They were walking really fast, making me sweat as I tried to keep up. They were 20 years older than me. I referred to them as the two grumpy Hobbits. In reality they were Mark and Phil, two retired Royal Air Force officers. They knew why there were riots going on in England. The quick answer is laziness and lack of education…military conservatism is universal. The grumpy Hobbits gave me a quick (as in they played really fast) lesson in British golf. I was not up for the lesson, but I gave it the ol’American try. I swung my club. I grabbed my bag. I walked quickly to my ball (if I didn’t launch it into a sheep pasture). I moved as quickly as possible. They still beat me to the green. I didn’t want to make America appear to be the land of lazy golfers. Sorry America…I failed and I came away believing that the people who inhabit UK, the ancestral home of golf, know how to play and enjoy golf better. We may have more courses (land issue), we may have more golfers (population issue), but we don’t have tradition. I don’t think I can mentally chant U-S-A, U-S-A anymore when watching the British Open. It is their game; we just commercialize and exploit it better.
First: I play golf, I buy expensive golf clubs, I buy (and lose) a lot of golf balls, hell…I travel just to play, and my handicap is 21 (this number means I suck at golf). That is my golf knowledge in a singularity (see: http://www.ias.ac.in/jarch/jaa/20/221-232.pdf – this is a random link that has “naked singularity” in its title). I can stand on a fairway and know where the ball ought to go (well sort of), but I can’t explain why the hole, or golf course, is designed that way. Golf courses are designed a certain way, but I don’t know what that “certain” way is. My vocabulary fails me when attempting to describe this. Golf courses are the product of art and science and these are two things that I am totally incapable of understanding beyond laymen’s terms or concepts.
Golf course design is an art and a science. Architects who design them actually have their own association (http://www.asgca.org/). Having an association is a sign of legitimacy. Golf course architects are very legitimate. They are also bastards. All the bastards are not made the same and their bastardliness (not a word) is varied. It varies by location and the targeted golf clientele. A basic rule is that the more expensive the course the better the design and upkeep. Another basic rule, the more expensive the bigger architect bastard.
Second: I recently played golf in East Anglia (think NNE of London), England, and the golf courses are designed in a fashion that I had never experienced before. Additionally, the manner in which golf is played in East Anglia was different from golfing in America. It isn’t as if the game was different or the rules were changed; it just had a different feel and attitude. East Anglia is not British Open country, there were no sand dunes, no rolling hills with sparse vegetation, no gnarled coastal trees (or gnarled greens keepers stalking the course with their sheep dog). “Parkland” is how it is described in England. I describe it as Pennsylvania…except it is devoid of the Amish, outlet malls, Camaros, and mullets.
Here is how English golf is different:
1. The rough isn’t. See http://golf.about.com/cs/golfterms/g/bldef_rough.htm for a definition of “rough.” But East Anglia rough isn’t rough, thick, or shaggy…it was just a little less flat than the fairway. It was pristine, a green velvet that stretched out until meeting a sheep pasture (sheep pastures are green too…but decorated with little black dots of poop). What the rough missed in hampering your golf shot the trees and angles made up for. There were holes where trees actually camouflaged the holes. Odd angles from one group of trees to the next never allows the golfer to aim straight at the hole. English golf course designers are crafty bastards.
2. There are no lost golf balls. In America, if you are running low on golf balls (because you are constantly launching them into the woods) you know you will find someone else’s lost ball. For me it usually turns out to be some pink breast cancer awareness ball, but hey, I am secure in my masculinity. I have no problem launching a pink golf ball into the woods! But, seriously, I never found an errant golf ball. Now this may the result of the manicured green velvet they call rough in England which makes it easy to find an errant golf ball, or it may be that English golfers have better eyesight. Honestly, I don’t know. What I do know…make sure you buy and carry enough golf balls in your bag to replace when you lose yours. Americans are wasteful that way.
3. British greens are soft but not bruised. This sounds like a description of perfectly ripe kiwi, and actually that is a good way to describe British green texture. Supple smooth and soft enough to cradle your bump and run shot. I played with six different golfers in England and none of them “went for” the green. All of them ensured their second or third shot was close enough to easily be bumped up and on. This may be a result of the greens’ softness or the greens’ softness is the result of the British game of bump and run. Either way, the greens were wonderfully textured…after two holes I started aiming for a bump and run shot. Americans leave heavy footprints in the world; I didn’t want to replicate it on these terry cloth greens.
4. It’s “dykes” not “ditches.” Don’t ask me, I guess it’s like “lorry” instead of “truck,” or “torch” instead of “flashlight.” They call things differently…but don’t put your ball in the dyke. By the way, that last sentence sounded a lot dirtier than intended.
5. British golfers walk. Walk sounds like stroll, but it isn’t; there is no strolling on British courses. You move out with a purpose (this is how the U.S. Army describes the term “range walk”…which means you can’t run with a weapon on the firing range but you better be moving with a purpose). Because they walk, there is no cart paths which means there is no lucky bounce off a cart path to give you an extra ten yards on your drive. In England you are stuck with your game; no gimmies from the course or life.
6. British golf is not elitist. When one thinks about golf it is understandable to think elitism. In America, a certain socio-economic class is drawn to golf…old, fat, rich, white guys. In England the courses are covered in the old and the young, women and men. British golf is about tradition. You have to know the rules and you have to respect the game. You don’t have to be good (I beat one of the grumpy Hobbits), you just have to play with a purpose, know the rules, and respect the game. This equates to no cart girls loaded down with beer and cheese crackers.
I suck at golf in America; I suck at golf in England. Golf, for me, is like running…I’m not good at it but I like myself more for doing it. Both are humbling experiences. Golf in England was hobbits, moving with a purpose, and wishing I could have found a pink ball in the rough.