What are Those British Courses Really Like?

Comments From a Normal Everyday Golfer Who Got to Play Them

Just when you think there aren’t any surprises left in the world, you meet someone who turns all pre-conceived notions on their heads. I have recently met a fellow whose big dream was to play the famous British courses that we watch during majors, and whatever else he could get on to over there. He’s in his early 60s, fresh off of chemotherapy, but in remission and strong as an ox, with a huge gregarious and generous personality. He’s the type of person who believes that all things are possible for him. Other people get to play St. Andrews, so why not him? How I wish I were more that way.

This fellow made good business decisions, and can afford a trip through some of the best British scenery, mostly Scotland, with a group of golfing friends. So I casually asked him, what is the St. Andrews rough really like to play? What does it feel like? He responded with a uniform view of the various courses he played, and bear in mind that he played 36 holes per day at most of them, for minimal green fees. He never used a cart, and always had a Scottish caddie, which was a trip in itself. His first encounter with the rough was in deep, coarse grass, but he could see the ball. Asking his caddie for a 5-iron to blast it out of there, he received a sand wedge instead. He said to the caddie, “I’m going to hit a 5,” to which the Scot responded “Oh no you’re not. You’r courting tragedy, and you’ll be lucky if you get back to the fairway. Advancing the ball is not possible.” He was right, advancing the ball was so difficult that my friend’s arms hurt through the rest of the trip.

So, what about the British greens? Again, he addressed the caddie, requesting a 6, planning to hit it high. The caddie refused, and told him “You’re about to make a first trip mistake. It is not possible to stick this green if you dropped it vertically from a helicopter. You can bump and run it if you’re careful, but no high shots here.” It turns out that the caddie, a two-handicapper, was right. And then there was putting. One could swear that the greens were as flat as lakes but once the ball left the putter, it was like riding the Zipper in Memphis. Sometimes the course was the only opponent, but when the famous winds came up, it was all an entirely different animal. He then realized that the repertoire of shots one must have at his command was larger than he ever thought – low, high, left, right, stick, or run. I can’t really pass on his experiences with the bunkers, as most of it cannot be printed for the public.
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What astounded my golf tourist at St. Andrews, at seven in the morning, I might add, was that he had a gallery of mostly British onlookers. Suddenly uncomfortable, he felt as if he were part of a real tournament. Noting that the fairway on number one was quite wide, he chose a careful club and put it out a pretty good distance down the middle. To his surprise, the makeshift gallery applauded with perfect British politeness before turning to go their way. He continued to hit 300 drives wherever he could reach a down slope, due to drought conditions throughout the region. That’s an outright fantasy for me, and I think it was for him as well. After a full day of charging around all the courses he could manage, it was time for a stout at the club house, which he found required a suit. No American informality here, please.
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What the poor man did not take into account was that he was supposed to meet his girl friend’s family for the first time after the trip in Leicester, a little to the south. However, he was so euphoric over the golfing experience of the past two weeks, that upon arrival, he could barely remember his own name. Sitting down in a British household to watch Britain play Croatia in the World Cup, he fell asleep, and who knows if he will ever be invited back. I noticed that his forearms were considerably larger than when he left, and it appeared that he had been hiking more than expected. My first thought was, “I can’t wait to get over there and torture myself in exactly the same way, British style.”



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