Where Golf Runs in the Blood


the idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone,
All centuries but this, and every country but his own

Such reprobates are on Ko-Kos famous little list of people who should be dispatched if executions ever come back into fashion in Gilbert & Sullivans light opera, The Mikado. While I generally agree with Gilbert on this one, Im going to risk being the thing he reviled.
The reason: Golf, the way it should be, is getting too hard to find in this country.
Ive been fortunate enough to visit Scotland twice. Of course, I took my clubs. I never tire of telling people that Scottish golf is one of those rare travel experiences that actually lives up to its advance billing.
Golf in Scotland is so deeply ingrained in the fabric of life that the game should have an ancient tartan all its own. Im not talking about the championship-course, five-star-hotel aspect of it, although thats fun. Its more the fact that nearly every little town has a course, just as so many New England villages have quaint town squares.
On these unassuming courses, unassuming people play golf the way American kids play baseball and Canadian kids play hockey. Its as natural as breathing. They play quickly and enthusiastically, on their feet, without a care for shaft flex, mower height, or whether theres Bookers at the clubhouse bar.
Some of the unassuming courses happen also to be championship caliber. Royal Dornoch, in the far north of the country, holds a special place in the hearts of golfers the world over, from the anonymous to the likes of Ben Crenshaw and Tom Watson. The people in the tiny town of the same name know what a treasure they have, but they dont treat it as a museum piece.
If you live in Dornoch, you must play golf. Thats all there is to it, says local Sandee Mackintosh. She said this to Lorne Rubenstein, the noted Canadian golf writer who spent a summer in Dornoch and wrote a book about it. (Talk about envy)
The book, A Season in Dornoch (Simon & Schuster), evokes the true spirit of links golf, and in so doing, points up the differences between the game in the Auld Sod and the version we find in the United States.
Speed of play is religion over there. No one feels the need for the courses to be wall-to-wall swaths of emerald green. Fun is paramount, but matches are taken seriously. Initiation fees and dues are in the hundreds of dollars, not tens of thousands, and no one has ever heard of a dining minimum. There are no outsize greens fees.
Carts are for players with medical infirmities. Otherwise, you walk. There is consideration for other players on the course. The devotion to fast play assures a feeling of openness on the course, the happy end of the search for scale, for proportion, for perspective, as Rubenstein writes.
I wonder what happens when too many people crowd a space, and believe something essential is lost in the game when a course is clogged with golfers, Rubenstein continues. Nobody enjoys it when golfers knock against one another. A golf course is not an elevator in an office building at closing time; it is a landscape meant to allow for breathing room and walking room and space to join with others, but not for golfers to overwhelm each other.
We all play because we love it, and we smile because we can. But how many of us long for what Rubenstein describes?
Most of us, Id say.