The R&A. What’s all that about then?

The Kilted Caddy on the Royal and Ancient

Although The Open this year is to be held at Royal Troon it is still, of course, run by The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, The R&A. It has been running the event since 1754, which is an awfully long time in anyone’s estimation.

Now The R&A is a most individual and quintessentially British thing. It is a law unto itself and a very queer beast. It is elitist but sufficiently towny to get away with it. It has a most wonderful clubhouse and serves excellent wines and members walk round blazered up, proudly and purposefully. There are over 2500 of them worldwide and women have just been allowed to join.

However it’s not easy to get into this establishment. Well, unless you’re extremely lucky or charming or famous or I’m not quite sure what. Rich maybe. For you need to be invited to join and so that negates it for most of us.

I am to be honest much more enamoured of the St Andrews Golf Club which lies across the other side of the eighteenth green. It is open to anyone by application and costs under two hundred quid a year. It has snooker tables, dominoes nights, good decent food and beer at reasonable prices, and an outdoor patio looking onto the eighteenth of the Old Course.

Now, I am a caddie in St Andrews, which is great fun and a job I never thought I would end up doing after coming here as a young economics student over thirty years ago. But I am and I love it. However I know this limits my chances of getting invited to join The R&A. Even though I have friends who are members. It just won’t happen and I know it. Even though I played on the University golf team and know the BBC production crew and have a good pal who works alongside Rupert Soames who is Winston Churchill’s grandson. It’s not enough.

If I were a QC, Queens Counsel, (ie having taken silk) it would most probably be a different matter. However I don’t want to take silk. I want to pick up rough and replace divots and be with my common man. And indeed I have a friend who is a QC who in fact turned down an offer from the esteemed club. Another friend, a doctor, did the same. Now what’s that all about?

So here’s the deal. I will not turn it down should the R&A offer me a membership. Now this is written down in the annals of history and I will wait patiently.

A good friend in his first year at University has a wonderful story about joining. He was working up north in a fishing lodge in the summer holidays and befriended a lovely retired gent and his wife. Anyway it turns out this lovely retired gent was a significant member of the R&A and invited my friend Donald down to dinner at the start of Michaelmas term. After eating and over a large brandy he hears the immortal words ‘I would like to put you up for the club’. Donald was speechless, which was rare.

I do like some of the R&A traditions though, and was involved a couple of years back in the ‘driving in’ of the new captain. At dawn on a cold September morning I stood alongside my fellow caddies in the hope of winning a gold sovereign which goes to the caddie who retrieves the drive off the first tee hit by the new captain. A cannon is fired and a fight for the ball ensues. Members of The R&A surround the first tee and it’s a marvelous occasion and spectacle. The Captain ‘wins’ the Silver Club and the Adelaide medal for his one shot. What a wheeze. Two prizes for a single shot.

In my student days, the annual match against The R&A was always to be looked forward to. Two rounds and a large lunch and house gins included. The funniest thing was seeing my captain, Dave Turner, have one house gin too many and tumble down the steps onto the first tee of The Old. Excellent stuff and clever gamesmanship I may add. Dave was a canny golfer but not that afternoon.

Memories, memories. And the R&A is very much part of that.

First published on Golf Punk in June 30, 2016