By Peach Reynolds
To me one of the most beneficial aspects of international travel is to see things done differently than we do here. Some things function better than here and some worse, but it seems healthy to experience those differences. I grew to love traffic circles, but not sure about driving on the left side of the road, especially while shifting gears with my left hand on a 6-speed stick shift Audi while steering from the right side of the car. Very few street signs and no street numbers seemed a bit odd as well. Thank goodness for GPS systems!
The golf course was a true gem built in 1891 but updated periodically over the years. While not well known to Americans, it has been the site of two Ryder Cups and Walker Cup. The first head pro was Harry Vardon who formalized the Vardon grip and the second was Ted Ray, winner of the U.S. Open in 1920.
The course incorporated several design features that were classic Donald Ross touches. However, this course was built several years before Donald Ross started designing golf courses. False fronts, domed greens here and there, over sized fairway trap lips to trick your sense of distance, and a hole with a valley across the middle somewhat like the new #16 green at Morris Williams, for example.
Fast and firm conditions, some windy spells, and spotty play on my part led to my finishing 99th in the field of 150 or so with scores of 84-82 and missing the cut. Most players I talked to agreed that this course as it was set up was the toughest course they had ever played. The winning 54-hole score was 224 (+11) and that score won by 3! The 36-hole cut was 160. (+18) A good local caddy would have been a huge help but surprisingly there were none available. Just as surprisingly, my wife, Cynthia, volunteered to help wheel my clubs around for both rounds!
As for general golf differences, I found it interesting that:
1) In Britain most courses are walking only. Nearly every golfer I saw was using a push/pull cart of some sort. I am a big proponent of walking whenever possible but they don’t have 100-degree afternoons like we do here. Billy Claggett would have had a tough career selling golf carts there.
2) There are lots of organized amateur events that involve regional teams competing in Ryder Cup style events against each other – much like our Hannon Cup matches that pit local pros against amateurs and the Rudy’s Cup competition that pits the best amateurs from Austin against those from San Antonio. There is no question that this type of competition fosters interest in the game.
3) The British think nothing of playing recreational rounds of golf in terrible weather. Just part of the deal.
4) The fairways and greens tend to be a lot firmer than what we see here. I saw no evidence of aeration holes on the greens. Or ball marks, for that matter. The 150-yard markers are measured to the front of the greens, not the middle. It is almost unheard of to play an approach shot to carry all the way to a pin. I had a very difficult time judging where to land shots – the wind seemed to affect the way the ball bounced and rolled almost as much as the contours of the ground.
5) The sand traps are indeed TRAPS! Many required using wooden stairs to get in and out. I was in 5 or 6 fairway traps and not once was I able to even attempt to advance the ball in the direction of the green. (see photo)
6) Entry into golf tournaments is based almost entirely on one’s handicap instead of through qualifiers. Better players there are working hard to get their handicap as low as possible whereas I see examples here of players happy to let their handicap float upwards to enhance their chances in handicap based matches.
All differences aside, to a man, the golfers I met there had a wonderful enthusiasm for the game. The emphasis was truly on the joy of the game and the uncertainties of the result of any shot only added to the charm. Playing golf in the United Kingdom was a rare treat and I would encourage anyone that gets the chance to do it!