Melvyn Hunter Morrow Interview

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Old Tom Morris died over a century ago. What have been the five greatest improvements to the game since then?

This is a difficult one as I do not agree with the attitude many have for the early Designers (pre 1900). They did shape the land, they did make manmade hazards, they did use grass seeds on fairways but not generally upon the Greens, courses were designed and models made well before the invention of Plasticine. The real Golden Age was pre 1899 IMHO which means that the Designers/Architects in what many call The Golden Age of GCA achieved what was little more than produce designs many good ones I grant you. Nevertheless, they were not beset with pushing the frontiers with limited budgets and small sections of poor land to the corner of a farmer’s field limiting Holes to sometimes just 6. The fundamentals of GCA had been worked out. 20th Century designers went about their business which let’s not forget by then Golf Course Design was an established business/career for anyone interested. Money was more forthcoming.

The principal of mainly 9 Holes (occasionally 18 after St Andrews, Leven, and North Berwick) had become the ideal size of a golf course. Rules were in place; template of Holes was well established, as well as sowing of seeds, in place of turf, earth moving and shaping of courses. With the game spreading money and land more plentiful worldwide, designers were much sought after, first by the wealthy then the clubs. Yet I find it hard to see how this period could possibly be defined as a golden age of design, that boat had IMHO already sailed the Century before.

So by the time of – let’s call it the second Golden Age, as I mentioned above, most of the development work had been completed, courses had been standardised to 9 or 18 Holes, competitions again were set to a standard number of Holes based upon multiples of 18. The second Golden Age Designers were free to go about their work of designing courses, free of most of the earlier constraints and limitations suffered by the pre 1900 guys.

But getting back to the question I suppose that we must note that the introduction of detailed plan drawings was a great move forward.  Some may say that’s not new, but if we look to the drawing of say Muirfield, the design drawing was not produced until December 1891, yet the course was designed in late 1890 and opened in May 1891. Ditto the New Course. The drawing seems again to follow the same pattern, which I suppose was not surprising as the same Team undertook both courses. Detailed drawings were produced that were presented to the clients/committees for comments/approval. More importantly more people were able to understand plan drawings no longer being seen as the just preserve of the Architects, Surveyors or Engineers.

The addition of drainage gave more flexibility to courses allowing more frequent play and more places to locate a course. Then we see the labourers with their wheelbarrows being replaced by heavy earth moving machinery. Although, in truth that is not totally correct as many workmen where found on the construction sites of 19th Century courses.

Probably the most important improvement must be irrigation because those items I have already listed are, let’s be honest, just a development of what the 19th Century Designers had and used. So really can’t be called greatest, although drawings issued with the plans must surely, be considered a major improvement. Having said that irrigation was being introduced before the turn of the 20th Century, so can we really call that another great improvement?

I do agree that things have moved forward, well for the most part, however how can we call any of the above a great improvement. As for the game, again it’s just a continued development. Many new or modern additions we see within the game today are certainly not improvements; in fact I would go as far as to say we have lost sight of that great game of Golf once exported from the Links of Scotland.

The real inheritors of the Royal & Ancient Game of Golf must today rest with those playing the Hickory Game. Perhaps over the last one hundred years we have taken one step forward and two back, because we certainly seem to have forgotten much of the original game, believing it’s just an aerial game to the Green then sink the ball for a low score. I believe many of The Old Dead Guys from the 19th and early 20th Century would not be amused as to the state of the
modern game nor, for that matter, what has been done to their courses just because no one will take a stand and control technology to give the game a consistency it so desperately needs. Would you in their shoes, seeing how much of your great work and courses are being ignored or modified, thanks to the aerial game, with no apparent action to countenance the destruction of good design.

What have been the five worst developments since then?

As a Golfer first and foremost one should understand how golf is played. It is fundamental to the well being of the game and in generating some form of consistency not only in one’s game but by the way the game is perceived at large.  It’s not my way but it is how I was taught to play the game from a young age.

A Golfer must rely 100% upon his own efforts, which means no outside help, be it from a cart, a caddie, a distance book or electronic aid.  The game is based upon walking, which, in itself, reflects a degree of fatigue to the way one plays, certainly towards the end of a round. It is the first and major part of the challenge of the game. Ignore that, and then tell me what game you are playing because it is not Golf!

The Mind of the Golfer should navigate the golfer around the course trying to avoid the man made and natural hazards the designer as placed to force a different approach shot. The Mind and Eye Co-ordination develops over time which is defined as Skill, but only acquired by practice. The ability by just looking to select a path or route through the course in conjunction with the eyes judging distance and club selection relates to skill achieved only by playing golf. With this in mind, I am now able to name some of the worst developments to befall the great game of golf.

1.    Distance aids – be they markers, books or electronic (and those who pace distance being the worst of all type of players as they flout Course

Etiquette Rules by showing disrespect to other players upon the course). The judging of distance, I believe is the skill part of the game as is navigating the course trying to avoid the traps, hazards and routes laid down by the designer. Avoid that and again, one has to question commitment and just what is the purpose of your game.

2.    Lack of acceptable sustainable land for the game of Golf or as I call it, ‘Land Fit for Purpose’. There is a limit to where a golf course can be built; otherwise we go into the realms of Disneyland. Nothing is real, nothing sustainable, all fake proving questionable foundations for a golf course, a total lack of the Natural or, come to that, Nature, as all just sustained by money and not the genius of Man.

Modern Courses seem to be akin to the modern cars i.e. Mercedes, BMW, and Jaguar, everything laid on for comfort and easy for the driver. Yet golf is a challenging game and should be represented by serious off road vehicles like The Land Rover, Range Rover etc. Remember a golf course should represent Nature and the Natural mixed with a little input from Man, who hopes that a golfer will rise to the challenge to overcome the obstacles. However, we have produced
for over 50 years super thirsty, over watered, manicured courses that represent zero when looking to the original Links. I believe some of these clubs who seem to have vast amounts of money need to study the history of the game and visit sites like Askernish, Machrie etc. to see how simple a course can be designed and built.

1.    Cart and cart paths – they are the worst combination to be allowed into the game. The very fact that The R&A have allowed them, show just how out of touch the Governing Body was and is with regards to protecting the game.  Clearly, they have never fully understood the advantage the cart gives in the energy/fatigue stakes. This is quite surprising due to some early energy studies undertaken after WW1. The R&A did not understand it in Old Tom’s day and still have not grasped the nettle by showing their pure ignorance time after time during the 20th and the start of the 21st Century. The blame is not with players, after all carts are legal to use, but IMHO should only be available for those with mobility problems, where, I do admit, they come into their own.

The very fact of sitting and not walking unbalances the player’s game while saving energy. The fatigue factor is a key element in playing the game of golf. Through it we see the quality of the golfer and his/her ability to face both the mental and physical stresses placed upon him/her by the design and environment. Eliminate the fatigue element and you immediately create an imbalance which affects every part of the game and if using a cart that aid should carry a stroke penalty of 2-4 strokes per round. Why did the golfing authorities not know let alone understand that a cart rider would be so much fresher due to less stress and strain of walking and dropping and picking up a golf bag compared to a rider.
While I have found no studies in the GB I know of one undertaken in 1920 in America. Surprisingly it was not based upon walking and carrying ones clubs, just the energy consumed by setting down one’s clubs and retrieving the bag after every shot. Why the energy involved in walking was not also measured showed (and proved – still proves IMHO) that walking was part and parcel of the game while carrying one’s dag was optional. Nevertheless, it is, I believe, an interesting study, and in part, I feel backs up my belief that riding is an unfair aid which does not accrue any penalty whatsoever. Having read the study, the energy required just for the task of lifting and setting down of one’s clubs is quite considerable, yet a small percentage of the overall energy expended by a walker.

The study is well defined in the following report which was published in a scientific journal in 1920 and reported in The Scotsman newspaper on the 30th November 1920. I am led to believe that the writer of the study was not blessed with the full workings of how the Royal & Ancient Game of Golf is played. As an exercise to conserve energy just for the glory of playing the game seems totally pointless as caddies have, and are still available, to take this strain.

Stranger still is the final conclusion. Noting again, that through the last few hundred years Caddies have been utilised on many a golf courses. Nevertheless, the point that shines out for me, is that walking does consume much energy which is not the case when riding. It gives the rider a massively unfair advantage over the walker who should be compensated for his commitment in honouring the game, by say 2 strokes per 9 Holes.

I think the American game differs greatly from the original, or, for that matter the traditional game. The emphases seem to centre solely on score, pleasure comes in second. The game started to split around the turn of the 20th Century with many a report to that affect appearing in the Scottish papers – ‘The Scotsman’ being one. All focus is on the skill by making irrelevant the stress and strain of walking, or even carrying a golf bag. The conclusion appears to be that by saving energy and minimising fatigue allows one the ability to win because, somehow, it promotes skill. My belief is skill is obtained by perseverance and practice, not necessary by relief of carrying a bag be it by a caddie or being self-stand.

1.    Lack of positive control of technology, allowing technology in both ball and golf clubs to reduce a golfer score is gutless in the extreme. However it is not new as there has never been any serious effort to control this part of the game. Understandable when the game was developing itself but upon the arrival of first the gutty then the Haskell ball something should have been done to give stability. But no, it seems no one had the foresight to understand the consequences, so today we have a free for all, with the real controllers of the game being the equipment manufacturers and not the R&A. This has allowed advancement in reducing ones score to technology, and the ability to pay for in place of skill obtained from consistent practice. I believe the following advert placed in The Scotsman on the 24th August 1926, proves my point that technology is well known to assist a players in reducing his score.

How anyone can claim to have a reduced score, thus better handicap, when clearly it is the result of being totally enhanced by the improved equipment, is, in my book, nothing short of cheating one’s self.  Again, at the heart of this farce we still see the Governing Body (The R&A) refusing to Govern, but why?

2.    The madness of the Aerial Game – why would any golfer want to fly over a course. Where is the Challenge? Where is the fun? What is the point of designing a course if the intention is to fly over it missing out the fairway hazards? Why go to all that expense to purchase new land or keep moving the Tee back – that is if sufficient land is available. The game is not all about the aerial play but how to face and meet the ground challenge. Designers seem to be scared to place PENAL traps for those long hitters. Is it because the weak, modern golfer feels that he/she needs all the help they can get. If that’s the case they are not golfers! The aerial game is killing design and the game of golf, and I can see no actual benefit to the golfer/player or spectator. Surely the game is about overcoming the design, the terrain and to some extent, Nature’s own traps. To bypass much of the course by utilising the aerial game because the ball and clubs now allow the gifted the ability to hit the long ball, is just part of this continuing madness allowed by The R&A. Courses do not need to be long. They will serve very well from 5500-6500 yards as long as the clubs and ball are controlled. Hickory offers the way forward. The problem as per a Penal course being that players do not want limitations. They want to advertise their ability, but I fear we must question this as much may be the result of technology. The game of golf is dedicated to taking on the golfer over natural surroundings, of offering him the opportunity to display his skills as he navigates the course. The modern game takes much of that and throws it in the waste bin, and we wonder why many are fed up with the game to the extent that they are leaving in steady numbers. Yet some are staying taking up the Hickory Challenge in the hope of re capturing all that which was once so great with the game of golf.

End of Part 1