A Welcome National Obsession

Why golf? I can’t answer that question, it only throws up more unanswerable questions. Why should golf, a game whose true intricacies I will probably never master, exert such a hold over me?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. The winter and a new career in the voluntary sector have conspired to keep me indoors. The trials and tribulations of securing funding and a good blast of Scottish weather have made golf take a back seat.

And yet it’s always there. Perhaps the absence magnifies its looming presence. Why is it that as I snatch a few moments at my desk in the evening, writing for fun or for money (or both) the picture that grabs me is not of the football or rugby legends but the golfing legend I have never met. Jack Nicklaus, who in my unofficial hero’s gallery is probably the man I have least in common with, is the one I admire the most (this might be partly because a sympathetic lady member once told me on the putting green that my grip reminded her of the Golden Bear).

Why is it that not having played for a few months the new mind plan that gave me a reasonable season last year (playing the averages, staying calm) has been replaced in my mind’s eye by a new risk taking power game that I have neither the skill or a good enough back to pull off?

Why do the badminton racquet, tennis racquet and bowls that I have used more often in the past few months remain in the car boot but the golf clubs sit in the hallway, putter and balls out and asking for a few moments of practice?

Last weekend my brother came to stay. We made no decision about his impending stag weekend. But we are now committed to spending a weekend playing the course that we grew up on before he gets married. Neither of us have played there for ten years. Yet we could remember every hole, we could discuss the best approach to each hole, we could recall in incredible detail our finest displays on each of those holes (and some of our worst ones as well!).

I can still remember the first birdie I got on another course: not the name of the course (it was in Yorkshire) but I can still see the three wood, seven iron and five foot putt. I can still remember the feeling. I can remember shots I hit playing at Whitby with a Richard Briers lookalike whose name I never knew.

I can remember playing in Dumfries and Galloway with my granddad and brother, at first using cut down clubs. I can remember my first golf shoes (Dunlop, cheap and cheerful in a blister inducing way).

I remember my first driving range (out by Edinburgh Airport – followed by a meal in the airport which always seemed to taste better than any of it does now.) Or practicing on the open area next to Cockenzie Power Station. Or devising an elaborate course in the back garden to stage, and win, my own Open (and the feeling of wonder when I realised those plastic balls could easily clear the house and that the 18th hole could be truly spectacular if the green was placed in the front garden!).

I can remember my friend getting a bunker shot horribly wrong and smacking the head of the coolest boy in school. Our horror, the laughter of the men on the tee behind us and the realisation that a Maxfli to the back of the head must hurt like hell. I remember feeling hugely excited when I met Brett Ogle at the Open qualifiers held at Gullane and, five years before, insane jealously that my brother was actually working at the qualifiers at Longniddry.

And yet I can barely remember the games of rugby and football I played. I can hardly remember a game of bowls when I step off the green. And at school I was never the most dedicated player. Only occasionally would I be one of the juniors that played two or three rounds a day in the summer holidays. Never did I harbour hopes of being a professional. My parents never played the game. So why the obsession?

Maybe it is in the blood. Colin Montgomerie recently spoke of golf as being almost Scotland’s national game. Perhaps each of us feels an ownership of the game. My non playing dad is knowledgable and appreciative of the game. My non playing mother and grandmother used to love going to the Open practice rounds at Muirfield.

And, the funny thing is, I don’t think it’s unhealthy. I think we should rejoice that we are the home of this great game. That even now players, good and bad, and millionaires and billionaires want a small piece of Scotland to recognise our role in the game.

And I feel proud that Scottish galleries are so often praised for their knowledge and appreciation of golf. Not just of the holes in one and the target golf but of the gritty round when a players luck has blown away in the fierce seaside wind and scrapping is the only way to succeed. So let Scotland rejoice in our unwitting obsession and realise that golf lets the world see the best of us.

4 Responses to “A Welcome National Obsession”

  1. G.R.Murphy says:

    Golf is such a marvelous game because you can play with anybody,of any age or skill and still be competitive(because of the handicap system) once you know enough about the games rules and play reasonably quickly. I remember one of my first games,at a municipal golf course playing with a man much older than me and with only one arm who consistently out drove me giving me my first lesson in that the golf swing is timing and rhythm not power. I also distinctly remember one summer playing many rounds as a teenage with a man 70+ and both of us enjoying ourselves. What other sport could that happen. In tennis etc,you have to find a playing partner with your playing skills no matter what handicap is given. Golf is a game that no one completely masters.

  2. Rick Cutting says:

    I’m not a Scot, but the passion for golf is just as strong. Although now retired and only having played the game for two years (not very well) I can still feel the enjoyment as you descibe in getting your first birdie or the rather unexpected 30ft uphill put that drops in the hole. (Much to the disgust of my much more expirienced playing partner). Wonderful, nothing can descibe that feeling. Thanks Andy

  3. Arthur says:

    National Obsession???
    In my experience ( a seven day golfing tour in Scotland back in the Eighties when I was first trying to learn the game) golf was part of the fabric of life at every level of society. The hidden gems of courses tucked away with their honesty boxes left open to all and sundry,the many municipal play & pay courses with time and space for everybody and the tremendous hospitality shown by the nearby B&B hotels all contributed to a holiday that stays sharp & bright in my memory to this day.

  4. Jerry says:

    Hi Andy,
    Great article,…thank You.

    Jerry (Wisconsin)

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