As I prepare to travel to Scotland this June, I’ve been reading a bundle about the home of golf — and golf generally. Although I’m not sure how it will lower my scores, I’ve taken a keen interest in the history of golf, both ancient and recent. In the latter category my most recent read is George Peper’s Two Years in St. Andrews: At Home on the 18th Hole, a book about two years the former editor of Golf Magazine and his wife spent living in their apartment off the 18th hole. I read it with hopes of picking up a few pointers about playing the Old Course and enjoying the town generally, and that I did. But at the very end of the book I read a quote — a paragraph, actually — that really struck me. Mr. Peper was asked to represent the Royal and Ancient Golf Club and speak at the annual dinner of the Fife Golf Association, an annual gathering of clubs in the area. Toward the end of his speech he described the game in a way that captured the game’s essence to the Scots and, well, to this blog-keeping non-Scot:
Someday I hope to bring my grandchildren here to Scotland — not to show them what golf is but to show them what it isn’t — that it isn’t $200 million resorts and $200,000 membership fees, that it isn’t six-hour rounds and three-day member guests, that it isn’t motorized buggies, Cuban cigars and cashmere headcovers. It’s a game you play simply and honorably, without delay or complaint — where you respect your companions, respect the rules, and respect the ground you walk on. Where on the 18th green you remove your cap and shake hands, maybe just a little humbler and a little wiser than when you began.
Except for the dig at three-day member-guests, which I quite enjoy, the now St. Andrews resident hit it spot on. And as I struggle with the question of why, exactly, I’m forking out a quarter’s worth of future colleage tuition to go on a two-week golf junket, his description of the game in Scotland reminded me of why I need to go there. At the risk of hyperbole, our trip isn’t so much a junket as a pilgrimage. And I’m very fortunate to have the means and family that allow me to take it.