Within the Odd History of Golf, Some Facts Escaped Me
All of us who are bonded to the game of golf occasionally run across one of those sites like “Fifty Facts You Didn’t Know About Golf.” They’re fun once in a while, but if you go there often , much of the same information will be repeated. Having written on these items more than once, I thought I knew them all, and perhaps everyone has heard these, except for me – but here they are anyway.
Not only are they interesting by themselves, but some of the facts beg related questions, either to the game or at least the way I play it. For example, an insurance company’s calculation of my hitting a hole in one at around 12,500 to one does make me feel better. I’ve been within an inch or two of one, but no cigar. However, what irked me was that Tiger Woods scored his first ace at eight years of age. Worse, 5-year old Coby Orr was the youngest to do it at a Littleton, Colorado course in 1975. I think someone got the one ace I was supposed to be granted in this life – even if only just one.
The longest course in the world is the par-77 International Golf Club in Massachusetts. It is 8,325 yards in length. First of all, that makes for a terrible story to take home – “Hey, I shot the round of my life, an 84…yeah but you see, it was a par…oh never mind.” I remember encountering my first par fives as a child. I kept slugging away and slugging away, only the green didn’t get any closer. It felt more like a safari. Now that I’m an adult, you’re going to put me right back where I started?
Did you know that there are precisely 366 dimples on a golf ball? Did you care? Did they reach that number by testing balls with one dimple added each swing? Somebody had the patience of Job to come up with that number.
The lowest 18 hole score is 57. I remember when hearing that when Gary Player shot a 59, they said “Sorry, not a sanctioned event.” So what about Wayne Meyers of Easley, South Carolina, who beat Player by two on Southern Oaks in Powderville, South Carolina? Most of us have never played a sanctioned event in our lives. When something goes well, give us a break, will you? Incidentally, were there any mulligans, foot wedges or winter rules in that round, Mr. Meyers?
Horrors! Saint Andrews is not the oldest golf course in the western world. That honor goes to Musselburgh Links. It was first played on March 2, 1672, and some evidence suggests that Mary Queen of Scots played it even earlier. The first men’s golf club was called The Gentlemen Golfers of Leith. There’s something sophisticated and slick about that name, like it belongs on an isolated world in Star Wars. It was renamed The Honorary Company of Edinburgh Golfers (Incidentally, Edinburgh is pronounced with a final “bara,” not “burgh.”
St. Andrews was, however, the USGA of its day, setting the dimensions for the game, such as the diameter of the cup at 4.5 inches. If they had settled on 4.7 or 4.9, my whole life might have been different, facts being as they are.
King James really went for it, and became the first royal to buy a set of golf clubs. Of course, five epidemics of English Sweating Sickness cut a swath through the population just a short time later, and his reign ended badly – must have played too much golf instead of tending to duty – hmm.
In 2006, Mijail Turin of Russia hit the first golf ball in space. I thought it was an American astronaut who did that, but we found out later that he’d taken a mulligan and made a mistake on his score card, so it didn’t count. Such facts certainly bring the “play it where it lies” rule into perspective.
There we have it. History never tires of adding to the story, whether it happened or not. We’ve never been too interested in the veracity of legend, but remember that on the course, it’s “just the facts, just the facts.”