RBC Heritage

Harbour Town Golf Links

The Loop

Is golf appropriate in the face of tragedy? Recalling one buddies trip's awful predicament

May 13, 2014

__When a caddie dies in the middle of a professional golf tournament, which was the case when Iain MacGregor collapsed from a heart attack on his 18th hole Sunday at the European Tour's Madeira Islands Open, there is rightly a question of when it's appropriate to resume playing golf.

MacGregor was an immensely popular figure on the European circuit, admired equally by players and caddies. His sudden passing seemed to render the completion of a tournament irrelevant. Yet European Tour officials ultimately decided to resume play after an hour suspension, in part because they sensed that's "what Mac would have wanted", but perhaps also because suspending a tournament is an expensive and complicated proposition.

But again, that's professional golf. Would you still forge ahead if a golfer died during a simple golf trip among friends? In one instance at least, the answer was yes.


In the November 2005 issue of Golf Digest, Senior Editor Peter Morrice wrote about the unusual and difficult predicament that arose when 65-year-old John Ludwig died of a heart attack in the midst of a 10-day golf trip to Scotland, leaving the 11 remaining players unsure how to proceed.

Morrice wrote:

Putting aside for a moment the real tragedy here, this is the worst nightmare of any buddies trip. You get halfway through a 10-day, trip-of-a-lifetime itinerary in the British Isles and one of your friends goes to sleep and never wakes up. What do you do? Do you go straight home? Or do you carry on with your trip?

Ludwig's friends grappled with that very question. The father of three was discovered the morning the group was supposed to play Turnberry's Ailsa Course, and there was an immediate sense among his friends that they should stay back and assist police. But the message from Scotland Yard was there wasn't much for them to do. Then came the discussion of whether it was appropriate to play golf in the immediate wake of tragedy.

"I remember somebody saying we should skip the golf," one of Ludwig's tripmates, Barry Lee, told Morrice. "I was the first to say, 'For what?' Sitting around the hotel was going to do nothing."

After some convincing, the group headed to Turnberry for what proved to be an awkward and uncomfortable round, with club members and caddies all already aware of what happened. Upon their return to the hotel, the group still faced the question of whether they should curtail the rest of the trip. Again, Scottish officials helped the answer the question for them: Ludwig's body, they were told, wouldn't return to the U.S. for several days, which meant they could complete their itinerary and still be home for the funeral. And they reassured themselves by saying Ludwig would have approved, a sentiment his daughter later confirmed.

"That's what he would have wanted," Donna Ludwig said. "My father would have been unhappy if the trip ended because of that. That's the kind of guy he was."

Illustration by Anita Kunz