Golf: The marvellous mania

Golf: The marvellous mania

The Marvellous Mania is the title of a special book by Alistair Cooke, well known for his longstanding efforts to explain America to British listeners in his weekly radio addresses.

Until seeing the book I did not know he was a fellow golf sufferer. It is a good read and his wonderful broadcasts are available on line and disc.

My own enthusiasm/mania for golf started pre-teen, batting around scuffed balls with a few hickory clubs on a crude course at my “prep” school in southern England. When on vacation at home, the nearest course was 12 miles away across many hills. That was a tough bicycle ride, carrying my clubs. Much lemonade was required.

Happily, my Dads doctor partner, Doug Chandler, eventually got interested and would transport me and Pat, the local vicar. I played only occasionally in my teens, being more interested in cricket and athletics, but fell into an enthusiastic group of fellow golf sufferers when “studying” at Cambridge university. I got so keen and reasonably good that I tried out for the University golf team. It was captained by Ted Dexter, who later became famous as Captain of the English Cricket team. He sat by the side of a par 3 hole watching his potential team players at the Royal Worlington golf club. My quad 7 at that hole apparently did not impress him, and I regressed to pole vaulting.

It is somewhat embarrassing to say that my golf really took off in Medical School in London, where three keen golfers persuaded me to skip an afternoon of pathology lectures. Michael Anderson, Pat Preece and Ian Munro became close friends and competitors.  

Mike and Ian from 60 years ago, Pat more recent

Our handicaps fell quickly and all eventually represented London University (at golf, not pathology).

Inevitably, my early years as a doctor (and father) sidelined the mania for a while, but it reappeared later with a vengeance in Andy, my son. He took to it quickly, had an impressive amateur career and turned professional at age 18. For several years he was competitive on the European and other tours and I had the (scary) privilege of caddying for him at two (British) Opens, at Turnberry and Lytham.

Turnberry 1986
Bandon dunes

We have had many special trips together, not least in SW Ireland, and, talking of trips, also with stepson Tripp, to Bandon dunes, golf heaven in Oregon.

I am deeply fortunate to have been able to enjoy many wonderful courses around the world, often with Marion. We first met in Augusta, which is well known in the golf world.

I played there first on the Sunday before the Masters in 1983. I remember taking 27 putts (in the first 9 holes). Later I was able to play 63 holes in one day, including 9 on the short course.

Years ago there were lists of the best 50 or so courses in the world, and it was possible to fantasize about playing them all. Now a new world-beater is opened almost every week. If anyone is interested, I can share some favorites that have felt my divots and heard my cries of pain.

USA: Pine Valley, Cypress point, Pasatiempo, Oakmont, Bandon (5 courses), Whistling Straights, Kapalua Hawaii, and nearer home, Pinehurst (many, recently Forest Creek), Seaside (St Simons, GA), Augusta National, Kiawah Ocean course, True Blue

England: Sunningdale, Hoylake, Birkdale, Rye, Wentworth

Scotland: St Andrews (of course), Carnoustie, Muirfield, Dornoch, Turnberry

Ireland: Portrush, County Down, Tralee, Ballybunion, Waterville

Australia: Melbourne (and the other Royals), La Perouse, Barnbougle, Cape Wickham

New Zealand: Tara Iti, Cape Kidnappers, Kauri cliffs, Jacks point, Kinloch

This looks like a Caucasion list, which is perhaps not surprising since that’s how it started. But golf has been spreading rapidly around the world with particular growth in Asia. I have played in some interesting courses in India, Hong Kong, China (when they had just one course, now there are thousands), South Africa, many European countries, Malaysia, Brazil and Kuwait (on browns rather than greens)

Where next? We look forward to being back in Australia and New Zealand with clubs soon, and Streamsong (Florida) is on my bucket list….

In the meantime, I am very lucky to be a founder member of the Bulls Bay club nearby (not near enough). Like True Blue it was designed by Mike Strantz. A most unusual feature is that winners of tournaments have their pictures taken sitting on a bull called Titleist (alive, honest).

Happy to host any fellow maniacs…..the saddle awaits.

We conclude with a quote from Alistair Cooke “They have been playing golf for 800 years and nobody has satisfactorily said why”.

(I might mention that my 7th chidren’s book about Fred the snake has just been published, the first of a trilogy about exploring USA.