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Monday, August 30, 2010

THE BEST PLACE IN THE WORLD: Saint Andrews Golf Course (Part 15, Section B)

The following is section two of Scotland/Ireland from the final chapter of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity.

Revenge of the Green Buggies 
(circa 2000)


Leaving Edinburgh in Scotland, seven of us were led by Professor Grant Burgess, bon vivant and champion karaoke singer, on about a one hour drive to St. Andrews, home of golf, which reeked of history. He arranged for us to stay at the dormitories of St. Andrews University.

We had back to back times at the New Course, which started play more than 100 years ago. The hallowed Old Course of Open fame initiated golf in 1574. We signed up and some of us rented pull carts. No riding here, except for the dreaded Green Buggy, a golf cart, and weapon of choice for the Course Marshalls, who maintain a vigorous regime of discipline at the club.

We were shown to the first hole by the Starter, a tough ex-military type with a large moustache, who clearly put up with no nonsense. He gave us a few derisory looks. There were four all–American jocks standing behind the tee off area, immaculately dressed, with real golf shoes and the latest golf technology. In fact, I recall two of them were actually wearing tweed plus four trousers with sky blue socks. They were anxious to tee off and get going but had the misfortune to have a 9:13 tee off time after our groups.

At 9:01 AM four of us went to tee off (they move things along promptly here at St Andrews), and a few obviously snide comments were heard. No problem. I was in the foursome with Tadashi Matsunaga and two of his colleagues from the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, one of whom, Professor Miyata, went on to become President at this university, the institution where Grant spent his post-doc period under the mentorship of Professor Matsunaga, who himself, seems destined for that same honorable position, president of the university, that is.

In group two were Phil Wright (from Australia, but a faculty member of Heriot Watt University), Visanu Meyoo (from Mahanakorn University in Thailand) and budding pro, Grant Burgess. Actually, Grant was not quite ready, and, had last golfed sometime the previous year or so.

The story is taken up by Grant Burgess, then with Heriot-Watt University (HWU), but now with the University of Newcastle:

The Fife wind was howling cold, and, actually, the first group did not tee off at 9:01, for Tadashi, more used to the climes of Hawaii and the relaxed pace of Japanese courses, had come dressed in a T shirt, but urgently required his windproof St Andrews top he had purchased the day before. Unaccustomed to the police state regulations in force at the New Course, requiring that one must tee off within the 6 minute allocated time slot, Tadashi began to saunter back to the car park to retrieve his windproof top, a stroll of about ten, maybe fifteen, minutes. Recognising immediately the ensuing catastrophe, Jim Bryce, Royal and Ancient Club member with a two handicap, and my close colleague from HWU, who had come to see us off, flung him his own sweater and urged in almost panic to TEE OFF NOW! The wind lifted, the tension mounted, sweat trickled down Jim’s temple, and his reputation was at stake. All eyes were on Professor Matsunaga, who now was reasonably warm and confidently strode to the tee box. The American Foursome was scrutinising his every wiggle with piercing blue eyes and voluminous quantities of derision.

Tadashi swung and struck the ball well, it curved up beautifully and we all watched as it veered majestically straight into the metal grandstand with a loud “bong,” a central strike on the metal scaffold pole, and ricocheted into the gorse. The grandstand was in place for next week’s Open. The American’s rolled their eyes skyward, the Starter began to frown, but I thought it was quite a good shot! The panic continued and Pat teed off next, fast and hurried, but unbelievably straight down the perilously narrow fairway. Professor Takahashi was not much of a golfer himself, actually. Dr. Wake was next, then Professor Miyata. “Quick quick,” Jim implored, urging them on, the clock ticking…already three minutes late…”walk up the fairway and crack on.” The green buggies had started to gather, like storm clouds. I should just clarify: St Andrews has “Course Marshals,” whose job it is to “oversee play,” and they do this with Stasi like efficiency. They chivvy and chase you at any delay, for slow play is a crime in St Andrews, on a par with murder. It is not to be tolerated and must be rooted out at all cost. The Green Buggies, dark, worryingly dark green, ferry the Marshal’s all over the course watching, and, as you will see, striking down those who do not comply.

So, somewhat shakily, the first group was off, but the Americans again began to make loud and disparaging remarks, and another Marshal in his Green Buggy drove up to the tee off area and watched the proceedings solemnly. Three of us were left. No racial comments as such. It was just that Visanu, who had never golfed in his life, was wearing a World War II Eisenhower jacket (it was really cold, slightly drizzling, and this was August), jeans and army boots. Not regular St Andrews golf wear, while my own garb also left a lot to be desired. My Hawaiian Aloha shirt was bright orange rayon with real coconut buttons and a foot long blue flying fish swimming across the front. I must enquire of the Royal and Ancient Club byelaws whether such dress is allowed on the New Course. Flapping in the wind, as this shirt did, I had the feeling that it did not endear me to the gathering throng of Course Marshals. The next sequence of events to unfold left us all in shock. Bear in mind, that by now, tempers were frayed at the delay, plus the obvious insult of our ensemble, and, frighteningly, yet to come, golfmanship.

Visanu had no clubs of his own. Another major felony. But it was OK, I thought, he was sharing mine. My own golf bag was a 1930’s antique orange canvas bag, which matched my Aloha shirt. It had seen better days and had holes and significant leather failure. But it was equipped with fully four clubs. A rusty five iron, a brass putter, a sand wedge and a club of indeterminate identity. All with the grips falling off in tatters. Well, as a beginner, I wasn’t going to splash out on expensive clubs now, was I? My lack of any drivers did not worry me at that time, as I always teed off with my five iron, and was always happy to chip my way round a course in under 150 or so. At least I rarely lost my ball! The Starter, Marshals and American Jock Pack were aghast. We were by now four minutes late. High treason.

Visanu had trouble placing the golf ball on the tee, something he was doing, maybe, for the first time in his life. His major error was pushing the tee into the turf at a slight angle so that the ball rolled off two seconds after he had straightened up. This happened three times. He then realized, being an internationally recognized engineer, that the angle of the tee was of paramount importance, and gravity must be allowed to do its work. The summer howling winds so prevalent in these links courses did not help.

He finally laid his club calmly on the ground, and with two hands, succeeded to insert the Tee vertically and balanced a dirty ball perfectly on top. He took a practice swing and almost fell down, as his attempt was more reminiscent of American baseball.

At this point, the Starter, in utter apoplexy, leaped out from his Starter’s Box and stormed across the tee off area, screaming:  “You….OUT!”

Visanu, in stunned embarrassment, backed away. But you can appreciate the situation. Every golfer was supposed to have his own bag and Visanu and I were sharing a bag, very much against bout four or five byelaws. The Americans’ equipment made the difference too intolerable, for mine was a decaying mess and the Marshals had, of course, noticed every detail.

“You’ve got nae clubs, and YOU (pointing to me) CANNAE PLAY GOLF !”

“Get off my course!”

Despite this, I knew that Scottish anger was quick to dissipate and we succeeded somehow in placating the Starter as his colour returned from purple to russet. Extremely reluctantly, he allowed us a second chance, I had convinced him that we could play on, and that Visanu was actually my caddy.

I gallantly teed off under immense pressure and was happy because I hit the ball, and it was quick. I knew the waiting Americans and the Starter would be pleased. Not my best shot, a 30 meter skiff into a vicious looking gorse bush (all gorse in St Andrews is vicious, it’s a special breed). And it was freezing, but, after all, I grew up in Edinburgh, and this was to honor Pat.  As my ball hit the gorse the Americans went ballistic. The Marshall crossed his arms, and appeared perturbed. Disregarding all this, I began walking up the fairway, followed by Visanu, carrying, very professionally, I might add, my bag, and I with the demeanour of Arnold Palmer, stalked off…….

We almost pulled it off.

The Marshals jumped unto their Green Buggies and followed, stalking us with field glasses. There were two. They travel in pairs you know, like policemen.

My second shot dribbled left, only a few meters, but with unbelievable fortitude and a hockey like chopping action with my five iron, I made it to the fringe of the first hole in eight shots.

At this point, the Green Buggy drove up to me, and the Marshall, showing considerable authority, said, “if you quit now, we will refund your green fees.” I really had no choice. But for a Scottish professor to be kicked off St. Andrews! I’ll never live this down. Visanu and I went back to the clubhouse to drown our sorrows, and discuss Tee physics. I also later visited Argos to remedy my lack of drivers, determined to do better! Funnily, things got worse later that day, as Pat continues.

The four of us finished our delightful round in less than three hours. Well, there was little choice! We were sweating profusely, but had avoided the green buggies, and Tadashi had only lost fourteen balls. We were surprised to see Grant and Visanu already in the clubhouse. (Not sure what happened to Phil. The ignominy of the whole thing must have distressed him.) When they told us their story, we couldn’t stop laughing through several beers. The unsmiling old Scotsman remarked at the next table in gruff Highland accent, “Highly Irregular!” Needless to say, he was not amused.

Then, it occurred to us that we should sign up tomorrow for the Old Course. The previous time I had played there, Jim Bryce signed up and joined us. There is another system there (where the British Open is played) called the daily ballot, whereby, if you registered by 4PM the day before, a lottery is held, and you can check back by 6PM to determine if your foursome lucked out. So, Grant and I went to the computer lady located in the clubhouse. I gave my name, showed my club golf card and placed my order for a foursome. You needed to have a minimum 24 handicap to play the Old Course (36 for females), and our foursome qualified, but more by counterfeit.  I made up Tadashi's card on my office computer. A poor golfer shoots about a 24. As mentioned earlier, Grant can get around a course in about 150 strokes, handicap, if allowed, of about 75…in fact, his golf more closely resembles hockey. Of course he did not have a handicap card.

Grant then was asked by the nice lady the name of his “home” golf club. Grant, in perfect brogue, nevertheless stammered, ehm, “Blackhall” (actually a 9 hole ladies course in Edinburgh, which would have set the silent alarm bells ringing—intruder…intruder). The extremely experienced lady had senses worthy off the El Al check-in staff, and immediately spotted a flaw. Probing further, this now vice-marshal in green became stern and asked, glowering, “what is your handicap?” Grant couldn’t think of what to say, although he had heard the word “handicap” used in reference to the sport of golf, we shall give him that. She remarked with heavy irony, “you don’t golf, do you?” Then, ominously, she closed her clipboard with a crushing finality. Grant, thus, became the only native Scotsman to get kicked off both the New Course and Old Course of St. Andrews on the same day.

Be on the watch for The Return of the Dreaded Green Buggy! A movie script is being discussed.

Well, another bad day on Wall Street, as the Dow Jones Industrials skidded 141 to 10,009, while world markets were mixed, the Japan Nikkei jumping above 9,000 to 9,149.  Gold remained unchanged at $1238/toz and crude oil is at $74/barrel.  Remember, this is only $1.76/gallon, so someone is making money on gasoline.


There are now six named storms, three each in the Atlantic and West Pacific.  In the Atlantic:

1.  Danielle is still a hurricane, but moving off east.  

2.  Hurricane Earl, already at 125 MPH, however, is not heading north like Danielle did, having already affected St. Thomas, Anguilla and St. Martin, popular cruise ports.  Earl will attain Category 4 status, then slight weaken into a 3, but looms to strike the East Coast as early as Friday.

3.  Tropical Storm Fiona, at 40 MPH is right behind Earl.

The three storms in the West Pacific:

1.  Typhoon Kompasu (also known as Glenda), now at 85 MPH, will strengthen into a Category 2 tomorrow when it  passes over the main island of Okinawa, then lose typhoon status before hitting the west coast of Korea on Thursday.

2.  Tropical Storm Lionrock, at 65 MPH, seems to be meandering, with models indicating weaving towards Taiwan, then turning west to hit China by Thursday, or not.

3.  There apparently is Tropical Storm Namtheun at 40 MPH right on the heels of Lionrock, also trying to figure out where to go.


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