John Stark, a great Scottish teacher, died on Saturday. I can't tell you his age. He was in his early 60s when I took a series of lessons from him over the course of the summer of '91. He was still in his early 60s when I last saw him, three or four years ago. People who have known him all his life say he was in his early 60s as a young man, playing in the British Open at Carnoustie in '53, the one Hogan won. The point is, the man was ageless.
I got the word from his former son-in-law, David Murchie, the head professional at Crief Golf Club, in Scotland. David's marriage to John's daughter did not work out, but golf kept the men together for many decades.
You know the cliche of the Scottish golfing man: all tweedy and trim and austere. Stark favored bright red polyester pants, cheap cigars and gold fillings. He taught by asking questions. Like, "Whatarya tryin' to git from the gahm?" He did not use the word laddie.
He taught me, at first, with mealy balls and a hickory-shafted club. He'd accept no money from me, as he was already rich, although not in the conventional sense. Eventually, he took me to a secret place (and course) called Auchnafree, not far from Crieff, where he was professional emeritus. There was a primitive six-hole golf course at Auchnafree, tended by sheep. Stark drank water from the river that ran through the Auchnafree glen. His swing looked downright regal in that setting, his bright red pants against the lush green grass.
Saturday was cool and blowy in Philadelphia, where I live. I went out to the range here for the first time all year with a new bag--simple, black, two pockets--kindly sent to me from a man in Oregon I don't know. I noticed for the first time there was a word, stitched in black, on the bag: Auchnafree. I don't think the man in Oregon has been there, but he knows about it. Different scale, but it's sort of like Kinsella's baseball diamond in "Field of Dreams," at least to me. It's pure.
He loved watching Hogan, Palmer, Seve, Tiger-- any golfer who felt the course.
One of Stark's phrases was, "Go on, now." He'd ask you to make a swing, or open a gate on a dirt road, and then he'd say, "Go on, now." Or, "On you go."
One way or another, all the good teachers say that, right?