Historic St Andrews Apollo Fir Faces The Chop

The Monterrey Peninsular has the famous lone pine, Augusta National GC had Eisenhower’s Tree and it would seem that the only tree on the Old Course at St Andrews is to share the same fate as the latter.

The Apollo Fir, which has stood for some 150 years after being planted by Old Tom himself during course renovations, has quietly stood guard near the 18th tee watching Open champions being crowned. The tree, which usually isn’t in play, was a particular favourite of the Queen’s corgi’s when HRH Prince Andrew was playing the course.

Time has taken its toll on the old tree, “it was dropping needles onto parked cars” explained Martin Lumbers, “causing additional cleaning costs for members and their Jaguars.” A local sawmill had offered to craft a bench from the tree and auction it for charity, however the R&A will ship it to China where it will be turned into exclusive THE Open pencils available to purchase from July for £5 each in THE Open flagship store.

However, all is not lost for horticultural fans, for the links trust are planning to plant a new tree in the same position and name it “THE Open Fir”.

 

Image source: http://photoeverywhere.co.uk/britain/fife/slides/st_andrews_golf_bridge.htm

Oh, and Apollo Fir is an anagram of April Fool

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The Tiger Effect

It’s been acknowledged that Tiger Woods has had a huge impact on golf, raising audience figures and revenues of golf due to the casual viewer taking a more active interest. Some have even calculated a “Tiger Tax” to determine how much money Tiger brought to the game and how all pros have collectively benefited playing for increased purses.

“Before we went out, I knew I had no chance.” – Ernie Els after the 2000 US Open

While the pros are sitting at home counting their windfall, there is still the matter of 14 major championships that would have went to other players had Tiger not been around. Who is the greatest “loser” as a result of Tiger? The easiest way to determine this is look at who came second to him for each of his 14 major victories.

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Two golfers have finished runner up to Tiger on two occasions, Ernie Els and Chris DiMarco. There is also another name appearing early up in the list, Sergio Garcia. If a young Sergio had prevailed in the 1999 PGA Championship, it would be reasonable to assume that he wouldn’t have had to wait until 2017 for his next major. That brings us onto the intangible quantity, the Tiger Effect.

Awarding provisional majors to those who finished in second place doesn’t tell the whole story. How much of a psychological effect did Tiger have on the other players meaning they didn’t even manage to finish second? And can this Tiger Effect be measured?

1997 Masters

“We’ll see what he’s made of… my experience could be a key factor.” – Colin Montgomerie, before the 3rd round

Looking at Tiger’s first major victory, the 1997 Masters where he ran away with a 12 shot victory, on Saturday he was paired in the final group with Colin Montgomerie. Monty shot 74, Tiger 65. On the Sunday he was paired with Constantino Rocca who shot a 75 to Tiger’s 69. This is a recurring theme for players paired with Tiger on the final round. Whether they push themselves too hard or are distracted by the circus that surrounds a Tiger group, the playing partners of Tiger consistently shoot worse much than the top 10 average, and 3 strokes worse than Tiger.

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Calculating the field average score for the top 10 players on the final day allows measurement of much of the penalty Tiger’s playing partner faced. On average the person paired with Tiger fares worse than the rest of the field to the detriment of 2 shots. Therefore, when determining who was “worse off” due to Tiger, as well as looking at 2nd place for each tournament there was a “Tiger Effect” player who arguably could have fared better had they not been paired with Tiger or if their bottle hadn’t crashed when they saw Tiger charging up the leaderboards.

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However, there are two players who buck the Tiger Penalty. Two players who beat the field average or it took something from Tiger to win the tournament.

2005 Masters

The 2005 Masters was a classic for the ages. With weather disruption that saw Jack Nicklaus finish his final competitive round at Augusta on the 9th hole, Chris DiMarco had built up a 4 shot lead over Tiger heading into the weekend and held that lead when play was suspended on the 10th hole. The suspension destroyed DiMarco’s momentum and he’d shoot +5 for the back 9 when play resumed on the Sunday morning. Tiger on the other hand continued a 7-hole birdie streak, his 65 overhauling DiMarco’s 74 taking a 3 stroke into Sunday afternoon.

At that point it would have been easy to write off DiMarco as another who has paid the Tiger Penalty however his final round 68, three better than Tiger and forcing a playoff, was one of the best of the day and it took something extra special from Tiger to win the tournament.

Chris DiMarco stands out as not being affected by the “Tiger Penalty”, both times he was paired with Tiger in the final round of a major (the other being the 2006 Open), he beat the field average. The only other time this happens is Bob May in the 2000 PGA Championship who went toe-to-toe with Tiger and forced a playoff.

2008 US Open

The 2008 US Open is also statistically significant, Tiger’s final round playing partner was Lee Westwood who came up 1 stroke short of the playoff between Tiger and Rocco Mediate. Taking into account the 2 stroke Tiger Penalty, if Rocco had been paired with Tiger and Westwood out in the preceding group, it can be argued that Westwood would have been the 2008 US Open champion. However, yet again, when not playing his best or even on a broken leg, it seems that Tiger can always pull something out of the bag.

So who would have been better off without Tiger? While there would have been the odd major here and there to the likes of Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Bob May, three players had their career thwarted by a Tiger charge on multiple occasions, they are Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia and Chris DiMarco leaving them to ponder what if golf was played on a spreadsheet instead of grass.

Our Man in Oman

There is often the misconception that travelling on business is glamorous. While it is good seeing parts of the world and somebody else is paying for it, quite often there’s no time, it’s airport-taxi-hotel-office-taxi-airport. In the past I’d been sent to all the glamour spots, Swindon, Middlesbrough, Stafford, this time I’d lucked out. The project I was working on had fabrication work in Oman and somebody was needed to go out and check how it was going.

If you’re not aware of Oman, it’s one of the Gulf states next to United Arab Emirates and north of Saudi, perched on the end of the Arabian Peninsula. While the city-states of neighbouring Dubai and Abu Dhabi grab all the attention with rapid growth, shiny buildings, outlandish developments, Oman has been somewhat quieter and measured, the Sultan of Oman, his majesty Qaboos bin Said al Said opting for self-sufficiency and reducing the reliance of outside companies, labour and contractors, a process known as Omanization.

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UAE & Oman

Getting to Oman isn’t that difficult, there is a daily direct flight from London to Muscat however my destination was the industrialised port and mining town of Sohar, a 3 hour drive up the coast of the Indian Ocean. Sohar is also a 3-hour drive from Dubai, and I could get a direct flight to Dubai from my home near Glasgow so I boarded the lunchtime Emirates flight one day in August 2016 and arrived at a rather warm Dubai International just after midnight. By the time I got through the airport, got a taxi to a nearby hotel and into my room it was 3am.

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Emirates 777

4 hours sleep later, it was time to get up and go to Oman. Although I’ve been in Dubai before I wasn’t too keen on driving. Thankfully one of my suppliers who lived in Dubai was going to Oman that day and was able to drive me there, however he wasn’t able to take me back later. We set off at 8am and after crossing the desert and mountains crossed the border at Hatta into Oman. My first impressions of Oman… it was definitely more rural and less developed than UAE but I’ve seen worse.

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At the Hatta border

After an eventful day of meetings and workshop tours wearing fire resistant overalls in 45+ degree Celsius heat it was 4pm and time to head back. I had asked my supplier if anybody was able to “drop me off” at my hotel 220km away. Thankfully they found a volunteer and a welder appeared, literally wearing overalls and a welding helmet, and we bundled into a company car and started driving up the coastal highway. The welder, an Omani and not a hired in Pilipino, didn’t speak much English and my Arabic is non-existent so I suspected it was going to be a quiet 3 hours ahead.

About 30 minutes up the road and just before we turned inland towards the Hatta border the driver managed to communicate to me that he lived nearby and would like to go home and get changed out of his welding clothes. As I was grateful for the ride I was not in a position to disagree and we turned off the road into the small town of Shinas. The town seemed reasonable, it had a roundabout, a row of shops, mosque, but then the paved road ended and we drove along the gravel between white painted square boxes into a warren of increasing complexity. I tried to keep my bearings, wondering where we would end up and starting to suspect that something wasn’t quite right.

The driver stopped outside a house and said “20 minutes” before disappearing inside. I sat in the car, engine running for the air conditioning, looking about. White painted houses square concrete houses, no gardens, flat roofs, not a soul to be seen. I’ve seen this view before, and it was on my son’s Call of Duty game on the X-Box. Just over the roof of the house in front of me, that’s where the guy with the RPG will appear.

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Outside the house in Shinas

Somebody else appeared at the door to the house. He started waving at me. Nervously I rolled down the window and he asked me (in good English) if I’d like to come in. At that moment I was stuck between a few different conflicts. I didn’t feel particularly comfortable sitting outside in this deserted shanty town, neither did I feel like going into a stranger’s house however I was relying on my host to get me back to Dubai and I didn’t want to insult his hospitality. I decided to leave the car, but I kept a hold of the keys just in case.

I removed my shoes at the door and entered the house, the living area consisting of one large room had a huge sofa cable of seating 11 people, rugs on the floor and a large LCD TV with satellite. It was otherwise empty apart from my host who enthusiastically explained that the driver, his cousin, had jumped into the shower and that he’d be joining me on the journey to Dubai as he can speak English. I was now outnumbered. Leaving me alone for a few minutes in this huge room with an Arabic music channel playing, the cousin then reappeared with a plate of chopped watermelon.

Quite often I get put into rooms of strange engineers on business and you have to be quite good at the small talk, football and sports teams are the usual key ones to strike up a conversation. The cousin liked Real Madrid, plays cricket, there aren’t any golf courses nearby. He reminded me of a fast talking Cockney, he wouldn’t be out of place running a market stall or even a car salesman. He was early 20s but street wise. He was trying to get a placement at university abroad, possibly the UK so was full of questions asking me what Scotland was like. I was explaining how it’s currently summer so cold and wet. He thought there would be more snow in Scotland, almost seemed disappointed.

There was then a chap at the door and a lady, staying outside, passed in a glass of Omani coffee. It then dawned on me that there was nobody else in the house, no women. As I was a strange man, as per tradition females weren’t allowed to be in the house and they had left by the back door. My presence evicted them from their own home. That was perhaps the most uncomfortable I’d felt to that point.

The coffee looked more like a tea. It was green and translucent. Whatever it was, it was good but I still had that niggle at the back of my mind, what if it was drugged, what if this is a kidnapping. I’ve heard stories in the news about workers being kidnapped while abroad and it made me wonder how they’d got into such a situation. Did they start off by sitting in a strange living room in a fishing town being given coffee by an enthusiastic host because they felt too polite to turn down their hospitality?

Also, no biscuits.

My host then asked if I would like to stay for dinner. By that point I’d had enough but thankfully the driver had just arrived from wherever he had been. At least, I think it’s the same bloke. Instead of hat and fire resistant overalls he was now wearing full, traditional white Omani clothing.

We got back in the car and on the move, only to come to a stop and a vocal discussion broke out between my two car shares (welder driving, cousin in the back). It transpired that as they didn’t own the company car, they needed paperwork to get it across the border and this was back in Sohar on the owner’s desk. It was now 5pm and the sun was going down. Rather than make the drive to Sohar and back, phone calls were made and somebody was despatched from the workshop with the paperwork and meet us in Shinas. It would take 20 minutes so in the meantime my guests offered a guided tour of the town.

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Waiting in Shinas

Before I could object, I was whisked down at the harbour where various fishing boats belonging to friends/cousins/uncles were pointed out. They were very proud of their town and enjoyed showing it off. The beach looked amazing, I wanted to get out of the car and jump into the Indian Ocean just to say I’d been in it. Or swim for freedom. Next I was shown the fort, built by the Portuguese to protect interests before the Omani’s with British help kicked them out. Presently we stopped outside the police station and the cousin left the car. Decision time. Make a run for it into the police station or continue the madness. The cousin arrived back with a platter of local produce, mainly figs and dates, as a present for me. As grateful as I could be, sadly I had to decline as there was no chance of me taking them home on a plane. The 10-minute tour over, we then sat and waited for the other car to arrive.

One thing I had noticed was Omanis use Whatsapp a lot for texting, and they don’t type. It’s all voice memo recordings. Interesting difference in culture. Meanwhile I had been texting head office back in Glasgow letting them know of my position, just in case. A modern day Hansel & Gretel and my text messages were breadcrumbs. Finally, as the harsh sun was setting the other car arrived with the paperwork and we were on our way, leaving Shinas behind and heading through the mountains towards Dubai.

Arriving at the border at Hatta, I had to leave the car to get my passport stamped. The agent was suspicious with the number of stamps in my passport for the same day. As I’d arrived after midnight, I had entered, left and was attempting to re-enter Dubai all within 14 hours.

“What is your business” site visit

“Are you driving” no

“Is it your car?” no

“Who are you with” I don’t know they’re driving me

“Is it their car?” not quite

In hindsight you can understand their suspicions, a guy with multiple entries in a strange car with two strange people. If they asked me if I was being kidnapped, I’m not sure what my answer would have been. They were taken away and questioned while another agent started removing random objects from the boot.

With the authorities satisfied that I was not smuggling or being kidnapped (I had also started to relax), we were allowed on our way only to come unstuck at a quirk of political geography. The border between the UAE and Oman isn’t a nice straight line in the desert. It reflects years of tribal agreements and loyalties. There are enclaves, there are exclaves, there are enclaves within enclaves. So driving along the road after Hatta the imaginary border is crossed several times, and in the darkness I hadn’t realised we had gone a different route from many hours earlier. We arrived at a border to get into UAE, when I thought we were already in UAE.

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That simple drive from Sohar to Dubai

No problem, my guides said, and presented my passport and their IDs at the checkpoint. We weren’t allowed in. This checkpoint was for locals only and we’d have to go back (either into Oman or UAE I’m losing track by now) and go the longer route through the mountains. So the border guard kept my passport, we drove ½ mile into Dubai (I think) before doing a U-turn and coming back out to re-enter Oman(?). There we could drive a different route into UAE without having to cross a checkpoint.

It was a very long day when I arrived back at Le Meridian hotel near Dubai Airport at 9pm, some 5 hours after we’d set off. And my hosts still had 3 hours to get back. I thanked them for their generosity and went for a steak and a beer and tried and make sense of the madness which with so little sleep all seemed a little dream-like, and embarrassed. These people had taken me into their home and shared the best hospitality their country had to offer and my first instinct was to be suspicious. I managed another 4 hours sleep before the taxi picked me up for my 6am flight home. Oh the glamour of business travel.

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So very, very glad to board this

The Neglected Grass Roots

The question of how to attract more youngsters into golf is frequently discussed. Ideas range from relaxing dress codes, reducing cost barriers to entry, giving dedicated time on the course, playing a shortened course, making golf fun. It may then come as a surprise that a children’s golf course, one of Glasgow’s oldest, was designed specifically for this purpose and yet in the midst of the 2014 Ryder Cup legacy and investment in growing the game, it’s been left to die a slow lingering death.

Bellahouston Park was laid out in 1895 by Glasgow Corporation as industrialised Victorian Glasgow, the second city of the British Empire, was booming. The burgeoning population needed recreation space and the lands were set aside as the city expanded around it’s fences. Like many Victorian-era parks it contained the necessary devices to aid the leisure hungry population, open spaces, flower gardens, a band stand, bowling greens and a pitch and putt golf course. Indeed, there are three parks in Glasgow alone with these mini golf courses, the other two being Knightswood and Queen’s Park.

IMG_2141Bellahouston Pitch & Putt as seen from the site of the Papal alter

The 18 holes measured between 60-100 yards each, with tiny greens and rudimentary equipment available to hire, it was an excellent place to take youngsters to learn the game fundamentals. Bellahouston Park held the 1938 Empire Exhibition (a kind of British Worlds Fair) however it was all put back together afterwards.

Glasgow_exhibition_1938_3353824The park in 1938 (Wikimedia)

It survived again in 1982 when trees were removed to improve sight lines for the 250,000 attending mass with his Holiness Pope John Paul II, again it was all put in order for the next generation.

Belahouston Park POpe visit1982 Papal visit. The pitch and putt is middle-left, alter towards the top (Wikimedia)

It was the 2010 visit of Pope Benedict XVI that marked the beginning of the downfall for the course. The stage was built in a different position (to save the regrown trees) so the course was literally turned into a huge toilet and power generation site, with portable cabins and heavy lifting equipment churning up the grass to serve the masses. This arrangement has been repeated each summer since with the park hired out as a summer concert venue, making valuable income for Glasgow City Council. There was no attempt to repair the course after the September visit of Benedict XVI, the ground was left fallow until the following year when, the week after the Masters Tournament and with people are starting to take in interest in golf, the bulldozers moved in completely unannounced.

Eight of the holes in the middle of the course were destroyed, the trees defining the fairways chain-sawed and pulped, the area was converted into a cricket pitch with the remaining holes forming a chain around the outside of the boundary. Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an anti-cricket blog. Cricket is a growing sport in Scotland and there is a lack of facilities and golf in a public park has to share real estate with other park users. However, with other vacant areas in the park more suitable (and flatter), it was a strange choice of location. Marginalising golf to the outside almost a metaphor.

bellahoustonAerial view of the course today (Google Maps)

Eventually, Glasgow City Council updated their website to explain what they were doing to the pitch and putt, yes some holes have been removed but this was to ensure the long term viability of an underused course. However, this promise has not been delivered.

IMG_2628Fit for purpose?

Since play was able to resume a year later in 2012, there has been a laissez-faire approach to maintaining what has remained. Grass is unevenly cut by tractor, there are no fairways just rough or greens. The thick grass immediately before the green makes chipping impossible for children. The greens themselves no longer have flags and are gradually getting smaller. What used to be the 4th had a decent double sized two-tier green where I taught my boys the principals of putting with a break, that green is now barely 3 metres diameter. The Huxley mats previously used as tees have been reclaimed by the earth, what remains still point towards greens that no longer exist. It’s just an ill-defined mess. The impression given is the council are trying to run down the course to such a state that nobody plays it, then they can justify its formal closure and designation as general grounds.

The first tee 2010 and 2017

Golf in a public park also has to be shared with other park users. During my last visit there was a football team running around the cricket pitch and a lovely Alsatian called Skye who loved chasing after my golf balls. If there is a cricket game on I think it’s best for the safety of both parties that golf isn’t played. I had no problem with this, this is the price of free to access golf.

IMG_2142Warning sign on the now-cricket pitch

I’m not asking for a great deal. The grass in the park has to be cut anyway, I’m just asking for the grass to be cut a little more often, and more consistently. 9 greens should be cut closely, hollow cored and sanded once per year. Put flags in the greens, even if they’re iron poles cast in place. Defined teeing areas should be laid out with Huxley mats. Give the kids a chance to know where the hole starts, and finishes.

I suspect, but cannot prove, this all comes down to funding. Glasgow City Council have spent considerable sums in the park on drainage to make the flatter areas suitable for revenue making concerts. This if anything has had a negative effect on the drainage of the golf course. I suspect Glasgow City Council would only be all too willing to improve the golf course if a sports body were to assist with funding.

While there is an element of ‘build it and they will come’, kids also have to be taken to the golf course and shown where it is. Parents and grandparents are quite often the drivers of this but schools can also play their part. ClubGolf attended my son’s school as part of the 2014 Ryder Cup legacy to introduce every child to golf before age 11. This consisted of a half day indoors in the gym hall.  This is by no means a criticism of ClubGolf, I like what they do and given the Scottish weather and their limited timetable, the golf introduction will have to take place as timetabled and that means indoors. However, there is a disconnect after the introduction, nothing to drive kids to seek out their nearest golf club. Imagine holding a ClubGolf event on a rejuvenated pitch and putt at Bellahouston Park. Imagine bussing in several schools and holding a fun golf event in the park one afternoon.

Imagine cementing the association between spending time at a golf course and fun.

IMG_0050Two-year olds can have fun too

The Widest Fairway In Golf

If I asked golfers where they’d most like to play, the majority would reply with Pebble Beach, Augusta National or St Andrews. There would be exceptions to this, naturally, but these would be the majority responses. However, Pebble is rather expensive. Augusta is impossible to get on. The Old Course, St Andrews, is a possibility depending on patience and timing.

With a mild, wet (read: muddy) winter affecting my own course, I decided some links golf would be in order, especially as I had reached the minor (significant) milestone of managing to survive 40 years on the Earth.

Tee times on the Old Course can be booked months in advance, reserved for members of the various clubs who have playing rights, while the remaining times are allocated from a daily ballot. Naturally, the ballot can be over-subscribed during the summer months, but in the winter, not so much.

Indeed, on our chosen day there were two full tee times that went unused. Still, it was there on the website. In writing. 10.40am. I will be playing the Old Course for the first time. As soon as the time was confirmed, my mind, like everybody before me, turned to thinking of that tee shot. The first tee shot. In front of the R&A Clubhouse. There isn’t anywhere else like it in the golf world, where the greats young and old have all stood; Old Tom, Braid, Vardon, Jones, Arnold, Jack, Tom, Seve, Tiger, Phil, Rory. And all the greats to come.

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Described as the widest fairway in golf, there’s no demarcation between the 1st and 18th fairways. There’s no rough, just a green velvet strip carved into an arena of buildings. A black tarmac ribbon bisects the fairway at 150 yards, Grannie Clark’s Wynd, a public highway used as a short cut to get from the town to the beach, or by tourists wanting the thrill of driving their car across a golf course with the risk of a ball smashing through their window.

On my arrival at the course that morning, I took the long route, around the R&A Clubhouse, past the starters building where my playing partners had already assembled for a quick practice putt, and leisurely made my way to the nearby Links Clubhouse to get changed with time to spare. Or so I thought, because today, of all days, my car clock was inexplicably running 15 minutes late. There then followed the quickest change of all time followed by catching a lift on a buggy to arrive on the tee in style, but out of breath.

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No putts for me, only time for a quick photo, before the starter, safely indoors on a sunny but chilly January day, called out over the speaker to proceed.

First in our group was Ally, a local pro, and he sailed an iron perfectly down the middle. Josh stood up next, a low handicapper and links ex-caddie, he played two-iron, further left than I would have advised, but it was good nonetheless, leaving an interesting angle into the green!

Thirdly, it was Kieran, a golfer of similar standard to myself who has played the Old Course several times (parred the Road Hole – twice!) If he had pulled off a great drive it would put the pressure on me as last to go. He swung and the south-westerly wind caught the ball, carrying it over the out of bounds fence down the right. I felt guilty but enormously relieved that I wouldn’t be letting the side down.

And then it was my turn. Taking my place on the tee with a small crowd of around 15 watching, consisting of my playing partners, my family who had turned out to walk the first hole, some golfers waiting their moment of infamy, and the random local or dog walker who had stopped by. Possibly the biggest first tee crowd of my life. The first hole isn’t a particularly long, but the Swilken Burn winds its way in front of the green, coming into driving range on the right-hand side. The safe shot would be a three-wood leaving a seven-iron approach, but the confidence in my wood isn’t particularly high. I need more time on the range with it. So, I pulled out the Big Dog, TaylorMade Superfast Burner 10.5 degree. The mutterings of the crown told me that this was a bold choice.

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I have two shots from my driver, the usual straight-ish shot with a five-yard fade, and an infrequent pull left that would reach the 18th fairway at my own place. Standing on the tee and the fairway was indeed vast, 130 yards wide, and yet not as wide as I’d expected. It was certainly missable, framed on both sides by brilliant white out of bounds posts. The sheer width of it makes picking a line more difficult.

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The golfer doesn’t just blindly play one down the middle of a defined fairway. The line should be carefully selected.

The Golfers’ Bridge over the Swilken Burn would be too far left and bring in the out of bounds (and indeed, cars and hotels) if my pull shot emerged. The Jigger Inn and Old Course Hotel would bring the burn into play should I fade the ball. The Road Hole Bunker seemed a good line. I made that selection and took my stance just as a car decided to cross Grannie Clark’s Wynd. Backing away from the ball I felt like a pro that’d had a camera click on his backswing.

A few swishes, that was the total of my warm up. I re-took my stance, surprisingly feeling no nerves. I had often pictured this moment, would I duff the ball, would I be shaking so much I couldn’t make a swing? This was my moment. There was a belief, an unmistakable confidence about me. I had already wrote a par on my scorecard. I made a lovely easy swing, a nicely balanced follow through, and the ball set off beautifully straight on the intended line. I had even allowed myself a smile as the usual fade showed a little horizontal ball movement taking the ball a little to the right. Good, I’d avoided the pull and there was no risk to the cars on The Links road. And further right. The ball is still going right.

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I felt all joy drain out through my legs. It kept going. The wind. I forgot about the bloody wind.

The first tee is rather sheltered by the surrounding buildings, but as soon as the ball reached its apex above the rooftops, the stiff 25mph south-westerly wind took my natural ball movement and accentuated it. It was sailing over Grannie Clark’s and towards the white fence. It was dropping, dropping, I held on to the hope it would fall out of the sky and stay in bounds. It would make for an interesting second shot, but the par would still be on. My eyes were darting up and down predicting its ballistic path, it crossed the horizon over the Old Course Hotel and comfortably sailed over the fence.

I had missed the widest fairway in golf.

Lies, Damn Lies and Putting Statistics

Why driving for show is better than putting for doh!

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Image source

Jordan Spieth, the 22 year old Golden Child (I am contractually required both to mention his age and some kind of moniker in any writing about him) has wrapped up another tournament, his 9th professional win at the age of just 22. It’s certainly impressive for the twenty-two year old, the likes of which we haven’t seen since a 22 year old Tiger Woods. The key to his success appears to be his putter, which wills the ball into the hole. I am a big fan of Spieth, when he won the 2015 Masters I considered him to be the real deal and while I expected to see him contend in future majors, it was somewhat shocking how close he came to nearly completing the modern Impregnable Quadrilateral.

A recent Twitter poll conducted by @MMcEwanBunkered of Bunkered magazine asked if you’d rather drive like Rory or putt like Spieth ended with 66% in favour of Spieth. Spieth’s putting is now talked of in mythical proportions. Spieth doesn’t roll the ball to the hole, the hole comes to Spieth. Spieth doesn’t read the greens, the contours adjust to his will. Spieth doesn’t allow for the break, the earth’s rotation moves to suit. So maybe I’d better whisper the next part…

Spieth isn’t the best putter on tour

Blasphemy! Infamy! However, before a mob with pitchforks arrive at my door, let me explain how he’s not even as good as Lee Westwood.

2015 PGA Tour Stokes Gained league table:

•    Aaron Baddeley
•    Jimmy Walker
•    Daniel Summerhays
•    Lee Westwood
•    Brandt Snedeker
•    Jason Day
•    Brendon Todd
•    Jordan Spieth
•    Russell Henley

What this means is on average Spieth takes 0.572 putts per round less than the rest of the field, and with tight margins in professional golf, that’s a pretty big head start. In essence, he just needs to be good as the rest of the field for the rest of his game and he’d win by 2 shots. And that’s pretty much what is happening, as @kieranclarkgolf points out in Golfshake, Spieth is so successful because he’s got a well rounded game, he’s in the top 15 of all statistical categories. While his putting is good, the main reason he’s number one is because he’s not bad at anything.

By comparison, while Rory is 10th in driving distance (313 yards average) he languishes down at 41 in the same putting category. It’s not much of a difference (0.273) but it adds up to giving Jordan Spieth one shot per tournament. He makes up for that with his long game.

So would I like to drive like Rory or putt like Spieth? I’d take drive like Rory every time.  According to my Golfshake annual stats email, I will typically go round my course in around 85 shots, and 36 of them will be putts. If I putted like Spieth, I’d take 28 putts per round and I’d go round in 77 blows. So not quite scratch material. Comparing my stats against other people of my handicap, my driving is actually better than average, my putts are quite typical but my GIR and scrambling are particularly poor, so already I can see that my driving is keeping the rest of my game afloat. (I’ll be going into stat analysis in a future blog.)

So why would I still chose Rory’s driving over improving any other part of my game? Below is a scorecard of my course and (based on an idea by @JeffCarnage) this is what would happen to my irons should I be hitting 315 yards from the white tees but kept everything else the same.

Card

Driving it like Rory renders my golf club unrecognisable. At the moment there are 4 shortish par 4s at my course where I would be hitting a wedge into the green. My second shot would be a wedge 11 times if I hit booming drives. The first hole at my course is a long par 4, tough start. I can’t imagine being able to hit a pitching wedge into it. The toughest par 4 on the course, the long, uphill 6th now becomes a 7 iron approach. Where today I’m happy to escape with a bogie, suddenly a birdie at this hole is a distinct possibility. There are two par 5s which I can’t reach in two from the medal tees, both would now be reachable with mid irons.

I’d need a bag full of wedges.

My typical round would consist of 18 tee shots, 36 putts and 31 other shots. With a wedge in my hands 11 times would my GIR improve? Dramatically. Could I go round in 77 or less? No question. Could I even go round level par? Not quite, my putting would have to improve!

Unless you are taking 40+ putts per round, work on your driving.

Blairbeth GC is the latest victim of golf’s nomads

Blairbeth Golf Club from the Cathkin Braes – Panoramio user Jim Campbell

It is with some sadness that I learned of the demise of Blairbeth Golf Club. There have been a number of golf clubs in Scotland close their doors in recent years however Blairbeth is perhaps the most alarming as it is slap bang in the middle of the city so there really shouldn’t be a shortage of members on its doorstep. It would seem, however, to be a victim of circumstances rather than mismanagement, its customer base has become more mobile and has simply gone elsewhere.

Blairbeth is located on the south side of Glasgow and has pretty decent views of the city, perched at the foot of the Cathkin Braes which form the southern boundary of the city. It was the first ‘private’ golf club I played as a young adult, getting signed on by some friends. Before that my time had been spent on council/public golf courses. Trying not to be snobby about it, I would describe it as a good entry level golf club. Unpretentious, it was blue collar working class, relaxed, friendly, the green fees were modest and the course in reasonably good condition, the greens consistently some of the best. After playing golf at badly maintained 9 hole courses, it felt like Gleneagles to me. It formed the bridge between the council golf clubs, and the exclusive country club type frequented by lawyers and doctors. It would appear that holding the middle ground on this occasion has been its downfall, squeezed out of business from both ends with members electing to become nomads or moving to once exclusive clubs.

Turning the clock back to the turn of the Millennium, it was a very different picture. To get a game on a council golf course there would either be a two hour wait on the tee or you’d have to book one up to a week in advance. Private golf clubs were fairing very well too, membership was full and waiting lists of up to 8 years for some clubs with hefty joining fees. In many parts of Glasgow if you wanted to join a course the only way was to join as a junior member and graduate up through the ranks. Once you became a full member the retaining rates were high, you daren’t leave the golf club for fear that you wouldn’t get back in. Clubs like Blairbeth were accessible and a cost effective way to guarantee a game at the weekend.

This changed with the recession of 2007/08. Faced with having to cut household budgets and increasing demands on leisure time, many took the decision to resign their golf club membership rather than pay £700 to play three rounds of golf per annum. Virtually overnight, the bubble burst. The waiting lists were gone. In a drive for new members the joining fees were cut. If anything this encouraged existing members to leave, the spectre hanging their heads had gone and they could easily come back in a few years. Golf membership declined but rather surprisingly participation rates have not decreased by as much, it’s the way golf is accessed that changed.

The casual golfers who were previously forced to be members of clubs are now nomadic. There are good deals to be had trying out different courses around the country, clubs desperate for the vital income. For the same price of their annual club fees the casual golfer can now play a dozen highly rated courses in the summer.

For the player who somehow has 6 hours available on a Saturday to play a medal and wants to remain in a club, the world is their oyster. Every club is virtually affordable, the barriers to entry gone. They can now join that top rated club a short drive away, the joining fee can be paid up, the club forced to adapt to be more inclusive for all. One 125 year old bastion in the south of Glasgow is now even allowing women to join.

This has been the downfall of Blairbeth. It previously had issues due to its suburban location, petty theft of flag poles and balls, teenagers wandering the fairways, but this had mostly been resolved by regeneration of the local housing schemes. The suburban location was also one of its best features, an easy drive or walk from work or home. However with the smoking ban and now the stricter drink-drive limits the additional earnings in the bar and restaurant suffered.

Identifying that they had issues the club recently decided to cut down to a 9 hole course to save money on maintenance but faced with the choice of a 9 hole course or for just a few minutes more in the car the member could be in more idyllic surroundings, this proved to be the death knell.

Blairbeth has now joined the ranks of Kames, Castle Park, Lothianburn and Rutherford Castle golf clubs, and sadly it won’t be the last.

Main image source http://www.panoramio.com/photo_explorer#view=photo&position=750&with_photo_id=3580830&order=date_desc&user=101764