Golf, as ever, opens up worlds you could never anticipate
Golf shrinks the world, or it can. I just finished reading a book called A Course Called America, by Tom Coyne. Most enjoyable, and it completes his Course Called trilogy, following Ireland and Scotland. Or not. Maybe Coyne has Australia and Malta on deck, I don’t know. This Tom Coyne — good golfer, easy manner — discovers courses while looking for people and vice-versa. He captures these discoveries for posterity in 12-point type. You likely do about the same, minus the detailed write-ups. Maybe you use Instagram.
Coyne has traveled far and wide. He could throw a dart at a map of the United States and tell you something about wherever the tip makes landfall. Coyne has a whole thing about Burgerdogs, noted foodstuff of the Olympic Club in San Francisco. I was surprised to see no mention of a beloved halfway house refreshment at the Rolling Green Golf Club, his ancestral golfing home, near Philadelphia: Yoo-hoo and root beer, mixed in even proportions. Outstanding.
Most golfers are foodies and the food changes, depending on location. The Philadelphia Cricket Club, my golfing home, still serves snapper soup. I don’t think calling it turtle soup would improve sales.
The fellas will gather next week in the heart of fish-‘n-chips country, at Royal St. George’s, on the Kentish Coast of England. The Kingdom of Kent is as close as you can be to France while still under the Queen’s watch. It’s a spectacular part of England, rural here, seafaring there, with country roads that are about as wide as cart paths, lined by hedges. The locals call Royal St. George’s Sandwich, for the town in which it lies. Yes, the Earl of Sandwich. Yes, his enduring invention. A traveling golfer is a de facto history buff.
I was first there in 1985, caddying for a golfer on his honeymoon, Jamie Howell. Jamie qualified for the Open at a course next door to Sandwich, at Royal Cinque Ports. Maybe you’re tempted to say (nodding to your high school French) Royal Sank Port. You know, un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq (sank). There are five ports in the vicinity: Sandwich, Rye, Hastings, Hythe and Dover. But the English, being English, nod to France only when absolutely necessary. So it’s Royal Sink Ports. Just because. The locals call Royal Cinque Ports Deal, where it’s located.
The enduring pro there, Andy Reynolds, was the pro when I first played it, in ’85, and he was well-established then. (You talk about a legend. The man and his course.) I stayed for a few nights at the Chequers Inn, on Golf Road, which connects Royal Cinque (sink) Ports and Royal St. George’s. At the Chequers Inn, I met a touring caddie working the Open named Dave McNeilly. Many years later, I sat in his kitchen, in Belfast, looking out at his beautiful garden. The last time I saw him, at the Memorial last year, he was caddying for Matt Wallace. Talk about a lifer. I was wearing a club hat that made a logo nod to yesteryear. “Ah, 1854,” Dave said. “Remember it fondly.” He’s amusing and ridiculously fit. I believe he turns 40 on his next birthday.
As an Open course, Royal St. George’s is underrated. As a great Open locale, greater Sandwich is a thorough delight. The last time the Open was in Sandwich, my friend and colleague John Garrity and I made an application to play at Rye Golf Club, where the annual Cambridge-Oxford Golf Match is played. After what seemed like a half-hour vetting process in the club secretary’s office, we were casually pointed to the first tee. So British. Sec-ra-tee will see yourselves now. God save the Queen, her courses, her people. Scotland is Scotland, but England has her own charms.
It hurts, not to be going this year, but things are still settling down. St. Andrews, baby, 2022. Here’s hoping the Philadelphia-to-Glasgow nonstop American flight is back in business by then. You always get nervous about your clubs making it, when you’re dealing with connecting flights. “Have clubs, will travel,” my hero Dave Anderson (New York Times) used to say.
Christine and I were married shortly after the end of the 1990 baseball season. (Reds over A’s in four; sat beside Dave.) After a long year on the road covering the pastime, my only request for our honeymoon was to go somewhere with no time change, reachable by a nonstop flight, with some golf. Christine came up with Hispaniola, the Caribbean island which comprises the Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic on one side and, over a rough border, Haiti, where people speak Creole on the streets and French in school. My car (our car) died on the way to JFK for our flight to Santa Domingo, the Dominican capital. Miraculously, we got to the airport just in time and I was permitted to bring my golf clubs on as a carryon. I’ve always had slender bags. It went right in the overhead, I kid you not.
My first hole of my married life was at the Teeth of the Dog course: driver, 8-iron, grainy, hooking eight-footer for a birdie, witnessed by my wife and my caddie. (Two different people.) We bought black-market gasoline in Evian bottles from that caddie. We drove all over the country, went right through San Pedro de Macoris, the great breeding ground for middle infielders, shortstops especially. The gas supply in the Dominican was not reliable then.
The electrical supply was not reliable in Haiti. We made a side trip there, flew into Port-au-Prince and stayed at the Hotel Oloffson, funky and gorgeous and lush, in Pétion-Ville, a hilly, relatively affluent village outside Port-au-Prince. We were in Haiti on All Soul’s Day, a voodoo holy day. Thirty years later, we’re still buying Haitian art. Our house is filled with it.
The electricity went out periodically but the hotel had a semi-reliable backup generator. Amazingly, our room had a TV. There was I believe one working channel and it was showing the movie Stealing Home and at the exact moment I stumbled onto it there was a quick scene that showed an old hatted Cricket Club member fishing for golf balls on a creek that runs through the course. Right there on a working (just then) color TV, in the Graham Greene Suite, in the Hotel Oloffson, in Pétion-Ville, Haiti. That’s all coming back to me today because of the tragic news that Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated in his home in Pétion-Ville. Golf, in a manner of speaking, got me there, and I have felt connected to Haiti ever since.
Golf opens worlds.
Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at Michael.Bamberger@Golf.com