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October 18th 2015 print

James Allan

Links and Shafts

Politics of late has done little to encourage a positive perspective among those who appreciate conservative principles more than they admire the nifty knifework of the nakedly ambitious. Not to worry, there is always golf for those craving purity and beauty

st andrews bridgeTired of fuming about how the Libs defenestrated Mr. Abbott in favour of the man who spent two years undermining him, the same man who also spent that entire time sucking up to that most biased, most balance-shunning of public broadcasters in the English-speaking world, Their ABC?  Worried that Australia, under Lord Wentworth’s leadership, is moving left on every front? By that I mean flirting with corporate cronyism; hatching tax rises, no doubt to be dressed up as “closing loopholes” or “fairness” measures as regards superannuation’; being softer on the agents of domestic terrorists while saying only nice things about the  communities that spawn them; more rent-seeking opportunities for those in the renewables racket; and even more indulgent of the ABC, despite its patent bias (not, you understand, that the national broadcaster’s animus will be directed against Turnbull personally).

Well, no one wants to think politics all the time.  What about a few words, then, on golf?  I suspect few readers realise that our dear Quadrant Online editor is a golfing tragic. He loves the game and, truth be told, recently scored a hole-in-one (see note below*).  And I have been known to swing a club myself on occasion.  Moreover I am just back from Scotland, in particular St. Andrews. For what is that wee coastal burgh situated north of Edinburgh well-known?  Two things:  First off, it’s the home of the third-oldest university in the English-speaking world.  After Oxford and Cambridge came St. Andrews.  And after that, five more Scottish universities were established before the English opened their third. Say what you will about the Scots (full disclosure: I come from a long, long line of Scots Canadians – so don’t expect me ever to buy you lunch or a beer) but they cared about education, and for as many people as possible.  It’s partly the Calvinism, I suppose.

Anyway, St. Andrews is home to a beautiful and very ancient university dating back to 1413 A.D.  But that’s not why the town is famous.  That’s not why it is chock-full of tourists for big chunks of every year.  No, the thing for which St. Andrews is really, really famous has to do with golf.  That’s why the tourists come, to play golf – and every five years to watch The Open, one of the four Grand Slam events in professional golf’s calendar. The only one played outside of the United States, The Open rotates around some Scottish and a few English courses.  But The Open is played most often in St. Andrews at the Old Course, by some accounts the world’s oldest golfing venue.

Near on every golfer who plays the game moderately well wants to have a round at the Old Course.  Back in the late 1980s, when I’d just been married and we were living in London, my wife and I travelled a bit around Scotland and stopped in St. Andrews, where I managed to fill a ‘no show’ space in a foursome and play the Old Course.  It was magnificent.

And that brings us to a fortnight ago, when I was in Britain for work.  My daughter, who did all her schooling here in Brisbane, went over to Canada for university (By the way, do not believe those rankings you may have read! Australian universities for first degree undergraduate students offer a comparatively poor product, are massively over-bureaucratic and place considerably lower expectations on students than in Canada, the UK or the US, and miles lower expectations than you see in the Ivy League institutions or at Oxbridge (see my piece for Quadrant Online).  Anyway, my daughter is doing her entire third year on exchange at St. Andrews University.  So I zipped over from Glasgow for a quick day-and-a-half visit.

Sure, this ancient university is magnificent. But the golf, my Lord, the golf!  There are courses everywhere.  They’re cheap for locals.  The Old Course itself is not privately owned;  in effect, it’s a municipal course.  If you are a resident you pay just 200 pounds per year and can then play for free all of the eight or nine local courses, including the Old Course (though the spots available are restricted, so you won’t get on there more than a couple of times a month at best).  It’s Golf Heaven.  For comparison purposes, if you are a tourist and wish to play the Old Course, a single round comes to about 250 pounds — and that without factoring in the cost of a caddie.  Yet the numbers willing to pay that steep sum at ‘the Home of Golf’ stretch into the horizon. Americans galore.  Canadians.  And these days, plenty of Japanese and Europeans.

My day in St. Andrews was a Sunday. And do you know what?  Yep, most Sundays of the year there’s no golf played on the Old Course, the exceptions being when there is a big competition, such as The Open, the Dunhill or a Ryder Cup.  But most weekends they just close the Old Course on Sundays.  Better still, it is on those days just a park for anyone to walk around as he or she pleases.  Heck, some non-golfers even tramp across the greens, often accompanied by their dogs.  I hastened over to the 17th tee to look up the fairway at the famous drive one must attempt and, of course, crossed over the old stone bridge.  Then I  walked twelve-or-so holes.

Think about that.  The most famous golf course in the world, and they close it on Sundays (forgoing God knows how much revenue, no easy decision for a Scot); and all the locals and tourists can just walk around it as though in Regent’s Park in London.  There is something charming about that.  And it shows that in Scotland, unlike anywhere else that I know, except New Zealand, golf is not just for the wealthy.  It is cheap enough and available enough, with enough palatable options on the table, to be open to all.

Any golfing readers can take it from me.  You must make every effort to visit Scotland at some point and play one or two of the links, the Old Course most of all. As a sport of choice, does golf beat dressing up in Lycra and riding a two-wheeled vehicle with buttocks hoisted at a jaunty angle for the edification of motorists trapped behind?  To ask is to know the answer.  Don’t believe me?  Just ask our beloved Quadrant Online editor.

(editor’s note: In the interest of accuracy, not vanity, it should be noted that there have been not one but two holes-in-one within the last 12 months: the first a nine-iron mortar bomb at Melbourne’s Westgate Golf Course in the suburb of Spotswood. The second came eight months later on the sixth at Altona Lakes. The latter was no testament to skill, however, as a mis-hit stroke off the tee clipped a hummock, pin-balled off a GUR sign and then gained a fortuitous course correction from a patch of bare, hard clay before landing 20 metres beyond the hole and appearing to stop. Then the hand of God made it trickle downhill and into the Cup of Glory. In a just world, anyone who plays such a shot should be entitled to celebratory drinks paid for by one’s less-adept companions. Golf, however, reflects it Scottish heritage by insisting that the player foot the bill for all comers’ nineteenth-hole libations.)