable) they decide that as golf seems over hard and strenuous for them, do they have the right to bastardise the game? By all means do so if that is your wish but show the courtesy to Golfers who can rise to the challenge, but please call your game by another name. In that way the great game of golf in not tarnished by the having its traditions compromised because of a bunch of weak & lazy people. The message is clear, you chose to join the program so show some balls and stick with it. Want to play Cart Ball, then do so but be honest with yourself and others and call it cart ball and not golf. In case you ask why then, again, refer to that article from the American scientific journal on the ‘Excess of Energy as it clearly defines the quantity of energy required to dropping/picking up a golf bag. So add to that equation, the addition of walking with or without a bag and you will clearly see the great advantage that a rider gets over a walker. So, again, I ask if this information was around, why did the R&A allow carts into what is a walking game for centuries. Their use is unfair, and clearly an aid for the able bodied golfer so should be defined as illegal. If used, should carry a penalty of 3 strokes per 9 Holes which should be included within the golfer’s handicap. It’s an aid so, come on guys, be Men for a change and take your medicine.

My final suggestion, before passing on my powers, would be to totally reform The R&A with one point being that it must be answerable to the golfers, not like FIFA.  I would also want to see local clubs having a say in the process.

Have you ever seen the The Old Course play better than in the 2010 Open Championship? The fairways and greens were nearly indiscernible and the ground was brick hard.

TOC, or as we called it, Dad’s garden (where’s Dad? – he is in the garden), as in my living memory has always been a sight for sore eyes. Either walking out the back garden door of my grandfather’s house or approaching it from The Scores, it always was a joy. The Old Lady is far more than just the sum of her parts, she is golf. She is the beating heart and spirit of the St Andrews. No one owns her but we all hold a piece of her close to our hearts.

And yet she is no more than Old Tom’s golf course. Some of our family (who like the value of being a member) relax at the R&A whilst others feel far more content and comfortable with themselves, enjoy the hospitality of The New Club, or any of the other equally good clubs in the town. As for The Old Course, I am very happy on both the New and Jubilee courses. Surprisingly, never been over keen on The Eden, but it is still superior to the remaining courses dubbed as St Andrews (or the poor sisters). As for the Castle, let me say, the only decent Castle in St Andrews is the old ruin at the bottom of The Scores, opposite the Turret House of my late great grand uncle.

In all honesty, I have seen less and less of TOC as the years go by, mainly due to the numbers invading St Andrews. I visit now with my wife, as since my father’s early death on a Golf Course in the late 1970’s, my Mother has refused to come to visit St Andrews due to her memories. Yet TOC is Old Tom, and no matter the mods undertaken it still is much as he left it by the turn of the 20th Century. Was it designed? No, not really. Well, not until the 1850s to 1880’s when it took on its current shape and size. The course underwent a massive improvement yet suffered through a high water table and the effects of erosion from the Eden, nevertheless the reclaiming of land at, what we today call, the Bruce Embankment, allows the course to reflect closely what we see today.

There was a period from 1906-12 when the course underwent some rather bad times, and ultimately, Hamilton (who took over from Old Tom) was dismissed from his job.

One has to wonder why the course suffered but as Old Tom warned the poisoning of the worms and the adding of some chemicals to the sand, seemed to have inflicted the damage although it did not apparently, become evident until 1906. Some of these problems that have been mentioned to me relate to water pooling on the surface which was apparently new for TOC. Like Old Tom, I feel there is a good case for cultivating the worms, but that’s just my opinion.

Any course is only as good as Nature allows. TOC is built upon the sediment from the sands of time. It has been allowed to mature, and then develop into a golf course through the hand and eye of Man with the firmness of fast draining sand based soil, never normally overwatered, and maintained to a rather high standard by a committed team of Green Keepers.


Yet while they work hard, we must remember that this is a Natural course with minimal invasion, unlike many a modern course. I believe this gives stability to the ground/soil that manmade courses just can’t match. No time is allowed for any real ground settlement, surely a prerequisite before instigating modifications, but apparently not with modern courses. Does this not prolong the process re soil/subsoil settlement which gives that underlying firmness? For this reason I am not keen on the modern trend that Man knows better than Nature. We need to relook at the brutal stripping of the land back to bedrock, just to place drainage and/or irrigation systems then re-float the subsoil/soil. Settlement is, I believe key to a good course, but before that happens we get an unheard of amount of water being used to generate greenery, and as lush as possible. It is overkill, the land has been raped, but for what actual benefit? So we can have super manicured courses, but that is just not golf. Because we have the money, worst still the technology, we jump in fast, to produce what the owner/club wants and to hell if it’s right for the site, the land or region. Ladies & Gentlemen, golf needs that natural, special ingredients which Nature is so good at creating and maintaining. So why destroy it then try to reproduce what was already there? Is it all just vanity or is it just Man’s destructive soul, knowing that with modern technology we can rebuild it if we have enough money? – Yes, perhaps vanity is todays underlying evil. Even with all the money available why do we seek to copy past designs? Is the modern game really just about Money, Money, Money.

Are we not going to try to design and build sustainable courses that are at home with their environment? Or do we keep copying great courses or Holes because we quite frankly do not know what to build on these sites that are unfit for golf, hoping that a Redan, Road Hole or Alps will hide the poor location? Now with money in short supply and all the utilities becoming expensive, is it not time that we learnt from sites like TOC, Askernish etc., and show nature some respect, because whatever we can do, she can always do better.

TOC teaches us what can be achieved if we work with Nature; how it can be maintained at sensible levels. All it takes from us a little sign of respect and some intelligence in building courses on land fit for purpose.

Or are we still going to choose unfit sites and build Disneyland type courses like The Castle (St Andrews 7th Course) for silly money that looks so out of place with its own surroundings and environment.

Yes! Land may be in short supply, but is it not more important we chose carefully to give the golfer a course fit for the purpose of golf? – That game that encourages the development of skill by facing the challenges head on, utilising one’s mind and legs, while playing the 18 Holes.

TOC offers ALL golfers the opportunity to play the Game of Golf in its raw and natural element. Yes, some of the Holes are dated, thanks to the uncontrolled equipment technology, yet still has the capacity to hurt a round even from the very best golfer in today’s game.  Perhaps some of the older, lost or closed bunkers should be reformed. However, I can already hear the rumblings of those proud low scorers preparing their case that reinstating some bunkers may make the course too penal, thus reducing their ability to maintain, or even reduce their score.  Golfers know the game is not just about a low score. It’s about facing the test, the challenge and, yes, actually walking incurring the energy drain that is so much part of the game. Why do we tolerate so many wimps, the lazy and non-committed? Their actions are undermining, nay aiding the destruction of many of our great courses like TOC in their search for a lower score, not by skill but utilising technology. We need to use technology not abuse technology for our own selfish gains.

TOC set the standards. Alas The R&A have never been able to understand much when it comes to golf. Perhaps with just one exception of Making Money at any cost, no matter if it hurts the game. Thankfully the St Andrews Links Trust is responsible for the Courses at St Andrews and I hope that they continue to preserve the courses to maximising the enjoyment for all golfers and do not concentrate their efforts on just a hand-full of top players.

The Old Course is like a beacon of stability and continuity that the game needs so much due to the failures of the governing bodies to govern and to protect the heart and spirit of the great game of Golf.

In closing, I would remind all to take their time and observe what is actually in front of them before dismissing or deciding to take the next step. Actions taken without due care and attention may result in more than just a poor score or game. The case of David Honeyman (Old Tom’s assistant for so many years) is one I would not wish on anyone.  The following article appeared in The Scotsman on the 8.06.1903 according to other reports it was a very painful way to go.

What are some of the underrated design features of The Old Course?

Design is of such importance in golf even if the basic land is fit for purpose. Detailed thought and preparation, in conjunction with minimal ground works, can produce great routing that makes a course. Existing courses need the same input of thought to achieve a good re-design. In the case of TOC, Old Tom not only produced a much larger and improved playing surface as well as a challenging course. He also is reputed to have ‘made the course easier by 10 strokes’. This was due to the widening process with the removal of whins and rough grass.  In places he substituted bunkers where large patches of whins once grew. His work improved the condition of the course which was rather rough in places and, in turn, improved the bad lies. The result being that a golfer placing his shot correctly avoided many of the past whins and rough areas.

A simple but interesting design feature was Old Tom’s wells sunk near each Green allowing for watering in dry weather proving that irrigation is not something new introduced in the 20th Century. One small but very important aspect of what I believe, is part of the design process which in effect, is never ending and offers a fresh challenge to the club golfer (playing the same course time after time) is the placing of the pin on the Greens. Old Tom utilised the large double Greens in this way. He noted wear and tear on the putting surfaces and realised that pin placement offered a variation to the game while allowing parts of the Green to recover from heavy wear.  To this day, pin placement is still important however it now is in the hands of the Green Keepers.

Linked in part with pin placement upon the Greens, another design feature was developed as the Rules were changed relating to distance from the Pin to the Tee. From the original two club lengths, to something like 4 then 8, Old Tom used the Tee position as a key part of the design. This allowed the designer to control the challenge, the strategy of the Hole, and so the course. In other words it opened up the whole design element which, hitherto, had really only been defined by the placement of the Greens.

The effect of the removal of the whins, while disliked by many at the time, allowed the course to flourish. The wide fairways allowed the designer the opportunity to control the Hole while still offering options to the golfer. Old Tom utilised the wide fairways placing new, as well as modifying bunkers, to deter or catch, the wayward shot. While easier it required the golfer to think, to plan his shots and, ultimately, his approach (not forgetting that with the wider fairways an alternative route was made available) to the Pin.  Some, today, prefer the narrow fairways, but my preference is wide, as I believe the improved equipment has generated the ability to handle the narrow. Alas, I regret that I cannot always allocate these shots to a player’s skill, just his ability to keep up with modern technology in clubs and ball. Having said that, it takes nothing away from the design that originally created the widening of the fairways it only conveys a lack of understanding on those who allow the ball/clubs to continually develop no matter the damage it is doing to (a) our great courses, (b) our pockets and (c) golf.

Golf Course Architecture is not just about design. It has to start with land that is suitable for purpose, followed by a design that is sustainable in the environment where it is to be located. The idea of throwing vast sums of money needs to be controlled as in part, the result is normally a course totally dependent on the maintenance budget. Old Tom worked with Nature that is not to say that he did not move earth and modify the land. Yes he did, but in the light of the club being able to sustain and even build upon the finished product. The lesson IMHO is one of understanding that is required vs. what is possible with an eye to the future.

I believe a golf course only comes into its own after 10 years, however with the never ending advancement in the equipment that, in itself, places a short life expectancy on the course.  What club today can constantly keep modifying its course – does it have sufficient land to extend, or money to accommodate other changes?  And what about all this nonsense of being defined a Championship Course? Would a ball rollback or controlling technology open out more courses?