1. What is the source of Ryder Cup Europe’s pathological golf-course selections? In the sixties and seventies, the trans-Atlantic side of the contest was held exclusively on Open courses: Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Royal Birkdale, and Muirfield -- an over-reliance on England, granted, but otherwise impeccable. Since then, the thinking has apparently been that crummy venues deserve international exposure, too. The worst is the Belfry, also in England, which has hosted the matches four times -- more than any other course in history. The Belfry has just two good holes, the ninth and the eighteenth, and most matches don’t reach the eighteenth. This year’s course, at Gleneagles, was in the works when I first played golf in Scotland, in the early 1990s. At that time, the Scots had seemingly decided that the way to attract American golfers was to hire Jack Nicklaus to build something that would remind them of Florida, cart paths included. Somebody, please, wake up the people in charge. The PGA Centenary Course, as Nicklaus’s creation is now known, isn’t even the best course at Gleneagles.
2. There’s been lots of angry speculation about the reasons for this year’s American defeat, but no one, so far as I know, has hit on the real explanation: the extraordinarily annoying pre-shot routines of Jim Furyk and Keegan Bradley. In TV broadcasts of regular tour events, producers have become adept at keeping the cameras away from those two until they’re almost ready to make a real stroke. During the Ryder Cup, though, so little actual golf is under way at any moment that they had no choice but to make us watch full sequences -- all the tics and twirls and feints and bird peeks and pocket scrunches and everything else. True, we were spared Furyk's 5-Hour Energy wardrobe, and thank goodness for that. But the other stuff was increasingly infuriating, and by Saturday afternoon (I’m guessing) so many U.S. TV watchers were mentally rooting against Furyk and Bradley that the cosmic tide irretrievably turned. Those two golfers, between them, won two points and lost four; turn those Ls to Ws, and it’s a blowout the other way
Just back from the Western Isles to report a near transcendent golf experience at Askernish. When Ralph initially wrote back to me, he mentioned the upcoming Askernish Open, and after reading that sentence my heart sank with the assumption that I couldn't play. But, as you might guess, his next sentence said he was entering me in the tournament.Suzannah and I took the Oban car ferry (five-plus hours, two of gin rummy) and we drove to our hotel in the dark: the Orasay Inn, on the north end of the island. Next day was spent in churches and cemeteries doing some very unprofessional genealogical work ("Hey, here's another MacIsaac!") but not before a stop at the clubhouse, where Ralph said we could tee off straightaway, if we liked. But we had MacIsaacs to find. Next day, in the Open, I was paired with David Currie, a Toronto guy and an Askernish life member, who holds the golf club cack-handed -- i.e., right one on top. Try that at the range.All I can say about the course is that it is pure links, and therefore the purest golf experience I have ever had, never mind my 103, partially the fault of rented, steel-shafted clubs. Glorious weather. And between the eighth and sixteenth greens stood a truck, tailgate down, whose bed was filled with drinks (whisky) and little bite-size salmon things with tiny wedges of lemon on them. I wolfed down about six.
Night GolfI remember the night I discovered,lying in bed in the dark,that a few imagined holes of golfworked much better than a thousand sheep,that the local links,not the cloudy pasture with its easy fence,was the greener path to sleep.How soothing to stroll the shadowy fairways,to skirt the moon-blanched bunkersand hear the night owl in the woods.Who cared about the scorewhen the club swung with the ease of airand I glided from shot to shotover the mown and rolling ground,alone and drowsy with my weightless bag?Eighteen small cups punched into thebristling grass,eighteen flags limp on their sticksin the silent, windless dark,but in the bedroom with its luminous clockand propped-open windows,I got only as far as the seventh holebefore I drifted easily away --the difficult seventh, "The Tester" they called it,where, just as on the earlier holes,I tapped in, dreamily, for birdie.
The best poem ever written about golf was written by me. Well, I did have a co-author -- Emily Dickinson -- and on a percentage basis she wrote more of it than I did. But I did contribute the crucial word:
Golf is the thing with feathers --That perches on the soul --And sings the tune without the words --And never stops -- at all --I’ve heard it in the chillest land --And on the strangest Sea --Yet, never, in Extremity,It asked a crumb -- of Me.