One of the things I like most about American golf is the atmosphere in the clubhouse and the feeling that the management has hired the right people for the right jobs. Most clubs here have a casual feel, with no sense of a class system within the membership.
Golf clubs in Britain and Ireland can be considerably stuffier. Many have separate men’s and women’s lounges and the hallways and fairways are patrolled by the dreaded committee members.
Golfers can be reported for such crimes as not replacing divots, using more than one towel in the shower, or — heavens to Betsy, surely not! — even taking a hand towel onto the golf course. (This hideous act is one of the most serious breaches.)
As soon as an ordinary member is invited to be a committee person, he becomes bloated and drunk with power. Mild-mannered people can turn into opinionated, pontificating windbags in an instant. (Come to think of it, that describes me perfectly. Except I’m correct.)
I believe I have to go back to the origins of the game to determine the exact cause of this dreaded metamorphosis, and you’re coming with me whether you like it or not.
Now, not a lot of people know this, but the game of golf was invented by the Irish. In fact, there are a lot of things for which we are responsible that might surprise you.
Take the kilt and the bagpipes, for examples — and keep them. You’re quite welcome.
Both are Irish inventions and were originally to be used as weapons. Anyone who has seen Braveheart will be aware how the kilt was used in warfare. Anyone who has been awakened at dawn by the skirl of pipes will know they are certainly instruments, but of torture, not music. But, I digress….
A long time ago, when there were only two kinds of people — the filthy rich and the filthy poor — the cleverest man in Ireland, heavily disguised as a daft old shepherd, sat on a grassy mound on the useless piece of land that lay between his lordship’s farm and the sea.
His faithful old Irish sheepdog (a breed now more commonly known as sheep) lay contented in the crook of his arm. All of a sudden, a seagull overhead suffered a massive coronary and crash-landed onto a rabbit, killing it instantly. (This is true, honestly.)
For a while, the old man pondered what all this might mean and eventually figured it must be lunchtime, so he ate the seagull. Then, it struck him.
He thought to himself, “If I took a piece of that rabbit skin, stuffed it with those seagull feathers, and sewed it up, I bet I could hit it a fair lick with this crook of mine.”
He did, he could, and the game of golf was invented. The first technological breakthrough came some months later when he worked out that the ball would go even farther if it was sewn up with the fur on the inside.
The clever Irishman was obsessed and, although his sheepdog left him, he continued to practice and was soon drawing a large crowd at the 18th green, which was, strangely enough, located right outside the village pub.
Of course, in those days, anything that was any fun was usually made illegal, unless you happened to be one of the filthy rich, in which case you could do whatever the hell you liked.
As it happened, the well-to-do townsfolk did like the game and forbade the peasants from playing. The well-to-do did, of course, need the peasants to carry their bags, and so the talented poor began caddieing for the talentless rich, a tradition that lives to this day.
The golf club was invented and those who were members wore wigs and silly red jackets and felt thoroughly superior to those who were not in the club. Eventually, staff people were hired to carry out the wishes of the members who formed their own inner groups to make sure the other members kept up the standards that set their honorable company apart.
I believe somehow this evolved into the semi-farcical situation in which a lot of British and Irish golf clubs now find themselves. A captain of the club, elected annually, is surrounded by his council. Then, we have the various cliques, my favorite of which is the greens committee, whose job it is to oversee the maintenance of the course.
For some unknown reason, the greens superintendent, who — you could be forgiven for thinking — might actually know something about the subject, has to answer to the chairman of this committee, who might be an expert in proctology. Now, there’s a scary thought.
I was once fond of playing at a club where this relationship was particularly bitter. (As always, the names have been changed to protect the guilty.) Flanagan was a good superintendent with a sound knowledge of his turf and how the game should be played.
Mr. Bulstrode, on the other hand, was a pompous old goat with a 23 handicap who, if given a flashlight and the use of both hands, would have great difficulty finding his own backside.
He had one of those hideous little drop-kick dogs — you know the type — like a Maltese poodle crossed with an albino cockroach. It was snow white in the middle, but stained at both ends. It had the sort of yappy little face that you’d never get tired of kicking. The vile little rodent would regularly leave Flanagan a present in the middle of the fairway.
Because Mr. Bulstrode played golf in 75-yard sideways increments, he believed a golf course should be devoid of all rough, but felt the occasional flower bed with a rockery and a scowling garden gnome was nice.
More than once, Flanagan had threatened to insert one such gnome into Mr. Bulstrode after the malignant old duffer had instructed him to perform some ridiculous task that went against his grain.
Fortunately, Mr. Bulstrode had a change of heart — which didn’t like him, either — and he croaked. It transpired that he wanted his ashes scattered over his beloved golf course. In a curious twist of fate, the task befell his old adversary — Flanagan the greenkeeper.
Mr. Bulstrode arrived at the maintenance shed in a generic container (he was also cheap) where Flanagan, with tears of heartfelt mirth, fondly mixed him with weedkiller and took Mr. Bulstrode out to his favorite rockery/flower bed where, in an even layer, he laid him to rest.
The following morning everything in the area was in a similar condition to Mr. Bulstrode except for the garden gnome, which had been mysterious replaced by one sporting a broad grin. I love happy endings, don’t you?
There was a point to this story when I started. I think what I am trying to say is the next time you stride into the club lounge leaving a trail of wet grass and mud from your nicely manicured golf course, be thankful that the management has had the good sense to employ professionals. Let them get on with providing a service for the members.
Most importantly, the barman will fill your glass with ice, sometimes even all the way to the top. I like it here in America. I think I’ll stay.