Golfing down memory lane

Golfing down memory lane

If you kindly read about how golf (in USA) started in cHarleston, you may be wondering what sort of equipment might have been used at that time. I cannot tell you, except to read that “432 balls and 96 clubs were sent from the Scottish port Leith to Charleston in 1743”.  We do know that golf balls evolved from wooden to the “Feathery” (leather-wrapped feathers) to the “Guttie” (Gutta percha made from dried sap of the Malaysian sapodilla tree), to the modern rubber ball. Dimples were added in the early 1900s. I am old enough to remember some early variations.

My favorite ball initially was the “Spitfire”, and then the “Dunlop 65”, which came individually wrapped. It was named such after Henry Cotton (a patient of mine long ago in London, but not a relative) to celebrate his record round at the 1934 Open Championship. Modern balls owe their consistency to a golfing radiologist, who apparently kept missing putts, and started to take Xray pictures to ensure that the core of the ball was symmetrical.

The clubs used to hit the golf balls are a whole other fun story. The only good thing about the boarding school I attended (from age seven) was a rudimentary golf course across and around the rugby and cricket pitches. I was the proud owner of a leather golf bag with a driver, brassie, mashie, niblick and putter, all with hickory shafts of course. Some of my clubs were bequeathed to me by my maternal grandfather, Gilbert Sterling Lee. I called him “Gruncle” being confused between uncles and grandparents. He was a scratch golfer (and captain of the local cricket team). My mother inherited a good golf swing, but rarely played, and Dad never. Which is why golf outings at home were infrequent. As I have written somewhere before, I had to ride my bicycle for 12 hilly miles carrying my clubs….much lemonade required.

We used to talk (occasionally) of hitting a drive “out of the screws”, the screws holding the faceplate of the club. Old clubs sometimes find new uses (thank you, Paul).

Why the odd names of the clubs? I might have added a spoon, a baffy, a cleek, a jigger and a rutting iron.  The brassie was named because it had a brass sole, the spoon because it had a concave face, and the mashie apparently for the French word for club “massue”. The cleek was a driving iron, and the jigger was a sort of chipping club. The rutting iron had a short blade designed to play shots out of muddy carriage tracks. A similar club, the “Sabbath stick” was the golfers answer to the Church of Scotland’s discouragement of golf on Sundays. Held upside-down it looked like a walking stick. Reversed it could be used to sneak a shot. And the jigger now refers to something better used after the game is over to numb the pain.

The modern system of numbered irons was introduced gradually in the mid 1930s, but a few names persist. The “rescue club” is a lofted “wood” (albeit made out of iron) and the “wedge” is the most lofted club in the bag. I read that the wedge was developed by Gene Sarazen after noticing the lift produced by the wing flaps while flying in Howard Hughes plane. He built his first prototype by soldering extra lead to the sole of his niblick, then adjusting the angle of the sole to about 10 degrees, to prevent the clubhead either digging deeply into the sand or skimming along the top. He brought his new club to compete in the 1932 Open, but kept it hidden from the authorities to avoid having it ruled illegal. He won that tournament with a then-record score of 283 and also won the subsequent 1932 U.S. Open.

It should not be forgotten that there is another club that is used much more often than any other – the “putter”. They come in all shapes and lengths, many of which I have tried. “Putt” is apparently an old Scottish word meaning to shove or push. It also comes into common use in athletics, the “shot putt”. Modesty prevents me from mentioning who was the south of England youth shot put champion in 1956. I actually preferred the javelin and pole vault.

What other big changes to the game have I seen?

From the mid 1930s attempts were made to replace the hickory shafts of golf clubs with steel (sometimes painted to look like hickory), fibreglass, aluminun, titanium and graphite. Steel and graphite now dominate the market. Incidentally there are now groups all over the world who play tournaments with old hickory-shafted clubs.

Golf bags (and trolleys, trundlers, buggies,carts etc) have also changed over the years. Gruncle’s old style bag morphed into a slightly bigger one when I caddied for son Andrew in the British Open 45 years ago. Glad it wasn’t one of the huge ones you see now on TV.

Who remembers the stymie? You tried to leave your ball between your opponents ball and the hole. He/she had to chip over it. Now we mark the place and move the ball. The importance of replacing it afterwards is clear in step-son Tripp’s new book about when Tiger almost failed to do so…

And what about “bogey”? Nowadays, that describes when you take one shot more than you had hoped/planned, or one more than “par”. Believe me, bogey used to mean what we now call par. So now bogey is one over par. Got it? Apparently, some golfer was described as the “bogey man” for winning all the club tournaments. We used to play matches against bogey. I might be able to handle that. Scoring one better than par is called a “birdie”, apprently derived from an American slang “bird” meaning something special. Atlantic City Country Club in New Jersey brags about initiaiting it in 1903. One less is an “eagle”, presumably because it is a special bird, and then the very rare “albatross” (or double-eagle in US speak), at 3 under par. In your dreams……where some of the best shots are played.

Gotta go. T-time at Bulls Bay. Lucky me

All part of life’s rich tapestry