The Independent Golfer

Excerpt from CHAPTER 12

On Ye Go

...fairway appeared to be perfectly unblemished as it rolled up to the green. But no ball was going to run onto that green. The wary golfer had to hit his second shot so that it carried the burn, minding that he didn’t come up a bit short and in trouble. I hadn’t minded the burn and I paid the price.

I learned at least three things that day. First, I learned that Scots are generally wonderful people to play golf with. They take their game seriously but enjoy the success of others as well as their own and are eager to help a fellow golfer succeed. Mind you, you will never hear a Scott volunteer advice as to things like stance, grip or swing, especially on the course. The tendency in Scotland is to think of the swing as a whole anyway, and Scots typically are less interested in swing mechanics and analysis. What you will hear is endless conversation about the course, how it plays, peculiar characteristics of individual holes and how others, especially famous pros or golfing personalities, played particular holes with more or less success in the past. They are quite willing to share secrets of the course, the good line off the tee, the way a green accepts an approach shot or a hidden break in the green that all the locals know about.

The second thing I learned is that Scots are often hard to understand. True, they all speak English, but some regional accents are almost beyond American comprehension. Just try to get directions from a truck driver in Glasgow some time. Still, perhaps because they tend to be such a good natured people anyway, it is perfectly fine to smile, admit you don’t understand and ask for things to be repeated. People really don’t mind.

The third thing I learned on the first hole at St. Andrews, and the thing that is important for the present discussion, is that Scotland’s golf courses are subtle and, at times, even devious. Things are not always as they appear. It is common for holes to be designed with burns that cross the fairway just at the places where well-struck balls might land. And, as with the first hole at St. Andrews, these burns are often hidden from the view of the unwary or the uninitiated. Bunkers are not only placed where tee shots or approach shots that are a bit off line might reach, they are often hidden from view. From the tee box you might look out to see one bunker on the left of the fairway near the turn of the dogleg, but only 150 yards away. Knowing that you can carry that little bunker, you are tempted to cut the dogleg and gain perhaps 30 yards toward the pin. The difficulty is that you don’t see the line of four other bunkers stringing out beyond the one in view, each more eager than the other to gather in your drive.

This subtle quality of many Scottish courses can be quite devious. As you come up to a hole for the first-time you might see a broad fairway with little apparent difficulty. Why, then did the ball that you hit just to the right of center kick and then run in a great arc to the right....


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