A Round of Golf Courses: Bernard Darwin
as compiled by
“It must be almost exactly nine and thirty years since I first took the boat a cross the narrow strip of water to Portmarnock and found myself in what was obviously a tract of wonderful golfing country. Not only that, but one seemed to have entered a new world of utter peace and seclusion. It was some ten miles from Dublin and it might have been a thousand miles from anywhere. It was an enthralling moment and I have been living it over again because Portmarnock has lately celebrated its jubilee-it was founded in 1894-and Mr. Sean O’Connor, a past captain of the club, has written a little book on its history which he has been so good as to send me. It is doubtless a much better course now in the fullness of its beauty than in its years of promise, but the Springtime is perhaps the best and I have never quite been able to recapture the ‘wild surmise’ with which I first beheld it on the Oxford and Cambridge Society tour of 1906.
I remember that my opponent in one of my two matches was Mr. WC Pickeman, one of the founders of the club, and on one fine day now some fifty-two years ago Mr. Pickeman and Mr. Ross rowed over on a voyage of discovery. They seem to have found not only the golfing paradise that they had seen with longing eyes from the mainland, but a curious little island community as some of the local names showed. The Wore hole was a depression, now beyond the seventh green, where the tide left ‘wore’ or seaweed which was used for fertilizing the land. There was Lime Kiln Hill and Distillery Hill (whether the distillery was a strictly legitimate one I do not know), Brick Field and Cornfield, the latter bounded by a certain Nailey Fitzgerald’s ditch, which is now the ridge at the ninth hole. Among the better-known inhabitants was Biddy McCann who had a well and Maggie Leonard who had a shack which became the first club-house, and a cow which later developed an insatiable appetite for golf balls. On Christmas Eve, 1893, Messrs. Pickeman and Ross and three other pioneers rowed over once more to enter into a treaty with the natives and in the next year a nine-hole course was laid out and the club started. Later Mr. Jameson-this one of the best known of Portmarnock names-let the club some further land and a second nine were made.
Those early days were of course long past when I first went there. The club-house had been built, and, incidentally burnt down. The course was in admirable order, with turf which then seemed to me that of my dreams. But there still hung about the place, as indeed there does now, an unsophisticated charm all its own. To-day one gets to the course by comparatively prosaic drive in a motor-car, but then a crossing by boat was still necessary except at low tide when an outside car could drive across a moist expanse of sand and mud. Sometimes, as far I remember, one was rowed across, and sometimes one sailed. Personally I never came near being drowned or even ducked as I gather some voyagers did, nor was I ever ignominiously carried to the shore on the back of a boatman. The only very mild adventure I recall was that of sailing back in a squall of snow and, being but a poor sailor, experiencing a perceptible feeling of relief when the short crossing was over.
Time flies horribly, especially with a great slice of six years cut out of life from a golfing point of view, but I believe the last time I was at Portmarnock must have been about 1930. It hardly seems possible, for of much of the course I retain astonishingly vivid pictures. Over some of the outgoing holes I have grown just a little hazy, but assuredly not of the finish; indeed, to be frankly egotistical, I can still feel quivering through me the sensation of a certain iron shot hit through a cross-wind up to the little perching green of the hole called Ireland’s Eye. That is to my mind one of the finest and most defiant holes in the world, and I am further enamoured of it for a reason with which some will not sympathise. From the green is a view of the island, the name of which it bears, and on the island was once committed a murder which always must appeal to connoisseurs.
Those were the days in which ‘the immense and brooding spirit’ of Mr. HM Cairnes, now as I am glad to see the club’s president, ‘quickened and controlled’ Portmarncock. I believe there have been some changes since then, though the highest compliment I can pay to the course as I remember it is to say that I can hardly believe it is the better for them. Mr. Cairnes always reminded me in some ways of another old friend of mine, also a great student and creator of courses, Mr. CB Macdonald who made the National Golf Links on Long Island. Mr. Macdonald had a simple and direct habit of saying that those who disagreed with him were ‘chumps’ (that was the word he favoured) and I don’t know that Mr. Cairnes very warmly appreciated any dissent. But he made of Portmarnock a very great course. I find quoted in this book an article of my own in which I wrote of Mr. Cairnes ‘austere and merciless’ genius, and I do not think I can now mend the phrase. Golfers will naturally vary as to the exact place on their list which they well assign to any course, but I know no golfer, whose judgment I respect, that does not rate Portmarnock very high.
Nature has been perhaps as bountiful there as on any piece of golfing ground anywhere, but it is possible for a course to have great natural advantages and yet miss greatness through lack of imagination and monotony of design on its architect’s part. I can think of one or two examples but will discreetly keep my tongue between my teeth. At any rate nobody could possibly accuse Portmarnock of monotony. I am conscious of having said before but will say again that in point of variety of holes it seems to me unrivalled. There is a hole in a nestling hollow, or used to be at any rate, at the tenth; there is a hole on a hump-backed hill at the eighth; there is the almost insolently defiant little plateau at Ireland’s Eye, the fourteenth, and so I might go on. There is one hole, the third unless my memory had forsaken me, which admits of no similitude, for it is not like any other that I know of. That long curving narrow strip of turf with benty hills on one side and wet sand on the other, and nothing in the direct road, unless it be the hazard of the golfer’s own frailty, possesses an unique quality. Everybody remembers it and I have peculiarly poignant memories of it from having played it as a twenty-first hole in an Irish Championship. My recollection is that I had to hole an eminently missable putt to win in five and in the painful circumstances I am far from regarding that as discreditable.”
“Ignorance is often bliss at golf, but to be ignorant of Portmarnock and Newcastle is to have missed some of the greatest bliss the game has to give.”
The Romantic & The Spectacular
Darwin was an advocate of Wetherhed and Simpson’s idea that an ideal 18 should have at least one bad but entertaining hole. Cruden Bay is Darwin’s unorthodox choice.
“The romantic child that is more or less dormant in all of us awakes now and then at the thought of exploring or wondering what is going to happen round the next exciting corner.
I arrived at Cruden Bay after ice tea on such a shining spring evening as would quicken the slowest pulse. I had left St. Andrews that morning enveloped in a dismal haar; the sky had cleared miraculously as we drew near Aberdeen and I had been shown round the truly noble links of Balgownie, once the home of one of my boyhood’s heroes, Archie Simpson.
Now this course lay completely solitary in the evening sunshine; I must needs explore even if I did not want to, and I set forth with two clubs, some old balls, and a sudden gust of enthusiasm. For the length of the first two holes which lie comparatively open to the eyes of men I maintained a reasonable decorum, but with the third I was among the secret hills and could let myself go. I felt like the late Mr. William Hazlitt when he set out on a journey by himself and exclaimed; ‘ I laugh, I run, I leap, I sing for joy.’ Surely there never was better course to produce these pleasing and juvenile sensations.
The explorer feels that almost every hole ought to be called by some such darkling and splendid name as the Khyber Pass. In front of him he sees a narrow gorge between two benty hills, and what is there beyond? He must needs hobble as fast as he can to find out. He may drop down to a green in a dell as at the third or find another narrow neck awaiting him as at the fifth, or come suddenly on a big plain as at the sixth, with an unexpected burn and a green popped round an unexpected corner. And if he wants to try a shot he can throw down a ball and top it under no eye but his own. It is all absurdly, childishly, dangerously exciting.
I must here interpolate the confession that, as a rule, I am not wholly a conscientious explorer. If, for instance, I am on the third green and I observe that the fourth hole tacks straight backward, and then the fifth returns to, more or less, where I am standing, I am disposed to take that fourth hole for granted. A severe trial of conscience arose in my exploration of Cruden Bay, and I am glad to say that I was found wanting. Behind the eighth green rises a mighty hill with an apparently interminable flight of steps up to it. Having been there once before I had a notion that I could sneak round on the sea side of the hill without missing much of the course, and I was sorely tempted. However no explorer worthy of the name ought to be afraid of a mountain, and I ploughed my way up. I thought I was, in the words of Praed, ‘A boy again, a happy boy at Drury’s,’ climbing once more the hundred steps at Windsor Castle, but I got to the top at last and was well repaid. The view from the 10th tee, with the sea very blue and the waves breaking in foam on the rocks close to the edge of the course, was worth much more than a hundred steps. It was impossible to resist the hitting of an impotent little shottie from that intoxicating height, scattering the sheep that browsed placidly below. By some magical illusion the ball seemed to go a respectable distance.
For a while I reveled there and mopped my brow, and then came the awful thought-suppose I had to climb up again and there was no way round on the sea side after all. Thank heaven, my memory had not played me false; there was a way round most narrow and romantic, the hill towering on the left, the sea murmuring on the right, and at the end of it the 14th green in a deep and secret hollow. There is no fun in exploring if one cannot give rein to the imagination, and this time I felt like a poor little Spartan guarding that narrow pass while at any moment down some hidden path over the hill there might pour down upon me a horde of Persians. Somehow or other I had missed out a hole, for this ought to have been the 13th and it was undeniably the 14th, but what of that? I was for the moment not at Cruden Bay but at Thermopylae.
With the 15th the spell was broken, for here were actually intrusive and audacious persons playing the eighth hole next door; solitude was no more and I was back to earth again. I did play some more shotties on the way to the 17th hole, with its curious sugar-loaf hill splitting the fairway, but the rapture of exploring had departed; this was merely a very good hole in a very pretty place and I was merely hitting contemptibly short distance with a very stiff back in much the same style as that employed by Mr. Punch when he hits the policeman.
There must have been some magic aboard that evening, for when I came to read the notes that I had made in going round I found them almost undecipherable. A good explorer should, I suppose, bring back all manner of accurate statistics to prove that he has really been where he professes to have been, and I have only a few smudgy pencil-marks to show. Nobody would accept them as evidence. Nevertheless I really was there and I did climb that hill and it was all enchanting. Like Dan and Una I had ‘broken the hill.’ It ought to have happened on a Midsummer Eve.”
Choosing a course that Darwin never visited is clearly cheating, but I could not resist this meeting of two icons discussing one of the world’s remarkable courses-to be a fly on the wall. Plus this course should be included on every list.
“The taste for the spectacular and dramatic in golf course has had its ups and downs. It was, as I should suppose, at its height when golf first really spread like a fire across England, and especially when Sandwich was created. Nothing could have been more splendidly spectacular than the first few holes at Sandwich, and especially the Maiden, as the sixth hole then was, with its towering crest, its black terraces and its waste of sand, all to be carried at the risk of certain death. ‘Here’s a big hill, lets hit over it!’ was then all the cry, and if there was a big hill or big pit, a sea of impenetrable gorse or a tremendous water hazard, the most was made of it; golfers liked to trifle with their terrors and to enjoy the relief of some great disaster narrowly avoided.
From this state of things there came a natural reaction, and the pendulum swung too far, perhaps, in the opposite direction. Sandwich was alleged to be merely a drivers course, and it could be, and was, pointed out, quite truly, that some of the very greatest courses were not spectacular at all. If one can imagine oneself seeing them for the first time, St. Andrews and Hoylake both look, I suppose, flat and uninteresting: the eleventh at St. Andrews may, perhaps, appear rather frightening even to those who have had no experience of it; but as for the ‘Dowie’ at Hoylake, we know that is has been described as the kind of hole you would find on Clapham Common. Because these two courses looked commonplace and yet were supremely great, people grew rather muddle-headed, and the fact that a hole was formidable and magnificent in appearance became, to some superior persons, almost sufficient reason for condemning it. That acute phase has now passed. We have become more reasonable; we do not think that hitting over a mountain is the grandest thing in golf, but neither do we think a big hill necessarily fatal, nor a blind shot, nor a cross-bunker, not even, on rare occasion, a putting green in a crater. The Americans, I think, always retained a certain simplicity of taste, and, while laying out their courses on the severest and most modern principles, yet enjoyed, with a natural, healthy appetite, one or two big, spectacular, alarming hazards in the round.
These reflections have come into my head because, a few days ago, my friend, Dr. Mackenzie, came into my room, bearing with him a sheaf of photographs, of which three decorate these pages. He was but freshly returned from America, and almost his first words were that he was going to show me pictures of the most spectacular golf course in the world. He added that the course was made on the best golfing ‘terrain’ he had ever had to do with, and, further, that this was the only course he had ever had to do with which had completely satisfied him. This sounded exciting, so I began to look at the photographs, and they certainly were, as I think the reader will admit, wonderfully striking. I am afraid I have, perhaps, yielded a little too much to my love of the dramatic and decided against pictures of more strictly and technically golfing interest. If so, I can only apologise, point to the photograph which is full of bunkers, representing the ninth hole, and say that there were many more – could I have found room for them – just as eloquent in their testimony to the true golfing qualities of the ground.
This course is at Cypress Point. It is about a hundred miles or so south of San Francisco, which is a very short distance in America. It is on the Seventeen Mile Drive of the Del Monte Peninsula, and not far from Pebble Beach, where the Amateur Championship is to be played. The course was only begun a year ago, with Dr. Mackenzie and Mr. Robert Hunter as its creators; botanists and chemists also played their part, and two foremen to oversee the work were brought from Britain; now it is complete, and it is thought to have been completed wonderfully cheaply for 90,000 dollars. That sounds, in British ears, a reasonably large sum of money, but compare it with the cost of two courses mentioned in Mr. CB Macdonald’s book, of which I was writing last week; the cost of the Lido course, including the price of the land, was 750,000 dollars to 800,000 dollars; and that of the course at Yale, where the land was given to the University, was only a little less than 450,000 dollars. When we hear such figures as these, the cost of Cypress Point seems to correspond to our notions of the expense of making a putting course in our own back garden.
The course possesses a combination of seaside and inland qualities. It has the sea and sand and sand dunes; it has also fir trees and the cypresses which give it its name. I have deliberately chosen two photographs that seemed to me at once the most terrifying and the most beautiful. They illustrate the sixteenth hole as seen from the tee and also looking backward from the green. There is, as the picture show, an arm of the sea to be traversed, and the distance across appears frightful in the extreme; yet, in fact, the hole at full stretch, and for players who go straight for the pin, is only a very little over two hundred yards long, and big hitters attack it with iron clubs. For shorter players there is, as may be seen, a shorter way across to the left, though, in that case, a four, rather than a three, must represent their ambition. I heard the other day of one who complained of certain course in these remarkable terms: ‘However good a golfer a man may be, if he can’t carry a hundred yards he is done.’ A hundred yards is not great deal to ask, but it is more than is asked at Cypress Point, for there the longest ‘compulsory carry’ is 80yds. The long driver, on the other hand, is tempted by a due reward to try a number of ‘voluntary’ carries of tigerish length. As there has been a good deal of talk lately of tees for rabbits and tees for tigers, I may add that this course seems to be exceedingly elastic.
I have been drawn away by a particular example from my general theme of the spectacular in golf, and must come briefly back to it. I take it that the highest merit in a golf course consists in the number of problems in strategy that it can set the player. That, at any rate, is the merit of St. Andrews, that there will always be a difference of opinion as to the best way of solving them, and that the problems themselves are always varying with the wind. Mere bigness and ‘sensationalism’ in hazards can never make up for a lack of this merit in a course, but, on the other hand, granted that the strategic interest is there, then, surely, the more gorgeous the hazards the better. There is no golfer so skilful and so far raised above the weaknesses of the common herd that he does not feel his pulse beat just a little quicker in the face of some terrific hazard and does not enjoy the sight of the ball soaring in safety, the danger passed. It might, I suppose, be argued that for a reasonably good driver the eighteenth hole at Rye would be just as fine a hole as it is now if, in place of that huge and glorious black-sleepered bunker there was only a steep grassy hill rising in front of the tee. Our good driver hardly ever fails to get over that bunker; it is the other and subtler difficulties of the hole that bring him to disaster. Yet, to say that it would be as great a hole without the bunker is all nonsense, and I never have, in fact, heard anyone say it. It adds that touch of picturesque terror that we all like, and is ‘spectacular’ in just the right way. All the big bunkers that glitter are not gold, but the best of them are of pure gold; and as to gorgeousness of general scenery, as apart from hazards, I hope nobody is so very austere in his tastes as to complain of that.”
“A few days ago I heard one of the greatest golfers asked where he had begun the game. It seemed an almost impious question and I looked the other way, but the answer came quite peacefully, ‘Westward Ho!’ And where precisely was that, continued the questioner. This time I expected to see the man struck down by lightning; but no-he was told with only slight impatient pity that it was ‘near Bideford.’
It is probably good for us to realize that there are people unacquainted with facts which we regard as among the most important in history. It does, however, come as a shock, for the feelings with which I am just now packing my bag to go to Bideford are reverential in their intensity. To an English golfer at any rate Westward Ho! is as full of romance as any Scottish course. When he steps on to Northam Burrows he feels that his foot is on sacred soil. This, he soliloquizes, is the spot which General Moncrieffe told Mr. Gossett was ‘designed by Providence for a golf links’; where Bob Kirk played his famous shot with a left-handed club from one of the promontories jutting out into the big bunker; whence Captain Molesworth and his three sons set out on their brave adventure against the best amateurs in Scotland; where Mr. Horace Hutchinson won the scratch medal at 16 and so automatically became to his horror and alarm, captain of the club; where JH Taylor carried clubs for 6d. a round from which his first master deducted 3d. because a ball had been lost in the rushes. In short, he loses himself in a golden and sentimental mist of other people’s memories and enjoys it prodigiously.”
“Placid golf with one’s friends on a noble links when there is no crowd, no competition and nothing to write-here was one of the pleasantest of all prospects I thought to myself as I set out to Westward Ho! and, for once in a while, the reality was as pleasant as its anticipation. On one afternoon it rained so pitilessly that we had to walk home in bedraggled procession from the fifth hole, and the same breeze blew every day, an easterly breeze which is not the best one for the course; but there were very small blemishes on a delightful five days.
All great courses possess some romantic qualities. They have all, for instance, been the breeding grounds of great golfers, and from the Devonshire course came two whom I need only designate as H.G.H. and J.H.T., but that which gives me a particular thrill about Westward Ho! is a quality which I can only call old-fashioned. It is not, goodness knows, that the course itself is not up to date; it is long enough and fierce enough for the youngest slashers, and it is in apple-pie order, with admirable greens. There is, however, something peaceful and private about it which makes me feel as if the clock had been put back and that I still, as of yore, belonged to a small and select community, playing a strange game which made of its votaries a brotherhood in a cold, uncaring world. In an empty time like the present there are so agreeably few people there, and all of them are so friendly and welcoming. And then it was one of the first famous courses of which I ever heard. My father went to play there when I was a very small boy and brought me back glowing accounts of the wonderful turf, the huge bunker, the spiky rushes and the play of the long-vanquished Matt Allan, so that it was one of my earliest ambitions to see it. It was Westward Ho! moreover, that I went on one of the first tours of the Oxford and Cambridge Golfing Society. All these things make it for me one of the most romantic of golfing places, and now that I have been there again the glamour is stronger than ever.
It is one of the interesting and characteristic things about Westweard Ho! that its golf is not in the least homogeneous. There are the flat holes at the beginning and the end, and the undulating sandhill holes in the middle, and they are quite unlike one another. There can be no question which have the greater fascination. It is that wonderful broken country of sand and rushes, from the third to the tenth, let us say, which gives the supreme thrill. That is the older part of the course, and it was that stretch of golfing country, than which there is no better in the world, which made General Moncrieffe utter the historic words. The course in its first days began at the Pebble Ridge and it is only when we drive off to the third hole that we feel that we are on thoroughly sacred ground. Similarly, when we hit our tee shots to the eleventh in the afternoon we feel that just for the day we are saying good-bye to the intensest joys of living. And yet those flat holes, though they have not the same superficial attractions, are horribly good; and, indeed, I have an uneasy consciousness that one of the reasons why I like the middle holes the best is that they come more within the compass of my game and do not show up its deficiencies quite so clearly as do some of the others.
As I said before, the east wind blew all the time, and it rather spoilt one or two of the finest holes. The third, for example, was too long. I doubt whether anyone could quite have reached the green in two, and for ordinary mortals there was little fear of even reaching the bunkers some way short of it. The fifth, again, was merely a matter of tossing a mashie-niblick shot as high as possible in the air and hoping not to run over; with another wind it would have been almost as difficult a short hole as that splendid sixteenth. At the tenth, where there is vast sea of rushes to carry, the danger lay not in the carry, but in the likelihood of running across the fairway into the subsidiary group of rushes on the far side. One day, as I was preparing to drive there, one of my enemies said in a tone guileless enquiry, ‘I suppose Stout would go straight for the green and get there.’ He must think me a very vain creature if he believes that I can thus be tempted to my doom. No doubt, however, the illustrious Mr. Stout could have driven the green, and that is not the way in which the hole is intended to be played; it wants an adverse, not a helping, wind. On the other hand, the wind gave some of the holes an additional glory. It was a thoroughly satisfactory sensation to see the ball disappear over the big bunker at the fourth; the second shots at the sixth and seventh had often to be played with wood, the tee shot at the eleventh, with the wind blowing hard on one’s back, was awe-inspiring, and to finish with a five and a four (I don’t know that I ever did it) was to throw out one’s chest and imagine oneself a man and a golfer.
One of the great problems of Westward Ho! lies in the judging of distance. I doubt if any other course is so testing in this respect. At the flat holes there is very little to guide the eye, and to be caught in two minds about a shot is one of the surest ways of missing it. An eminent architect has spoken contemptuously of certain bunkers as ‘lighthouses,’ which, far from harming the player, help him to gauge his distance. The flat holes at Westward Ho! are by no means without bunkers, but these are not conspicuous and give one but few clues. Even the local demon has to think sometimes what club to take, and now and again he thinks wrong. As to the stranger, he is in an almost constant state of scratching his head before the shot and unjustly blaming his caddie after he has made a mess of it.
I was told of an American gentleman who had been to Westward Ho! for a few days’ visit, and on leaving expressed his warm admiration for the course, but added, ‘I don’t like your long grass.’ This was his profane manner of alluding to the great sea rushes which are the pride and terror of the course. There has been made a new rule about them. Till lately, when his ball lay in or under or touching the rush, the player could lift and drop his ball behind that rush or a similar one not nearer the hole under penalty of one stoke (I have not quoted the rule verbatim, but I hope I have given its sense). Now the rule is the rule of golf as to an unplayable ball and we must go back to the place whence we came and lose stroke and distance. This seems to me a good thing, first because it is always well to play by the rules of golf if possible and, secondly, because the old rule gave scope for argument. Whether it is good thing or not, it has had an interesting result. Those whose business it is to retrieve balls from the rushes say that since the old rule was abolished they have less retrieving to do. The severe penalty has made golfers take greater care to keep clear of the dreadful hazard.
For myself, I have only this complaint about the rushes. I did not go into them very often, but when I did, my ball was always found inextricably embedded in a particularly thick clump. Whenever my friends, who knew the course, hit their shots into the rushes, I used to hope for the best, and I was regularly disappointed. The ball invariably bounded back off a clump or threaded its way between half a dozen of them to lie absolutely clear. This was local knowledge carried to an aggravating point of perfection. I wish they would tell me their secret.”
Three Inland Gems
“Inland golf, as a rule, can be regarded only as a substitute for the real thing, but there are a few inland greens, notably Liphook, Mildenhall, and Pulborough, against which this reproach cannot be laid.”
“As we come along the Portsmouth Road we see a neat little inn call the Wheatsheaf, with a beautiful shining signboard, party per pale sable and gules. Just past it a triangle of turf comes sloping down to the road, hemmed in with trees and foliage on either side, and on it waves bravely a red flag. ‘Hullo,’ we say, ‘here is a golf course, and what is better it looks like a golf course on a common. Let’s go and play on it, and afterwards we will have a large rustic lunch with plenty of beer.’ That is not exactly what did happen in cold fact, but it what ought to happen and what used to happen in other such pleasant places when golf was less gorgeous and sophisticated. All the golfer has got to do is to pull up at the Wheatsheaf and dash out on to the first tee.
I said the course looked as if it were on a common. In fact, much of the land is common land, and one of the pleasantest things about the course is that is represents a united endeavour. Commoners, Lords of the Manor, owners of the soil-everybody has joined, and all Liphook, rich or poor, will be able to play on its own course if it has a mind to do it. There was a great deal of work to be done and not very much money to spend, but it has been made to go a long way, Mr. Croome designed the course, and this fact I found beforehand particularly exciting, because I wondered in which of his manners he had laid it out. Had he been in that very subtle frame of mind in which nothing was really interesting except a half shot with a spoon hit slightly off the heel in a cross wind? Or had he, in his later mood of resigned cynicism, believed that the most profitable thing to do is to take a lofted iron club and hit like the devil? I will not presume to say what was actually his mood, but I am sure of this that it was a very good mood. His course is not too long; it is full of variety and spritely fancy, but it is not in the very least fantastic. He has made the best use of the natural features of the land and of the pretty natural backgrounds for greens in which the trees and bracken are rich. In short, he has done his part admirably well, and so have those who carried out his designs.”
“Liphook is essentially a golfer’s golf course, a course for the golfing epicure. Nobody can help liking it, but only those with subtly fine taste will, I think, extract from some of the shots the full piquancy of flavour. The most striking testimony to its qualities is this-that a distinguished golfing architect of my acquaintance [Tom Simpson] only saw three holes of it before determining to live there. And live there he does, and devotes all his spare time to the course, endeavouring, like Mr. Turveydrop, ‘to polish, polish, polish.’ He declares-and I entirely believe him-that it is a course of which you never tire. That is a remark often made of St. Andrews and the two courses have this in common-that ever so little a shift of wind will alter every hole and every shot. Like St. Andrews, too, it is a course that gives endless scope for argument, as exactly the best line, or exactly the best type of shot to attempt.
This sort of golf is not easy. It is not meant to be, and the Liphookers (this name conveys no slur on their accuracy of striking) do not make it any easier for the stranger by their fervent faith in it. When the stranger sees a hole of some 400 yards in front of him and mildly opines that it ought to be done in 4, they tell him that there is a mysterious something about it, an odd deceitfulness in the slope of the ground, that makes people take 5. If in their teeth he gets his 4, they tell him that his is the valour of ignourance, and that he had better just wait till he has played it two or three times, then he will thank Heaven if he does not take 5 in a match and 6 in a medal. It is in much the same alarming manner that the visitor is received when he goes to play at the famous Pine Valley, near Philadelphia. However, if I go on in this strain I may appear to be cursing when my sincere desire it to bless. In plain language, then, Liphook is as pretty and charming and interesting an inland course as ever I saw. It is quite long enough without being actually long; the difficulties are fair and can be overcome by good play; long hitting will pay and pay well, if, and only if it is accurate; the fairways are quite good enough without being enervating or flattering, and the greens are keen and beautiful. Can I ‘say fairer’ than that?
One of the intimidating things said to the stranger before he starts is that, whatever else he may do, he will not get the five short holes in 3 apeice. It is a perfectly justifiable observation. At the same time no one can play these short holes without loving them. Three years ago I find that I plumped for the second as the best, and I do so still; 165 is the number of its yards. And behind it, a perfect background is a clump of firs. It is easy to go crooked, it is easy to run over; there are lots of bunkers, there are some nice waves in the green, and if your are not on the green in 1 you are not at all likely to get down under 4. This last remark holds good of many of the holes, because the ground is rich in ridges and depressions, which are more efficient guards than many bunkers. In some cases they are mere shallow trenches; sometimes, when they are wider and deeper, we can hope romantically that they are old hollow ways where smugglers led their muffled ponies at dead of night. Whatever they may be, they kick many and many an undeserving ball away from the haven where its owner would like it to be, and make recovery very difficult. There are some particularly fine ones at the 16th, the shortest and hardest of the one-shot holes, a really desperate hole, where there is no purgatory and every known form of hell.
As I said before, I am most anxious not to make people frightened of Liphook. Yet it is hard to describe its beauties without being frightening. So let me end by saying this: If there is among my readers any steady-going middle-aged gentleman with a handicap of 10 or so who wants to lower the pride of some young slasher, let him lure his man to Liphook. He will have a delightful day, win two half-crowns and, if he be judicious, two separate shillings on the byes.”
Royal Worlington & Newmarket
“Worlington, in case there is any unhappy golfer who does not know it, is by Mildenhall in Suffolk. Till I went back the other day for two most enjoyable days of foursome matches, I had not been there for three years-far too long a time to be absent from such a course. Moreover, on the last few occasions when I had been there, I had been unlucky in that a most icy wind had been blowing, as if it came straight from the Ural Mountains. So I had not seen it at its delightful best for a sadly long time. Now, after two of the most perfect spring-like, sunshiny days there, I have made up my mind on one point: if ever I am asked again in a golfing questionnaire ‘which is the best inland course?’ I am going to write down ‘Worlington’ without the least hesitation. Other people will say Sunningdale or Walton Heath, Woking or West Hill, Addington or haply, Woodbridge. These are all noble courses, but I think the nine holes of Worlington are worth all their eighteen and little bit more as well.
I said something like this to a friend of mine, one of the shrewdest golfers, on my return, and he did not disagree; but then he fixed me with a penetrating blue eye and added, ‘But why is it such a good course? I’ll tell you-because they had so little room that they had to take trouble to make good and interesting holes, and because you can see your acquaintance all the way round.’ Both these things are quite true, and it is certainly one of the course’s charms that we constantly meet other matches as we tack this way and that, see their shots and hear how they are doing. There is one more great quality of the course, which my friend did not mention. I rate it certainly among the highest, and can say it in four words. The greens are keen.
It seemed to me the other day-perhaps I imagined it-that the years had rolled away and that we were playing golf as it used to be and now too seldom is. How the ball did skid away, if ever one dared to bolt for the hole. To have a long putt to play on the second green, which sits up there perched so defiantly, was to have a fear in the back of the mind of putting right cross the green, of watching the ball hover for a moment on the brink and then dotter out of sight down the slope. In the course of the two days’ play I can recall five or six blissful occasions in which my adversaries, good golfers all of them, ‘went for’ a putt which they might well have holed, ran six or eight feet past, and missed coming back. It was beautifully interesting putting in itself and agonizing, too, which putting out to be, but it had another great merit, it gave a rich reward to good, as opposed to merely decent, approaching. The moment one had played a loose approach shot which finished near the edge of the green, one realized that there was skilful and stout-hearted work to be done in order to get down in two. Golf may be a more spectacular game when, on slow and verdant lawns, long putts are constantly dropping and the player are always hoping for ‘birdies’; but it is a finer, sterner and more exacting one when the ball must be stroked and coaxed: and to coax it to lie stone dead instead of four feet away is a real achievement.
Let nobody think, on that account, that Worlington golf is niggling and tricky golf. It is anything but that, because its ‘two-shot’ holes-and there are a great many of them-are more truly worthy of that name than almost any that I know. It is a grand course for the good brassey player, and for myself I hardly aspire to call them two-shot holes, because I can seldom reach them in two. In some ways the course has changed a great deal since its early days. Indeed, I know of no course that has, in some sense, been changed more by the modern ball. I first saw it, I think, in 1895, on the occasion of a thirty-six hole match between Taylor and Jack White. In those days the last hole was a short one, and perfect play for the nine holes-with a ‘guttie’ ball-consisted in a score of five fives and four three. Perhaps I ought to allow a four at the second, though I think the long drivers could reach it from the tee. Apart from that, the holes were all either three-shot holes or one-shot holes. The first hole was of just the same length as it is now, and Taylor and White took, on that occasion, three wooden club shots apiece, and then I do not think either was quite up. To-day, the slashing young bloods of Cambridge hope to get home in two there under favourable conditions, though I more humbly call it a five, and am not without hopes of halving it with them. The third hole, still one of the best holes in golf, though I played my second to it with a mashie niblick off Mr. Herman de Zoete’s tremendous tee shot, was then a three shot hole. The second had to played down the hog’s back ridge, and you popped over the ditch with your third. Douglas Rolland had lashed his ball home in two with a brassey, and people are still gasped in talking of it. So I could go on through the hole nine; the long holes were fives, and fives that took some getting. To-day, although the holes have been stretched to their utmost, the really long hitter really hitting his ball will theoretically get fours at all of them, but practically he will not; the holes are too good, the shots too narrow, the hazards too near the hole for that. There must be a sprinkling of fives, and the attempt to get a four sometimes end in a six, but, even so, it is a splendid failure.
In enumerating the glories of Worlington one must not forget its short hole, the fifth. It is, I think, one of the best proofs of its transcendent quality that when we play it badly we are tempted for a moment into saying that is not fair. Had it been on some more widely known course, this hole would have been as much feared and hated, reverenced and sung as is the eleventh at St. Andrews. The two holes have, indeed, some resemblance to one another. The shot is much the same length in each case, and the Worlington green is small and keen and sloping, and stands somewhat above the player as he stands trembling on the tee. In place of the Eden behind the green is a line of fir trees where our friends take up their position to mock at us. There is no Strath and no Hill bunker, but the ground falls away pretty sharply to either side of the green, and in place of the bunkers there is rough and tenacious grass. It is possible, painfully possible, to play ping-pong across the green from one side to another, and when we are on the green at last the ball must be tickled rather than struck. It is at least as easy to take five to the Worlington hole as it is to the St. Andrews one, but it is not, perhaps, quite so easy to take eight.”
Darwin concludes: “Comparatively few people have ever played there, for it lies wonderfully remote and solitary, and anyone who chanced to be wandering in that lonely tract of country would be amazed to come suddenly upon a golf course. Yet it is one of the pioneer inland sandy courses, and was much as it is now when Woking was just emerging from the heather and Sunningdale neither born nor thought of. It is only a nine-hole course, but the nine are so varied and entertaining that the golfers of Cambridge never grow weary of them. There are scarcely better putting greens to be found anywhere, no better two-shot hole than the third, no more diabolically difficult short hole than the fifth, and whatever the exact degree of merit of the whole nine put together, there is no place where golf is more rustic, restful and private.”
“Certain places and, in particular certain golf courses are the more exciting because of their unexpectedness. Their surroundings give on clue, and you are wondering where on earth they can be when suddenly they hit you between the eyes.
Think, for instance, of the eager pilgrim setting out from Cambridge on his first visit to Worlington. Neither Quy nor Bottisham gives him a hint of the splendours to come; there is nothing but clay, and Newmarket Heath may be a very fine heath, but it is not a golfing one. He is beginning to feel that he has been made the victim of a pleasantry when suddenly, a few miles past Newmarket, he comes to a little red publichouse and a stretch of sandy common and realizes that there is some of the finest golfing country in the world. Or, to take another example from Cambridgeshire, was there ever anything more utterly unexpected than Royston Heath ?-a piece of chalky, hilly, downland, clearly picked out of Sussex by the hand of Providence and plumped down here on the flat clay, just as the golfing architect’s hand plumps down a plasticine putting green upon his board.
I have chosen that second illustration with a purpose because it was in Sussex-at Pulborough-that I had one of these delicious shocks the other day. Sussex is not, if it will pardon me for saying so, a county in which the very best of inland golf is usually to be looked for. Great stretches of down turf-yes, by all means, and dear little red and yellow flowers (crowsfoot, perhaps, but I am no botanist)-and swooping carriers over deep ravines and big views and big winds and putting greens on which “the ball always comes back from Beachy Head.” These are the things we anticipate, and very jolly they are, but they are not the highest, not the genuine, golfing article. Pulborough has all the beauty and the view and the breeziness, and the downs frowning down on it in a great circle, and Chanctonbury Ring to look at in the distance; but it has something more in a miraculous outcrop, a piece of ideal golfing country with the whitest of white sand, a heathery diamond in a setting of chalk.
When commander Hilyard first set eyes on it, like a second Archimedes, out of his bathroom window, he must have shouted aloud and dried himself perfunctorily. He had come to live there, just because there was a pleasant house in a pleasant place, and here, all unsuspected, was this gorgeous golf course at his door. It must have seemed too good to be true. Since then he has walked hundreds of miles up and down and round and round his precious plot, planning and designing; Major CK Hutchison and Major Guy Campbell have been his fellow architects, and the three have produced between them a course of which I am positively afraid to speak with too much enthusiasm. I had heard a good deal about it for a good long time, so that now and again I had felt as Mrs. Prig did about Mrs. Harris. I might even have said with that immortal woman “Brother Pulborough!” When I went there, however, I was overcome; Pulborough-or, to give it its official name, West Sussex-marched all over me, horse, foot, and artillery and I cannot say more than this, that my loyalty to Worlington trembled in the balance.
The seduction of this paradise is enhanced by the fact that is not too big, there are not miles of golfing country running to waste all round it, it would not have been big enough. It is just of the right, heavenly size, a cosy little golfing island surrounded, or almost surrounded, by marsh. And the course is of the right size, too, for thank goodness, it is not too long. Sternly and scrupulously measured, its length is no more than 6100 yards, and that sounds to the modern slasher almost short. Yet I shall be surprised if the most arrogant slasher dares to call it short if he plays it from the “tiger” tees. In this respect it reminds me of a famous American golf course, the National golf links on Long Island. The yard measure shows the National to be much of the same length as Pulborough; yet of all the eminent persons who have played there no single one ever said it was not long enough. I think that these two courses go far toward proving that, granted skillful designers, dreariness and weariness of length will never be necessary no matter what sort of ball is invented and no matter how far people can hit it.
The day of my visit was one of bright sunshine and strong, shrewd east wind; the white sand was blowing in clouds out of some of the bunkers, just as it does by the sea. On such a day it is hard to appreciate the normal length of the holes. There were some that we could reach with a drive and a pitch, although in calm weather we should have been playing brassey shots; at others the state of things was exactly the converse. Such a day is a severe test of golfing architecture, but I can lay my hand on my heart and say that if some of the shots were abnormal, no single one of them was dull. There was one hole where the wind was a little unkind-the sixth. The prevailing wind is behind the player, and so the hole, some 250 yards long, becomes the most tigerish of one-shot holes. With the wind blowing right in our teeth it was hard to believe that mortal man could ever reach that distant green, but it was still a very fine hole. The marsh plays a great part in it, for from the high tee looking down on the hole we can decide just how big a chunk of marsh we dare cut off with the tee shot.
It is easy to say that, but how utterly ineffective are words! I cannot hope to give any real impression of what that hole looks like. Neither, I suppose, can I make the reader visualize the tenth, which is the most tremendous of “dog-legs.” Here we can see the green far to the left, and our natural inclination is to aim at it. We are, however, told kindly, but firmly, that if we do we must carry at least 260 yards over that vast and cavernous bunker in the distance, and even so we shall have an incredibly difficult pitch to play. So we have almost to turn our backs on the green and aim at a certain greenhouse twinkling in the sunshine miles and miles ways to the right. It is for the moment preposterous and exasperating, but, having tamed our natural instincts and gone where we were told, we find that we can get up with a pitch and get our 4 after all; and then we give in and own the beauty of the hole.
I shall resist the temptation to describe all the other holes-the fourth, with its peninsula green and its fir-tree background; the quite magnificent two-shot seventh, with its tee shot over a heathery knob and its cruelly narrow second; the sixteenth, with the green guarded on either side by swelling mounds and called “Sheba’s Breasts”, as was the mountain in “King’s Solomon’s Mines.” It is a difficult temptation to resist, even though one knows one is being an incomprehensible bore, for this Pulborough really is a very great inland course; it is indeed!”
Late in life Bernard Darwin reflected on the evolution of his beloved Rye: “Here and there are courses which may be said to have had a new greatness thrust upon them. I have no manner of doubt that Rye, as it is today or as it will be when two fresh holes are completed [by HC Tippet], is a finer course than it was. I have equally no doubt that those changes would never have been made if they had not been forced upon us by the summer rush of cars along the once lonely road to Camber beach. We should have been perfectly happy to ‘leave it alone.’ Our new splendour has been attained in our conservative teeth, and at least we have the melancholy satisfaction of still being able to see the old greens now derelict by the roadside and remember our old shots to them.” To my knowledge no other great golf course has had a more tumultuous architectural history-especially one still held in high regard by aficionados of the art-and Darwin was there to document it all.
Harry Colt, then a young solicitor in nearby Hastings, originally laid out the Rye links in 1894 with the help of a local professional, Douglas Rolland. Darwin became a member of the club in 1905. The first changes were voluntary, when in 1907 Clement Archer, the club secretary, took advantage of the receding sea and first pushed the course south of the sandhills. Only one of his three changes survives-the controversial 13th-nonetheless Darwin recognized Archer’s important contribution: “He has raised at least one enduring monument to himself in the form of the 13th or Sea hole. The making of that green in the sandy waste beyond the hills was in its day a great adventure regarded by many with overt skepticism, but it not only produced what I take leave to think-whether blind or not-one of the great second shots; it also gave to the homecoming nine a new bigness and spaciousness which had been a little lacking. Today there are other fine holes on the sea side of the hills, and while we give there creators all due credit we must remember Archer is the pioneer of their unknown country.”
The links enjoyed a period of relative stability until 1931, when traffic on the road connecting Rye to the Camber sands became a serious issue. “I began by loathing all notion of change in beloved Rye, and even now were I permitted a machine-gun I would gladly turn it on the endless string of holiday-makers in their cars who crowd our road in summertime…Several of us had been appointed on a sub-committee to try to devise alterations-the fewest and cheapest possible-that should make less perilous the road that runs through the course. One or two long-cherished holes had to go; that could not be helped. We took as our motto that we did not mind hitting each other, but we must not hit the passer-by. We toiled amain and produced a scheme, and then we asked our architect to come and look.” Their architect was Mr. Tom Simpson.
Simpson did come and look, and then tossed their plan in the wastebasket, with one exception-the ninth. Darwin described the scene as he and the committee walked the links with their architect. ” ‘There,’ we said to him, half-proudly, half-tremulously. ‘We thought of going down that valley,’ and we showed him a shallow valley, broken, benty, sandy ground which we had fondly likened to some pretty holes at Formby or Birkdale and one at Prince’s. ‘No,’ said the great man. ‘No. That bores me’: and then in gentler tones, ‘you know I don’t want to insult anyone, but you chose that because it was obvious.’ It was true, and we felt like little boys who had been caught using a crib in school. The valley, he said, gave the player a feeling of confidence; he felt that those banks to right and left would keep him in the proper path, and so he could hit out boldly, just as a man does in approaching a green with a back or side wall to it. That was dull; the thing to engender in the player’s breast was doubt and wondering, not confidence. In the end he had to come back to our poor, despised hole. I readily admit he improved on it, because he managed to turn the second shot partially out of the valley. At the same time, we did feel like the Doctor when, for once in a while, he mildly scored, and Holmes remarked, ‘A hit, my dear Watson, a palpable hit.’”
1937 brought more changes; again the road was the culprit. This time Sir Guy Campbell was engaged and he created a number of excellent holes-including the outstanding 4th. Darwin had a typically nostalgic perspective, “Could we not put up inconspicuous little tombstones on the sites of departed holes? I remember once to have made a plea in Country Life for memorial stones to mark the battlefields of great prize-fights…Nobody will ever put up such memorials any more than they will put up my little tombstones; yet I like my sentimental idea…These melancholy musings came into my head when I went to Rye the other day and saw for the first time the transformed course. I am full of admiration for the alterations, but still I did feel the manly tear welling up.”
Hitler initiated the next remodeling effort. Military intelligence had learned the Nazis were targeting Romney Marsh for an impending invasion and consequently considerable fortifications were placed upon the links. After the War, Major HC Tippet, the club secretary, restored the course and introduced two new short holes-the 2nd and the 7th. He also converted Campbell’s par-3 9th back to a par-4, in essence reclaiming the old Simpson/Darwin hole. Tippet was not your average retired British officer turned club secretary, he had been an accomplished golf architect during the Roaring 20s, creating a number of high profile American designs, among them Montauk Downs, Meadow Brook and LaGorce. Darwin wrote, “The introduction of these two one-shot holes (there will be three in all on the way out and two on the way home) necessitates a new longer ninth, but I have explained more than enough, and will say no more of the plans which Major Tippet’s ‘immense and brooding spirit’ has evolved. Enough that Rye is going to be, unless I am mistaken, at once as charming and more tremendous than ever before.”
Today Rye is an amalgamation of the best of Colt (#5), Archer (#13), Simpson (#14), Campbell (#4), Tippet (#7), and last but not least Darwin (#9)! Of the final rendering of the course Bernardo concluded: “I have said before, but I will say it again for the last, that Rye is a better course than ever it was…However much the sentimental or conservative-and I am both-may have loved the old course, that of today has gained something of bigness and grandeur.”
“There are several very excellent course in Wales, but I am quite determined to put Aberdovey first-not that I make for it any claim that it is the best, not even on the strength of its alphabetical pre-eminence, but because it is the course that my soul loves best of all the courses in the world. Every golfer has a course for which he feels some such blind and unreasoning affection. When he is going to this his golfing home he packs up his clubs with a peculiar delight and care; he anxiously counts the diminishing number of stations that divide him from it, and finally steps out on the platform, as excited as a schoolboy home for the holidays, to be claimed by his own familiar caddie. A golfer can only have one course towards which he feels quite in this way, and my one is Aberdovey.
I can faintly remember the beginning of golf at Aberdovey in the early ‘eighties. Already rival legends have clustered round that beginning, but the true legend says that the founder was Colonel Ruck [Darwin's Uncle Arthur], who, having played some golf at Formby, borrowed nine flower-pots from a lady in the village and cut nine holes on the marsh to put them in. The first five holes as the visitor knows them now were then but a wilderness. There was no ‘Cader’ and no ‘Pulpit’; we had a long weary walk along the road to the level-crossing, and began with the present fifth hole, which was then guarded by a fine clump of gorse, long since cut to pieces by merciless niblicks. Then came a period when we began and ended on the piece of land which now serves Aberdovey as a recreation ground, and there was a wonderful last hole in which we drove off from a spot near the present eighteenth tee, carried with our second shot the railway line and a mighty pile of sleepers, and holed out on the cricket pitch. Finally, at the time of the first meeting at Easter, 1893, the course had taken something like the shape which it has kept ever since, save for the later introduction of the new home-coming holes.”
“I have told of the flower-pot beginnings of the Aberdovey course; but our first meeting did not come till some years afterwards. It took place at Easter, I think, in 1892, when I was fifteen, and was a great occasion. I have a photograph of the players grouped in front of the curiously castellated rampart which guarded the twelfth green and was the pride and masterpiece of John Jones, the green keeper. There is a considerable assemblage of the inhabitants, mostly in bowler hats, but of players I can count no more than eleven, of which my own relations make up a considerable part. Our best player was Mr. AB Sanders, then at Winchester, a boy rival of mine and a better golfer. He was a very good player for a boy, with a neat and graceful style, and though he afterwards played for Oxford, never came nearly up to his early promise. I think a rash imitation of Hugh Kilkardy’s tremendous swing proved his undoing. He and his brother and father and uncle were our faithful supporters, and, in addition, we had two strangers who dropped from the clouds on Aberdovey and helped to make us feel our meeting was really open to all England, and not merely a parochial affair. They were called Mr. Harrison and Mr. Richardson, and though they never came back to see us again we always hoped that they would, and for years their names were freshly remembered as the two earliest of our patrons.
Before the meeting we met in a room in the village and handicapped one another by mutual consent. I well remember how, when the whisky and soda were produced, a local member rushed to the window and pulled down the blinds, lest the supporters of temperance should be shocked. On the first day Mr. AB Sanders returned what we all thought a marvelous score of 93 and carried off the handicap prize with many strokes to spare. I must have done very badly, for I know that, to my secret indignation, my handicap was raised the next day from 9 to 13. It was a bitter, if no doubt salutary, wound to my vanity. However, I scored in the end, for when it came to the scratch medal something happened to my rival and I won. I had broken my solitary wooden club-not over my knee-and so drove with a cleek. My score would not now be considered a good one, being exactly 100. However, nothing could alter the fact that I won the scratch medal, and with it an electro-plated candlestick tastefully intertwined with a laurel wreath and crowned by golf clubs.
Toward the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth, our summer meeting became the really considerable one that it has been ever since…Our chief event was the Allcock Bowl, a match-play tournament under handicap. It never attained to quite the status of the Harlech Town Bowl, of which we were very jealous, but we had sixty or seventy entries and much good fun and good golf. I managed to win it two years running, I think in 1904 and 1905 from a handicap of plus 4. I never played in it again till after the war, when I won it again. In the year after that victory I again got into the final, but lost to a clerical adversary to whom I had given rather too many strokes. When he beat me on the seventeenth green my then small son exclaimed passionately, ‘I shall pray for his damnation.’ But I trust these prayers have not been answered, for he was a most gallant enemy.”
On Harry Colt and the infamous Cader: “Colt was a great admirer of all that was old in golf. His architectural views were largely founded, I think, as have been those of his contemporaries and successors, on the Old Course at St. Andrews and its great holes. He was by nature traditional and austere, but his sense of humour and his business sense alike forbade him to be too fierce to those who did not agree with him. He himself had some contempt for admirers of blind shots over hill-tops and ‘gathering’ greens in craters, but he was ready to make reasonable concessions to the weaker brethren who liked them. I remember very well an occasion when he was called in to advise at Aberdovey and I was asked to accompany him as amicus curiae. I was naturally anxious that he should approve of the links, but I was terrified lest he should too violently disapprove of the third hole-it was then the fourth-well known to all who have ever played there as Cader. This is a perfectly blind one-shot hole over a big hill, with a black-sleepered crest, to a green set in a wilderness of sand. It is a very old friend, regarded with some local pride, and if he should propose to alter this hole it is I who would be lynched. I was relieved when he accepted it in almost complete silence. He gave a withering glance at a low bank behind the green, said ‘Take that back-wall away’ and passed on.”
The Great Revulsion of 1933: “It has often been said that the limit has been reached in the lengthening of courses and that some fine day the rabbits will rise in their wrath, hurl the tigers into the tumbrels, and put the tees forward to please themselves. Yes, it has been said often, but has anybody really believed that it would happen? I hardly think so, and yet it has happened. In the words of the enterprising reporter, ‘I am now able to reveal’ that a well-known and highly respectable golf club has decided to chop some 500 yards off the length of its course. The great revulsion has begun.
This tremendous event has come about, but not quite in the expected way. The reader who has got so far probably pictures to himself a group of wild-eyed, triumphant, bloodthirsty, ‘carmagnole’ dancing rabbits. He is quite wrong. Those tame, down-trodden animals would have endured for ever had they not been led on by the tigers, nor poor, old ex-tigers growing yearly stiffer in the back, so that base personal motives could be imputed to them, but the most infantile and slashing tigers of the whole club ‘in the vicious pride of their youth.’
I know that this surprising thing is true because I am writing from the place where it has just happened. This is Aberdovey, and I make know apology for mentioning my King Charles’s head among golf courses because the phenomenon would be interesting wherever the course. Till a week ago Aberdovey at full stretch measured hard on 6,700 yards; now it will measure just under 6,200. I ought to add for those who do not know the course that the turf is always extremely slow; save only in the most hard-baked weather there is very little run on the ball, and 6,200 yards at Aberdovey meant a great deal more in the way of honest hitting than it does on any other seaside course that I know.
Admittedly 500 yards is a big cut and it may turn out to have been a little too big, but it means no more than a reverting to what the course used to be. Not very long ago there was the usual and apparently inevitable movement in favour of lengthening. Treasures of care and thought were spent on the project and I wish to speak with the most respectable sympathy of those [James Braid] who worked so hard at it. They were, I think, just a little too zealous and they made a course full of tremendous qualities on which most of us would have loved to see Bobby Jones play, but on which we found it a little backbreaking to play ourselves. Still we endured, murmuring a little sadly now and again and slogging our poor little hearts out until there came along these noble young tigers who sent a round robin to the committee. Their names deserve to live in our annals for evermore ‘surrounded by a rich halo of enthusiastic cheering.’
I will not go into tiresome details. Enough to explain that the short hole, which has lately been the fourteenth, is again to be the fifth, and that we shall play the old sixth hole along the railway line. Apart from that, which I mention for those who know the course, the 500 yards will be nibbled away here and there by a process of putting tees forward. As an example I may give the twelfth, the long hole home and one of the most varied and interesting long holes of my acquaintance. It was discovered that this hole from back tee in the sandhills was over 600 yards long and this against a wind was as Mr. Samuel Weller might say ‘Rayther too rich.’ Quite a comforting little chunk of yards will come off here and there will be smaller chunks elsewhere. Probably we shall not perceive any great differences, but during the round we shall think we are not quite so short, and at the end of the round not quite so old as we had begun to fear we were.
Every golf course has to face its own individual problems, and I am far from saying that all other clubs in the world ought to follow this courageous example. I hope, however, that the news of it may make golfers reflect a little, that golf is played for fun, and that the mental part of golf is at least as good fun as the physical. It so happened that we had at Aberdovey several holes that were played in rather open country and called for very long wooden club shots. Very few people could hit those shots far enough to get up in two, and at the same time there was no great skill required in keeping out of trouble, nor was there any particular problem to be solved in the matter of alternative routes. In short, there was nothing to think about except the depressing and obvious fact that we could not hit quite enough. These holes were steady-going, inglorious fives. With the tees forward I think it highly probably that we shall take more sixes than we used to do, but we shall at least have has the fun and the glory of trying for fours. We shall no longer play the hole in what Mr. Arthur Croome used to call ‘two of those and one of them.’
Jasper Petulengro thought that the chief danger to his race (I have to quote from memory) lay at their being bitten ‘by that mad puppy called gentility.’ It seems to me that a mad puppy threaten golfers. The gentility that wants its course called ‘a championship course.’ I am not thinking of any particular course, but I hear this foolish phrase constantly used. Most courses are not fit for a championship, never will be fit for one, never will get one-and nobody wants to see one there. Then why in the name of goodness should we set up this nonsensical standard and then spoil our courses and break our backs in trying to live up to it. And so Hurrah for our tigers, say I, and Hurrah for the great revulsion!”