On Mortonhall Golf Club

I have two claims to fame at Mortonhall. One for getting oh so nearly thrown out of the bar for being rather too inebriated and the other for holding the fastest time for the Dewar Hill Race at 3 minutes 57 seconds. I am more proud of the latter of course. Any Tom, Dick or Harry can get thrown out of a bar, but 3 minutes 57 seconds for the Dewar Hill race will take some beating.

This race which has only ever been run twice in the history of mankind is a sprint from the clubhouse up to the old 18th tee and then to play the last out. Now this is a really fun event and last took place as part of club’s Centenary celebrations. back in the days when I was a strutting lad and able to run. It drew a largish crowd and a good few competitors. It’s a shame they don’t hold this annually to be honest.

But what a rum club Mortonhall Golf Club really is. It’s an incredibly beautiful course for a start, a great test of golf and run by the very witty steward, David Henderson. I have many friends that are members and a zany lot they are too. They run a club within the club called The Mortonhall Casual Barmy Army, MCBA for short. Now in my opinion, every club should have their own Barmy Army. In fact there should be a national Barmy Army Team Tournament sponsored by the R&A to the sum of a million quid each year. This would tide the players over for light refreshments, prize money and an annual bash on the Old each year, at which each qualifying team will be put up for a week at the splendid new Rusacks and there will be free Louis Roederer Cristal champagne on tap, Cuvee of course! I’m sure that the R&A can swing a wee Cristal deal into the bargain. They’re good at that sort of thing.

You could have a kind of Barmy Army Dewar Hill Race whereby all barmies would run from the R&A into the sea at Castle Sands, swim three strokes out and back in memory of Old Tom and hit a ball back to the 18th green of the Old. What a blast that would be? Put a bit of zest back into the old game what?

Anyway you just never know. I shall be starting off by trying to resurrect the race at Mortonhall first, now that I’m a member again. Thereafter I’ll pull together all my pals at the R&A and get that one rolling.

Well, I’ll give that chap a ring!

A remarkable story and true

I often sail down the road to Edinburgh to catch up with the merry butchers at Wm Christie in Bruntsfield. Not only do I get golf tips from Angus and hear his new jokes, but I tap into the Edinburgh grapevine and give them the gossip from across the water. A vital exchange.

Now Angus is the real golfer but Bob was a caddie on the European Tour, when aged fourteen he chucked his academic studies at James Gillespie High School (I say ‘academic studies’ in the broadest and loosest sense possible) and headed for the school of life, carrying the bag of his infamous uncle, David Robertson from Dunbar, who later became renowned for getting banned from the tour for cheating.

Nevertheless, the guy could hit a golf ball and made some success in his short lived professional life. However, Bob told me the other day that he actually threw away two tournaments which he was winning, the Northern Open and the Coca Cola at North Berwick. And all because he was terrified of making the winners speech! He seemingly got to the sixteenth ahead in the last round in both and said to Bob ‘I’m going to throw it. I just can’t do the speech’ Bob remonstrated with him and said ‘just say thank you’. But he couldn’t get over that fear.

Kind of stage fright in the extreme. But rather defeating the purpose of playing professional golf what?

On a more positive note I’ve been accepted back into Mortonhall as a country member which I’m delighted about. I started playing golf there aged ten and have so many fond memories of the place. On a recent visit it was great to see my Dad’s pals still going strong. What a happy place it is for me. And indeed what a great and beautiful golf course it is too, settled next to the Braid Hills, afire with yellow furze all summer long.

Siegfried Sasoon used to escape there while convalescing during the war and there is indeed a hole, the fourth called ‘Poet’s Walk’. It is all a bit of a dream of a course to be honest, and I’m very glad to be back to it.

The Dunghill

The Dunhill is over again. The valiant attempt to bring pros and amateurs together playing in a top level tournament. But does this format work? In theory yes, but in practice I would say a resounding no.

I didn’t go down to watch this year apart from a mere five minutes when I stopped by the 18th to see if the pros were driving the last green with the strong backwind. And indeed they were, which is fairly impressive. However that was all that was impressive about the two pros, Haydn Porteous and Jacques Kruyswijk. For as I watched them stride onto the left of the 18th green I noticed that one of the pro’s amateur partner was trying to hit his second shot from just before the road. But the two pros were just not in the least bit interested. They weren’t looking. And that is shocking, no matter what stakes these guys are playing for.

However, I was not in the least bit surprised by what I saw, as I’d had my own first hand experience of this sort of behaviour as I’d caddied for David Walsh a few years ago, when he was paired with the up and coming Matt Wallace. What an eye opener that was. Mr Wallace swore under his breath at the other amateur on the fifth green of the Old after he thought he’d spoken too loudly while he was playing a shot. I say swore under his breath, he actually cursed the wee chap fairly loud and clear. Mr Wallace was also pretty ignorant in his behaviour towards his caddie at one point and indeed, when David missed a very short putt, I think in the third round at Kingsbarns on about the 12th after Matt had dropped five shots in three holes and fell off the leaderboard, he openly sighed and walked off the green making his view very clear about David’s short miss. Yuk! Friendly enjoyable golf? No.

But I suppose it’s a tough old world out there and to be honest I’m rather glad I’m not too heavily involved with it at that level. I actually heard that a caddie I know declined to take part this year as he found the whole thing too stressful. I get that. I would actually cringe at the thought of having to play in it as an amateur. No thanks.

My article on the Dunhill that year, in which I wrote about my experience with David was published by Hong Kong Golf Monthly. I was actually quite pleased with it in all honesty. I sent it to David as well as I would have loved to get some feedback from The Sunday Times Chief Sportswriter, the four-time Irish Sportswriter of the Year and the three-time UK Sportswriter of the Year.

However he didn’t respond.

Which is a shame because like that Dunhill amateur last week doing his best to pitch it alongside the major guns in the game, it would have been nice to have had my shot acknowledged too.

Jimmy Hume was right

As a fifteen year old I was selected for coaching down the road at Gullane under the auspices of their characterful pro Jimmy Hume.

I remember distinctly what he said to me when he first saw me swing a golf club and it was this, ‘don’t think about taking it back son, just take it back’.

Now while I adhered to this non-thinking maxim in life I didn’t with respect to my golf swing. And it is forty four years later that I’m actually starting to heed it. Now forty four years is an awfully long time. And some might say too long to be perplexing about the dynamics of the golf backswing.

I have to admit that recently I’ve been very close to throwing it all in on the goff front. Not surprising given the frustration and pain that all my failed attempts to find the holy grail of the golf swing have caused me, admittedly not aided by an innate stubbornness and so enduring countless, fruitless lessons, trying out all sorts of different tips and swing thoughts and of course now being bombarded by the myriad of general golf teaching blarney from all the social media platforms.

It’s enough to turn you to drink or take up trigpointing.

So after forty four years I don’t know how I got back to thinking about that long-ago coaching session with Jimmy Hume one fine morning on Gullane Hill? Possibly it was a combination of the utter despair arising from my awful golf at Ladybank yesterday and then watching the end of the Ryder Cup. And particularly watching a Mr Bryson Dechambeau swing a golf club. Because I’ll bet my bottom dollar that Bryson is not thinking too heavily about anything when attacking that golf ball. And that’s a tonic for us all.

So, time will tell if my new ‘Bryson method’ is going to work.

But please watch this space!

Because time and my balls are running out.

Rumours of my blackballing

An old friend the other day annoyed me. He asked my present handicap which I said was 6.7 and he said ‘very good but you won’t get any lower’. He actually said it twice. Now I wonder why he would say that? Does he have the fantastical secret of future vision? Then tip-top, but please give me more helpful insights than the state of my future golf handicap.

Tell me for example if I will get my membership back at Mortonhall Golf Club after I gave it up a few years back. To be honest I am now slightly anxious after a throw away comment that someone made at their recent invitation silloth competition which I had the pleasure of being invited to. Yes take note, I was actually invited. I think the words were ‘I hear there are a few blackballs in the bag already …’ as he lobbed in a knowing smile.

Hmm that’s a worry, because I did hear that Tam was not allowed back in recently. Seemingly they had a meeting of four past captains to discuss the matter and the unanimous verdict was a big and emphatic No. Lucky I suppose that it was unanimous as that could have been one long debate at a 2.2 draw. I would have paid dearly to have listened into it.

Tam by all accounts went up to Swanston, got chucked out of there for some reason and then proceeded to Liberton where the rumour now is that he is currently suspended for making a fuss over the fact that they turned the TV off after the first half of the Euro 21 Final, as they were closing early for something called Covid.

Tam is no shrinking violet of course and makes his point loud (very) and clear. It’s a shame though that Mortonhall will miss out on such a colourful character. They have indeed retained some more questionable ones.

No one is perfect. Not even moi.

Anyway, time will tell with respect to my future at Mortonhall and indeed my golf handicap. Unless anyone can enlighten me further now of course?

Olympic Golf?

I am not convinced about the Olympic golf stuff to be honest. Yes golf is a sport but these guys have their Olympics every week of the year on the major tours around the world. They do though. I mean every golf championship nowadays is an Olympian feat in presentation, organisation and execution. Why do they want more? Is the winning of a an Olympic medal that important? Surely not.

It just didn’t sit right with me seeing Xander Schauffle all dressed up in a USA tracksuit and beaming on his podium. He was like a little self-conscious schoolboy wearing his uniform on his first day at school. They all looked a bit silly to be honest. It was kind of like, why on earth are you wearing a tracksuit?

But imagine if John Daly or Angel Cabrera had won a medal! It would have just looked too ridiculous for words. Ok I know it’s not going to happen, as John Daly would almost definitely refuse to wear a tracksuit and Angel is in jail.

This brings me to the funny anecdote told by Tom Lewis’s caddie at the Dunhill a few years back. He said that the caddies were all put up in the Olympic village too and of course most like him weren’t overly athletic-looking. So when people asked him which sport he did, he used to reply ‘hurdles’.

Wonderful.

5 matches on the Old Course in 8 days!

I am having the most intense golf fest at the moment.

It goes like this. On Monday I played the Old Course in a St Andrews Thistle Club match and we finished tied after eighteen. It was getting dark so rather than play on down the nineteenth we decided to make use of Peter’s already booked tee-time on the Old on Wednesday and have a re-match. On Tuesday, Peter and I piled down to Edinburgh to partake in the Seniors Gents Greensomes competition at the dream that is Mortonhall Golf Club. Thursday, I have the Thistle Autumn Meeting on the Old, on Friday a St Andrews Club foursomes match on the Old and on Saturday I head down again to Mortonhall for their Invitation Silloth comp. Sunday is a day of rest and then next Monday I’m once again back on the Old Course for a St Andrews Club Seniors tie!

Now that’s what I call golf value for money. Yes, we are rather spoilt over here in the Kingdom and in the fortunate position as St Andrews Golf Club members to be able to guarantee Old Course tee-times for certain competitions. And that’s pretty cool for a club membership fee of one hundred and fifty quid a year. All pretty perfect.

Unlike my golf game though!

I had a rather Jean Van der Velde moment in the Mortonhall Greensomes. We played steadily all the way round until my final shot to the last green. I had a straightforward 8 iron to set up a par for a net 69 and second place. Of course, to my usual form I knocked it into the bushes right of the green. Peter followed suit and we walked off with a no-return and long faces.

A tough school golf.

Like any sport of course. I watched the penalty shoot-out in the final of the Olympic Women’s football in Tokyo, where it came down to the veteran Swedish captain having an opportunity with one spot kick to win the gold medal. Yes one spot kick after a lifetime of kicking balls. She walked up calmly, stood as the world watched, sent the keeper the wrong way and then ballooned the ball over the bar and the open net!

A career ended and distinguished by one short defining moment. At the pinnacle and eventide of a long and illustrious football life.

What a legacy and utter shame for the poor lass. Nerves can play havoc.

I can at least head back to the Senior Greensomes Competition at Mortonhall next year.

Well, I hope I can.

Epic Saturday

Tomorrow is going to be a rather massive day on many fronts. Golf and nostalgic ones. Essentially, I am playing in the Autumn Meeting on the Old Course at 8am and then rushing down to Edinburgh to play at my old club, Mortonhall, in their Gents Open in the afternoon. That’s if I can make it.

The issues are tee times and transport. I don’t drive and I have a booking on the 125 from Leuchars at 12.23. However, it is unlikely that I will be round the Old in four hours and so be able to nab a cab and catch it. I tried asking the St Andrews club and a friend if they would swap my tee time for earlier. My friend said yes I can have his 6.50am start which would have been perfect. Unfortunately the club said no. I then tried to get a later time at Mortonhall and the nice pro chap did his best to phone some members and see if they were willing to change with me, But they unfortunately weren’t. So it looked as if I was doomed and would have had to compromise Mortonhall if I was shooting a good score over the Old or just walk off and try my luck in Edinburgh if I wasn’t.

However, all was saved when the nice chap from Mortonhall phoned later to say there had been a cancellation and I was now off at 3.10pm. Excellent. Well, so long as it doesn’t take more than four and a half hours on the Old as the next train is at 12.49. But it should all now come together. And that’s a rum thing.

Yes I have fond memories of Morty. It’s the most beautiful course next to the incomparable Braid Hills, with stunning views up to the Pentlands and over the city. I spent my childhood there. It’s all a bit of a dream of a place to be honest. The oak lined and meandering fourth hole is called ‘Poet’s Walk’ in remembrance of Siegfried Sassoon who was convalescing at nearby Craighouse during the war and would play there. Yes it’s a bit of a Grantchester all told.

Anyway, don’t let me get poetic.

But, God catch me a train.

When the pressure is on

We all remember Jean Van der Velde making a complete horlicks of the last hole at Carnoustie when he had the Open Championship in the bag. A five would have got the job done for the hapless Frenchman with two solid eight irons. Unfortunately though, he disengaged his brain and for some reason hit a two iron which risked going into the burn before the green. Which it did. That was not the right way to play that hole. And his caddie should have told him so.

There was no such excuse as the heat of the moment for England’s dismal performance in the penalty shoot out in the Euro 21 final on Sunday evening. Indeed the manager had the team practising them for months by all accounts. Really I ask? But did they discuss the mode of taking a penalty? It doesn’t look like it.

For this is one thing I don’t get in football and it seems so self-evident, so common sensical. A powerfully hit penalty has much more chance of beating the goalie than a strategically placed one. Is that not so? And is this not primary school stuff?

Yet England’s last three penalty takers all tried to outwit the goalkeeper and pamper it into the net. So did Jorghino of course with his pretty little hop, skip and jump routine. But he is an exuberant, exhibitionist Italian and was just playing to the crowd. Anyway, he missed too.

So why didn’t Southgate just say put your laces through it guys? I think that is the correct terminology. Don’t try and be clever or showy. Because It really comes down to the simple laws of physics, speed and reaction time and all that.

I mean there must be stats on all this I would think? but maybe not.

Anyway comments please. I’m well mystified.

Well done Phil

It’s the huge story in golf at the moment. Phil Mickelson bagged the PGA Championship at the age of fifty, becoming the oldest winner of a major.

I would suggest however that he still has another major inside him. Possibly more. I wonder what Mr Ladbroke’s are giving on that?

There is indeed hope for us oldies. I’m more and more believing that. In fact at aged fifty-nine I feel my best golf is still ahead of me and I’m hitting it as well and as far as ever. Age is a funny old thing. Look at Gary Player.

Of course you have to take care of yourself. And I believe Phil has a new diet and is tinkering with meditation and Napa Valley reds. I would personally forget the meditation and double-up on the Napa Valley reds. Meditation then morphs into a far more productive, rumination kind of thing and one can go places with a bit of productive rumination kind of thing. Forget all that esoteric stuff, it will mess with your head. Stick to the Napa Valley and the reds.

However Phil appears fundamentally on the right track.

Back here in St Andrews I am having a mad golf-fest this week. Two rounds on the Old Course on Tuesday, two rounds on the Eden yesterday, a round up at the Castle today and then two on the New tomorrow. One has to get value from one’s 240 quid a year links ticket.

I’ve been rather flattered this week too on the writing front, as I got a nice email from Neil Sagebiel, author and pen to the popular ‘Armchair Golf Blog’. He wants to put one of my ditties up as a guest post. Now that’s very kind of him and a very rare thing indeed. I think apart from that I’ve only had one other positive written comment in seven years of blog writing, from this nice sounding chap in Hong Kong.

Hope springs eternal and all that.

Well, with some help from the Napa Valley reds.