A history lessonOctober, 2011
Going back in time at Musselburgh Links
THERE are a number of things I am unlikely to ever do on a golf course – wear white trousers, don a big belt buckle, experiment with a visor or open up with a long iron in front of a small crowd. I am also as unlikely to arrive at the club, whip out a lightweight summer bag and go into battle with eight or so clubs.
The two best players I know are sickening. Not only do they chip from just off the green, they manage perfectly with 10 clubs at the most, one never carries more than seven. Along with a maximum of three balls, a handful of tees and a single glove.
I, on the other hand, arrive on the 1st tee prepared for a nuclear war. Waterproofs? Always. Umbrella? Almost certainly (though never, ever open it). Rangefinder, with regulation three old batteries? Every time. Fourteen clubs (three of them generally redundant)? Indeed. Plus at least five gloves, three of which are wet weather, an old goody bag, which contains at least 60 tee pegs – half of them broken – which have been hoovered up from some unsuspecting clubhouse, pitchmark repairers and loose change from the last eight months. And crammed into every compartment balls, a minimum of 15 whatever the course.
I also agonise on a daily basis as to the make-up of the bag. Three, four or five wood, three and five, just the four, strong and weak hybrid or something in the middle, or is it time for a sensational return of the Mizuno Fli-Hi which was jettisoned for no good reason? To go alongside a driver which is on a revolving carousel with three others. All of which adds up to a lot of indecision and a bad back.
There is no scope to hit it over trouble, bunkers 140 yards off the tee, that we usually look down our aloof noses at, are now in play and the correct angles are sought. But now we are at The Old Golf Course at Musselburgh Links, the oldest course in the world with golf having been played here since 1672 though it is reputed that Mary Queen of Scots had a knock in 1567. (So the story goes, she was even seen having a game at St Andrews within days of her husband’s murder, it’s unlikely she needed to go through the ballot.)
It held the Open Championship six times before dropping off the rota when the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers moved to Muirfield. It also introduced the first hole-cutting instrument, at a cost of £1, and the four-and-a-quarter-inch measurement is still in place today. And there you were thinking you were going to learn nothing from this page.
Inside my small tartan bag there is no room for Bushnells, waterproofs or an aid to draw a straight line on the ball. Just four balls (all Pro V1s, no need to make this any harder than it needs to be), as many tees and a small collection of hickory clubs – a brassie (2 wood), mashie (5 iron), niblick (9 iron), jigger (lofted wedge) and a putter (putter). Just five clubs, no Stroke Indexes to fret over and, finally, some inner peace.
And an opening 240-yard par 3, four putts and a blob. But we settle down and, having almost whistled a couple of brassies up my nose on the surrounding racecourse as part of my warm-up routine, stick to our old friend the mashie. And spend the next hour and a half having more fun on a golf course than I have all year, bunting little shots along the ground, having a lofted club that pops the ball up in the air and a putter that withstands 40-yard thumps.
And, for just about the first time in the past 30 years, a handsy, flicky strike pays dividends.
There is no scope to hit it over trouble, bunkers 140 yards off the tee, that we usually look down our aloof noses at, are now in play and the correct angles are sought.
You think about things, you use your imagination and it is hugely liberating.
Within an hour we are on the 1st tee at Dunbar, with our oversized driver in hand, and promptly duck hook one into a wall that is protecting the right of the 18th. And by the time we have reached the 2nd tee I am already thinking about that 12˚ tip-stiff driver that’s sitting there doing nothing in the spare bedroom.
For more information on a special place go to www.musselburgholdlinks.co.uk