Tradition, Progress – What I Learned This Week

Much Changing in Golf Tradition, Except When It’s Not

I have been reading other people’s articles this week to see what they and the golf world are talking about. I have to say that it’s been a real eye-opener.  Those who play golf are generally aware of timeless tradition, the way the game is played, and how one behaves in reverence to that history. The governing bodies of the game take it to extremes, and sometimes it’s difficult to get them out of the 16th century. Three items I found at have caught me by surprise.

Josh Berhow tells us that a famous British course, North Dunham Golf Club in Northam, England, is banning the use of plastic tees. Apparently, the animals and birds indigenous to the course are eating them, getting sick, or worse. We are bombarded with new studies and documentaries on the woes of a plastic world nearly every day. We’re up to our necks in the stuff, and it’s killing the ocean creatures, big and small. Longstanding tradition or not, the game of golf is visually the ideal pursuit for a totally green existence. If environmental purity ever has importance, it is in this game. Still, it is a pleasure to see an institution steeped in tradition take a progressive step in the right direction, and I would love to see more of it.

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In the second instance, I see where the European Tour is allowing its men to wear shorts for the first time ever in sanctioned tournaments. The new look will begin at the Alfred Dunhill Championship this week in South Africa, at Leopard Creek Country Club. In terms of tradition, I don’t really want to see this, but for a myriad of practical reasons I do.  South Africa? Leopard Creek? If you need to run from something fast, shorts might buy one an extra second. The real reason is that temperatures exceeding 100 degrees are expected. Shorts it is then. The PGA has followed suit for certain occasions. It used to be all right for pro-ams and exhibition rounds, but 100 degrees is 100 degrees. The PGA takes golfers through the most humid regions of Asia, the baking heat of the Middle East, Hawaii and Arizona. Tradition can crop off a foot or two, and we’ll all be ok.

The most startling thing I learned this week involves the etiquette of buying a round of drinks for the clubhouse after scoring a hole-in-one. Josh Sens reminds us that we don’t need to go bankrupt, and that we can limit our drink-buying to those in our playing group. The shocker, however, is that this is no 16th century tradition started by an old Scot who got lost in the highlands. In the early 20th century, it must have been a hard-and-fast rule, because newspapers from 1918 advertised hole-in-one insurance. The average golfer has a 1 in 12,500 chance, which puts me in pretty good shape. However, hole-in-one champion Mancil Davis has had 51 of them. By these standards, someone ought to check in and see if he’s all right. You could  lose your house playing that well. I was also startled to learn that private clubs carry ace insurance. This organization that so graciously accepted you as a member is at the same time under protection against your good fortune. It may be included in your membership fees.
Rules may change, styles of dress may evolve, and clubhouse tradition can remain the same for centuries. There is a lot to figure out in the way this game is perceived and played around the world. This week I’ve decided not to wear shorts even if they will let me, and switch to wooden trees. And, should I score an ace by some miracle, I’ll head straight to the parking lot before the day becomes the most expensive round I’ve ever played.

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