What American golf can learn from the Scots
The British Open at St. Andrews is near, and, as preparation for the Old Course, many of the world's best have descended upon the region this week for the Scottish Open at Gullane.
As Scotland takes center stage, some of the variances between the country's game and United States golf may come as oddities to the novice onlooker, with the most popular of these astute perspectives being, "Why are the courses so brown?"
In truth, it's the Yankees who should be taking notes. After all, the Scots have only been teeing it up since the 1450s.
Here are tips and teachings courtesy of the Scottish that need to be implemented in America ASAP:
Walk, don't ride
We Americans are lazy bastards. This carries over to the course, seen in our infatuation with golf carts. It's a habit that's looked down upon overseas. Many courses disallow carts, except to those with physical limitations or handicaps.
Walking and carrying your bag can burn double the amount of calories as opposed to riding. The pull cart, utilized by the masses in the United Kingdom. is a viable option for those looking to keep the bag off their shoulders.
Keep your eye on the ball
Despite the omnipresence of heather, you won't find many lost Titleists in the Scottish heather. The answer is simple: players never lose sight of their shots. Americans -- this man included -- have the propensity to bemoan a bad or wayward ball, rather than tracking its trajectory to its likely destination. This practice will shave numbers off your scorecard, and save money (in the pro shop on ammunition) and time (searching for the ball).
Love of scotch
Ron Swanson once called it "the nectar of the gods." Enough said.
Rain or shine
It rains in Scotland. A LOT: some parts of the country average over 260 days of rainfall per year. That doesn't stop the Scottish from hitting the links.
If anything, Americans should welcome cloudy skies. It rids the course of non zealots, plus provides the opportunity to drop the, "I don't think the heavy stuff is coming down for awhile" line. Win-win!
Land over air around the greens
Sure, the flop shot is aesthetically pleasing. It's also, on most courses, highly unnecessary. This is especially true across the pond. Scotland links, due to a firm nature of the terrain, are designed to receive shots from the ground rather than a skied approach. You'll see players breaking out the putter from the fairways, or using a mid-iron to bump-n-run a shot to the pin.
For most amateurs, one of the biggest mistakes around the green is the inclination to execute a Phil Mickelson-esque, full-swing flop. Instead, take a page from the Scottish by keeping the wedge in the bag for an 8-iron punch. What the strategy lacks in beauty it makes up for in effectiveness.
Sure, you laughed at this ensemble as a kid. But you find me another attire that's both formal AND comfortable.
As a corollary...
No, you don't need to mimic the Ben Hogan cap, sweater vest and stirrups look. (Although that would be a better ensemble than what's in Rickie Fowler's closet.) More accurately, don't dress down to the local course. This past weekend, I saw a foursome with a woman in jean shorts, a kid in a cowboy hat and a man in his 40s wearing a Knicks jersey. (In a related note, judging by the said 40-year-old's swing, it was the first time in awhile that someone in a Knicks jersey scored in the 100s.)
A public course doesn't give you a free pass on the wardrobe. Golf shoes aren't necessary, but a collared shirt and nice shorts should be.
Pace of play
There are very few, if any, practice swings in Scotland. You find your ball, you hit it.
If you're playing partner's on the right side of the fairway and you're on the left, you should be at your ball, not standing next to him.
When someone else is putting, you should be looking at your own line, ready to putt as soon as he or she is finished.
We've all seen players who try eight or nine practice swings, study the green like they're at the U.S. Open or sit in the cart next to their buddy's stance instead of hovering over their own shot. It's why weekend rounds in the States routinely take five to six hours.
Eighteen holes, at maximum, should take four hours. Often in Scotland, they hover around three. If the sport wants to grow, it shouldn't worry about FootGolf or six-hole rounds. The focus needs to be on speeding people up. Attention spans are shorter than ever, and the game needs to adjust accordingly.
Kidding. Just wanted to make sure you're still paying attention.
In past Opens, the fairways can be faster than the greens. In America, there's an addiction to watering the hell out of the short stuff to achieve a greener hue. The upshot, unfortunately, is spongier landing spots, negating roll. Keeping the fairways shorter and drier can save money for course operators, and reward accurate golfers with added distance.
It's not uncommon to see townspeople taking a stroll on Scottish courses. To them, golf is not a good walk spoiled. It's a park, a common space. Courses are beautiful specimens, and can have tremendous environmental benefits to the community. They should be enjoyed by all, including...
Animals on courses
Price, or lack thereof
The top public course in America is Pebble Beach, which runs just shy of $500 per round. At St. Andrews, you can pay as little as $120 for the Old Course. Which brings us to our final point...
The top courses on Golf Digest's America's 100 Greatest list are Augusta National, Pine Valley, Cypress Point, Shinnecock Hills and Merion. Know what they have in common? All private clubs, and all impossible for the common man to play.
Not the case for Scotland's venues, with St. Andrews, Royal Dornoch, Turnberry, Gullane and Carnoustie available for public consumption. Even Muirfield, for a price, can be played on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
This point has another section: diversity. In Scotland, all play the game: young and old, men and women. Take a look at the average American golf clientele: it's a market that's predominantly old, rich, male and white.
Golf should be available to everyone. In Scotland, this ideal is the foundation of the game, and why the game is so beloved.