Many of those changes are strategic – as opposed to penal – in nature. Where did he develop that sense for what constitutes good golf?

I find it interesting that in these modern times we introduce the word Strategic yet within the same breath we highlight non penal.  I can’t get my mind around this because I firmly believe that when discussing golf the very word strategic must be centred around penal. Golf from start to finish is penal. It is that which gets us to play the game, more importantly, it is the key IHMO to getting repeat rounds over a course, to the point that the word ‘Greatness’ may be attributed to that course. Naturally there are levels of penal, but we seem to have put the fear of God into modern players by just mentioning that hated of most modern words, ‘Penal’. As for Nature, she at her calmest, is every bit penal. The problem is that we are no longer taught that vital lesson regards golf, which is that the game is first and foremost, a challenging game. The ability to meet this challenge is by actually walking, thinking the game to enable the player to understand the course, and hopefully finding hidden skills to successfully navigate around it while facing the hazards, be they man made or natural, not to mention the designers cunning (something we do not see much of thanks to the fear of penal in the modern game). Golf is now being sold as easy, yet it’s the very opposite, golf is meant to be testing & challenging.

TOC was designed for the Hickory and Gutty combination, but has, of course been modified to try to accommodate the modern equipment. Yet IMHO technology is about to, if it has not already outgrown TOC. For this golfer, that is in itself a crime against TOC, against all golfers, also Golf as a game. Is it not a very serious indictment against the R & A as the ruling body of the game?  For goodness sake, TOC is right on their doorstep yet they do nothing when they see Tee shots from the 18th Tee landing on the Green. My point regards this comment is to try and remind the many millions of golfers that they need to understand their game. More importantly the courses they play, noting that the majority of the ‘Great Courses’ are old, circa 100 years or older, were originally designed for a game which did not concentrate on the aerial game which has been much enhanced thanks to modern uncontrolled technology seemingly encouraged and enjoyed by players today. I have never understood how a golfer can be content knowing it was not solely down to his own efforts that his equipment was more responsible for his score than his skill.

Penal/Strategic must work hand in glove. Fairway bunkers should be built after a course has opened. Allowing fairways to speak to the designers through the majority of divots I would not call that penal, nor did Old Tom as it was his way to return some 3 months or so after the new course had opened to place or adjust the fairway bunkers. The divots show the standard of the clubs players and so the bunkers would have the most effect. This I believe adds strength to the course while helping the golfer’s skill levels and requiring him/her to understand the design behind the course. Yet is that really penal, as we have come to know it. To prove my point let’s look at the development of that most famous of bunkers on TOC, the Road Hole Bunker. I attach four photos of the same bunker and ask you to judge for yourself which is most penal.

The Bunker in the early photo of 1924 shows a testing face; alas the 1954 & 1967 photo displays a much shallower, thankfully finally corrected by 2000.

Bunkers/traps are a deterrent forcing the golfer to think his shot, to play safe or test his skill, and take that leap of faith. So they need to be seen as such, to be allowed to play upon the mind of the golfer.

Old Tom started playing golf because he loved the game and its challenges. He soon proved himself to be a first class golfer (remember the original courses were far more difficult than we play today). Also with ball and clubs which many a modern golfer would refuse to touch let alone play a round. Add to this his enrollment into the business of Allan Robertson allowed Old Tom to learn the ball and club side of the game. Yet the most important element of his association with Allan was the introduction to the early designing and modifications of golf courses with the important side issue of understanding maintaining a course in good condition. While Allan Robertson may well be credited as the first course Designer/Architect, it was Old Tom through the combination of his playing, club & ball making, and green keeping skills that took the design, not just to the next stage but several more stages.

The Gutty ball gave golf that window of some 50 years of consistency allowing the clubs to be developed thus making golf into a fluid game. This was a Golden Age for the game of golf when the ball finally stabilised after nearly 500 years, the clubs being produced in conjunction with the ball, new rules formatted and real thought put into designing golf courses. Furthermore the first horse driven lawn mower, the early stages of building Greens with turf and also sowing grass seeds on parts of the fairways. Even simple inventions of pipes to keep the Hole open and the edges firm improved the quality of the Greens and thus the game.  Design requiring actual thought, expanding natural traps by utilising man made hazards like stone wall, railway tracks etc.

The game became more popular as well as affordable thanks to the gutty ball. Nevertheless golfs main draw was the sportiness of the new courses with their combination of hazards. Penal or strategic, no, I do not think that came into the equation. What mattered was the challenge, the sportiness of the course and the ability to navigate past all the traps without suffering the extra strokes to escape them.  Strategic is nothing without penal be it via incorporating Nature or man made objects, but the underlying requirement is for challenging courses. However, the first thing the modern course owner or club offers is the easy option of riding instead of walking. Just where is the challenge in that, certainly, if you are fully fit and healthy? Take the cart and suffer a few strokes penalty may address the energy/fatigue equation, although I still am anti the idea of carts, it’s just not right, it’s not golf. The very heart of the challenge has been negated; one’s game compromised and one’s score worthless IMHO.

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 man made 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 in 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 works had been modified mainly thanks to the aerial game and the lack of  control over technology. Good design being diluted by the ill-informed who for the sake of a privileged membership believe they know better.

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.

3.    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 bag 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.

4.    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?

5.    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