From Chapter Seven: Some Thoughts on Golf
My friend, Max Behr, has written learnedly and at great length to prove that golf is not a game but a sport. He may be, and probably is, quite right, but it is no good quibbling about words; the chief thing to bear in mind is that golf is a recreation and a means for giving us health and pleasure.
How often have we known committees, presumably consisting of men of intelligence, receiving the statement that golf is played for fun, with eyes and mouths wide open in astonishment? It is always difficult to persuade them that the chief consideration that should influence us in making any alterations to a golf course is to give the greatest pleasure to the greatest number. Any change to a course that does not do this is manifestly a failure.
The only reason for the existence of golf and other games is that they promote the health, pleasure and even the prosperity of the community.
It is surprising how few politicians and others realize the extent that golf courses and other playing fields do this; they appear to think that anything that promotes happiness is an evil and should be taxed out of existence.
I have known even an ardent golfer stating that it was an outrage that a golf course should be constructed on wheat land. He did not appear to realize that there are hundreds of times as much land devoted to wheat as to golf, and that, moreover, wheat can be grown away from the big cities, whereas golf courses for the masses are of value only when they are in close proximity to large towns.
A good golf course is a great asset to a nation.
Those who harangue against land being diverted from agriculture and used for golf have little sense of proportion. Comparing the small amount of land utilized for golf and other playing fields with the large amount devoted to agriculture, we get infinitely more value out of the former than the latter. We all eat too much.
During the Great War, in Britain, the majority were all the better for being rationed and getting a smaller amount of food, but none of us get enough fresh air, pleasurable excitement and exercise.
Health and happiness are everything in this world. Money grubbing, so-called business, except insofar as it helps to attain this, is of minor importance.
One of the reasons why I, a medical man, decided to give up medicine and take to golf architecture was my firm conviction of the extraordinary influence on health of pleasurable excitement, especially when combined with fresh air and exercise. How frequently have I, with great difficulty, persuaded patients who were never off my doorstep to take up golf, and how rarely, if ever, have I seen them in my consulting room again.
I recently came across a lady I had not seen for over twenty years. She said, "I shall always be grateful to you, Dr. MacKenzie, for what you did for me." I replied that I was not aware of doing anything for her. She said, "Oh yes! You did. You persuaded my husband to play golf. Before then he said he had no time for golf, he sat all day and every day in his office, went to church on Sunday, then ate too much and was not fit to live with for the rest of the week. Since he played golf he is not only physically fit but mentally alert. He has given up grumbling at me and at his office staff, he is a pleasure to live with and his business is infinitely more successful."
Until recent years every man was ashamed of playing golf. He sneaked off from his home or office as though he were committing some crime. The general public looked upon anyone who played golf with the utmost contempt, and considered that, being a golfer, he must be useless at everything else.
It was said that Briand and his ministry owed their downfall after the war to the fact that Briand was discovered having a lesson in putting from Lloyd George.
What is the real truth? Those who rave against golf surely forget that many of the greatest politicians, thinkers and businessmen conserve their health and their mental powers through golf. As examples we could quote some of the greatest minds in the past, such as President Wilson, Carnegie, Lord Northcliffe, A.J. Balfour and Asquith, and today all or almost all the greatest men of the English speaking races owe their mental alertness to golf. Golf does not require the whole day, nor is it essential to make arrangements beforehand. Moreover, it is not too strenuous and can be played up to any age.
There appears to be no sign of any decreased popularity--rather, the reverse. The elusiveness of golf is sufficient to ensure its abiding popularity. No one ever seems to master it. You imagine that you have got the secret, but it is like a bird of passage--here today and gone tomorrow.
This is so in all things which are worthwhile. There are some games, such as roller skating and table tennis, which become merely passing crazes, and this is so because one obtains a certain standard of proficiency which neither increases nor decreases, and in consequence the game becomes monotonous. Golf on a first class course can never become monotonous, and the better the course, the less is it likely to do so. Golf on a good links is, in all probability, the best game in the world. On the late Victorian type of inland course, however, where there is a complete lack of variety, flat fairways, flat unguarded greens, long grass necessitating searching for lost balls, mathematically placed hazards consisting of the cop or pimple variety, which not only offend all the finest instincts of the artist and the sportsman, it becomes the most boring game in existence.
The advent of the golf course architect has largely, though not entirely, cured these disabilities. The majority of amateurs are sportsmen and welcome anything that increases the sporting and dramatic element in the game.
There are some of the best players, however, who look upon golf in the card and pencil spirit, and resent anything which interferes, as they think, with their steady series of threes and fours. I have already mentioned how some of the good players altered some of the sporting features of Moortown which they considered had a destructive effect on their cards, and how the long handicap players, like true sportsmen, insisted that the architect be recalled to restore the course to its original condition.
There was an article by Kolin Robertson, the golf writer, which may have influenced them in their decision. The following is an extract from it:
"I have in mind a certain golfing hole which, in the past at any rate, constituted the perfect test of golf. I refer to the thirteenth at Moortown. Every stout hearted Moortown player will remember that slantwise-lying catchy little hollow which has now been filled in so that the whole of the green is now practically level with the fairway. How often did that hollow make the golfer approach the green in installments, and how often did it enable the bold spirit and accomplished golfer, taking his fate in his hand, to go for glory and a win. To say the least, the filling in of that hollow has made the approach to that hole simply child's play."
Excerpted from The Spirit of St. Andrews by Alister MacKenzie. Copyright © 1998 by Alister MacKenzie. Excerpted by permission of Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.