Where They Get Golf Right

Golf Magazine
By Mike Purkey

I hate to be the one to break the news, but we’re getting golf all wrong in this country. I made a trip to St. Andrews, the home of golf in Scotland, in the fall and I must report that I love it more every time I go. For instance.

It’s the edge of dusk and the last foursomes of the day are making their way over the final few holes. All are walking; some carry their own bags, some pull a trolley along behind, and some are accompanied by a caddie.

As we briskly walk the fairways, navigating from shot to shot, there is an underlying calm that lets us know that this is the way golf was meant to be.

In the streets of St. Andrews, people walk with golf bags slung over their shoulders – either on their way to or on their way back from a round of golf. After dark, they gather in their neighborhood pubs to turn up a pint of their favorite beverage and celebrate the birdies and commiserate over the bogeys.

I love the Scottish attitude toward golf. They believe the game was meant to be played in 3 ½ hours – preferably less. They believe the proper mode of transportation is the feet. And, the Scots are often puzzled by Americans and their predilection to what they call “pencil and scorecard golf.”

We spend much of our time holing every putt and recording every shot because our handicap system – based on the best 10 of our last 20 scores – insists that we post every round. On the other hand, the British handicap system is based on what is called the “monthly medal,” when golfers play from the back tees and record a medal score – once or twice a month. That score determines whether a player’s handicap is adjusted up or down. The rest of the time, their casual rounds consist of match play. When you’re out of the hole, you put it in your pocket. To my mind, theirs is a much superior system.

Then, there are the golf courses. It’s true that we have more good courses in our country, but we have some definite drawbacks about the way we build ours. You won’t see many houses bordering British courses nor will you see any cart paths. We play cart ball and most of the time, we must keep the buggies on the paths.

Even the new courses built in Scotland are in keeping with tradition. Case in point is Kingsbarns, built by American developers and an American architect about six miles from St. Andrews. Although a considerable amount of dirt was moved to create this links-style course, it looks as if it has always been there.

California businessmen Mark Parsinen and Art Dunkley teamed with architect Kyle Phillips, along with local businessman Gordon Begg, to create nothing less than a spectacular design on an incredible vista. Five holes border the sea, joining the rest to form what will be one of the best courses in Scotland.

Kingsbarns is set to open right before next year’s British Open, which will be contested over the Old Course at St. Andrews . And, Kingsbarns will no doubt be filled with visitors that week who will see first hand what a jewel that has been added to the region of Fife.

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews thought so highly of the Kingsbarns project that it gave the developers an interest-free loan of £1 million in exchange for 2,000 starting times that the R&A could use at its discretion during the year.

There is no question that Kingsbarns will be a tournament course at some point in the near future. At the very least it will be a qualifying course for future British Opens at St. Andrews . At best, it could be the site of a Walker Cup or Scottish Open, should the European Tour decide to resurrect that event.

However, the best part of the Kingsbarns project has been the loving hands the developers have used to create it. Although they have seemingly deep pockets, they feel no pressure to hurry things along. They are taking as much time as needed to produce the kind of course that will not only fit in with the seaside landscape but will be accepted by the locals as a project that fits in as part of the tradition of Scottish golf.

And, that means treating the game with reverence instead of as a profit center. The bottom line in Scottish golf is not the bottom line. That’s where we could most take a lesson.


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