Now that I don’t play anymore, I think it’s about time that the Tour in this country had some rotten conditions. I’d like to see it get really tough for these guys with their air-conditioned locker rooms, free buffet, free ice, and the ability to turn right on red in their courtesy cars. They even have a fitness trailer to warm up in or in case they pull a little muscle. In my day, laddie, you had to pull at least one muscle in order to get your heart started in the morning. Hardship gives you backbone, that’s what I say, so it’s disturbing to me to see so many of my former colleagues defecting to these cushy conditions.
Take the weather. You can’t seriously call it a challenge over here. I live in Dallas, and I’m sick of good weather. Down here the definition of an awkward hole is “one with a heat rash around it.” We’ve been lightly sautáed here for months and, frankly, you can stick a fork in me because I am well and truly done.
I want to look out the window and see a day so cold and lousy that there is absolutely no chance of anyone else being on the TPC at Las Colinas. Those are the days I play by myself because it reminds me of Ireland in the summer. Back home, we get nine months of absolutely ghastly weather and then winter sets in. We Irish are famous for our red hair and freckles. This has nothing to do with genetics. It’s rust. Where I was born, in Bangor, County Down, on a clear day you could see Ailsa Craig, the giant rock that sits in the sea by the golf course at Turnberry on the west coast of Scotland. If it was visible, it usually meant that it would rain soon. If it wasn’t visible, it meant that it was raining already, but that didn’t keep people from playing golf. They played anyway, seemingly oblivious to the conditions. If the rain fell gently, it was called a “soft” day. If the wind blew, driving the rain into your face like ack-ack fire, it was a “hard” day. Simple really. If it didn’t rain or blow it was called an “extremely unusual day.”
There was nothing to compare with a hard day at Royal County Down, the world’s most beautiful golf course. Waves of 40 mph squalls would come in across the steel-gray Irish sea making “one-under” a hard-fought 89. Playing in these conditions was always exciting for me as a young whippersnapper. My friends and I used to giggle gleefully in anticipation as the car was buffeted by huge gusts on the drive to the course. Hitting three woods and a wedge to the par-five 18th was a common occurrence and a horror story that could be embellished afterward. There was always some drunken, strawberry-nosed old fart lurking in his gardening clothing by the bar waiting to tell the bedraggled that it was only a “wee draft” compared to yesterday. It amazed me that he could wear a pair of DNA-encrusted cavalry twill trousers and an egg-stained club tie over a frayed plaid shirt, but I couldn’t wear a pair of blue jeans. “We have to keep up appearances.” Okay, pal, in that case lock the old boy up in the broom closet.
In the late 1970s, I was a fledgling pro and I played on the Irish pro-am circuit, often in vile weather and for meager prize money. On many occasions, first prize was less than $100 and the amateurs were die-hard golf idiots who dressed like the crew on a Norwegian prawn trawler. You know, oilskins and parkas. I once witnessed one of my partners, in the days when penalty drops were taken over the shoulder, drop his ball into the hood of his anorak. It took him five minutes to find it. The rest of us couldn’t resist the opportunity to help him look, all the time paralyzed with laughter.
“Damned if I know where it went, Frank. It must have gotten a hell of a bounce!”
I once played in a pro-am with a big man with a short swing who couldn’t hit the ball more than about 120 yards. Later in the round, the sun came out and the temperature rose about 30 degrees. He took off his jacket and five sweaters and it turned out he was a wee man with a long swing who could hit it about 240!
Finally, for those of you who enjoy your shower after riding in a cart for five hours and perhaps have the occasional cold one afterward, consider this. Imagine how good it feels after a three-hour route march through a blizzard over mountainous sand dunes. (Yes, three hours! Golf is supposed to be exercise.) After an invigorating lukewarm shower in a freezing cold, spartan locker room (the shower feels roasting because your body temperature has fallen to 40 degrees), there is no better feeling in the world than cozying up to the warmth and intoxicating scent of a peat fire, holding a hot Irish whiskey filled with brown sugar and cloves. You can gaze out the rain-lashed window at the windswept links that has just kicked your ass and succumb to the gradual warming as you descend into that age-old euphoric trance that says, “Now that, my friend, was a real round of golf.”
If the old fart at the bar tells you it was worse yesterday, you can engage in another time-honored tradition and tell him to “bugger off”!