Tuesday, July 9, 2013

It's almost Open time

The British Open tees off on July 14 at Muirfield in Scotland. It's first time there since 2002 when Ernie Els took home one of the most prized trophies in golf.  Muirfield, located in Gullane, East Lothian, Scotland, is a treacherous jaunt around 18 holes designed by, likely, someone who hates golfers. With a non-traditional layout of two circular nines and sitting coastal, the trip around Muirfield throws changing wind directions and deep bunkers filled with seashells at the competitors. Not to mention they've added more than 100 yards to the course for this year's Open.
If you believe what they tell you, Muirfield may well be the oldest golf course on the planet.  That would make it the official birthplace of the "I'll take a 5," the "foot wedge," the "oh, look, there it is, pant leg drop," the "club toss," and the ever popular "mulligan."  Looking at it's layout, M.C. Escher and Lewis Carroll both contributed to the design as it weaves the golfers on a, first, clockwise circle, then a counterclockwise circle.
Muirfield is third in line for “most British Opens” behind St. Andrews and Prestwick. In 1990, Jim Murray traveled to Scotland to cover the British Open at St. Andrews and shared his take on his visit to Scotland in his column, ‘Scotland: Historical Scenery, Hysterical Service.’
Enjoy the column and enjoy the Open!



Scotland: Historical Scenery, Hysterical Service

    Scotland was, as they say, a trip.
    It was like stepping back a century. If you loved 1890, you'd love Scotland.
    Oh, they have telephones and electricity and traffic jams and VCRs and high-rises and the ships in the Tay are landing oil and, I suppose, imported cars. But the fields are full of sheep and thistle grows in the meadows and you can step five miles out of Dundee and see the same Scotland Robbie Burns wrote about.
    St. Andrews is not so much a town as a shrine and you can close your eyes at night and hear the King's horsemen coming up the road to hang the Cardinal or seize the Queen. Two centuries ago seems like yesterday in the land of the double malt and the tartan kilt. Train whistles still pierce the night air — what there is of it; in summer, it doesn't really get dark in Scotland, the sun sets for an hour at most.
    Here flowed Burns' sweet Afton, here his words of auld lang syne pierced the first New Year's and the roses grow almost like wildflowers and the summer days are conditioned not by machinery but by the gelid breezes that blow across the North Sea from the icy fiords of Norway.
    The Scots are a lovely, lively, high-energy people and their language is as easy on the ears as the ripple of a mountain stream. And, even though the word was invented for them, dour seems as out of place to describe a Scot as it would a carnival spieler or music hall comedian. The Scots wha hae wi' Wallace bled are world-class talkers. The language only superficially resembles the King's English. Which is all right with the Scots.
    Their far-flung fame for frugality is nowhere as near the mark as their more deserved reputation for driving the hard bargain.
    There was, for instance, the matter of our “hotel” accommodations for the British Open. I knew I was in trouble when the “hotel” I had been assigned to by the tournament officials proved to be a hostelry no one ever heard of in the Scottish contingent at the press tent at the U.S. Open in June. But I was not prepared for the cab driver in Dundee not to know where it was.
    It was just easier to find than Amelia Earhart. It wasn't a hotel at all but a bed-and-breakfast setup tucked away in a rural corner of Angus, or maybe it was Perth.
    Its setting was idyllic, a 1639 stone house with rose garden and fields of barley across the road. Its location was less inspiring — 25 miles from the golf course at St. Andrews. Now, I'm not talking about 25 miles on I-5. I'm talking 25 miles of ex-sheep trails where carts brought the fleece for the jute mills of Dundee in the old days.
    The trouble with being 20-plus miles away is, the British have a diabolic sorter of traffic flow called "roundabouts," which are just easier to find your way around than the Cape of Good Hope and, from our bed-and-breakfast venue to the golf course locale, there were enough roundabouts to give my colleague, Shav Glick, normally the most good-humored of practitioners of our high-pressure business, to break down periodically and almost cuss.
    Roundabouts are multiple-choice traffic circles in which the right-of-way seems to belong to the driver with the most nerve. It was a good thing it didn't get dark in Scotland because getting to and from the golf course was a task where you needed full visibility. If you got to where you could understand the directions of the natives, you had gone too far.
    Our hotel had been open only three weeks, which accounted for its lack of notoriety. It also accounted for its lack of the amenities, like a second sheet on the bed, a wastebasket of one's very own and a shower curtain that reached to the bottom of the stall. The average shower cleaned the floor cleaner than the person taking the shower. This was partly because the circular rod holding the shower curtain had a gap in it. Showers had to be short or you'd need a raft to go to breakfast.
    Our hostess, the proprietress, was a delightful Scots lady, Ann, as in Annie Laurie. Ann's preferred procedure for dealing with all problems including mini-catastrophe was to ignore them. Or play them down. You wanted two sheets?  What for? The comforter was washable. One night, Shav was without a towel. No problem. Ann gave him mine. One night he came home to find his television set gone. Some new lodger had it. Ann assured him there was nothing on worth seeing that night.
    The wastebasket we shared. That is to say I got it on the even days, he on the odd. You couldn't lock the door. So you put the chair against it. Otherwise, the dog would come in and lie on your bed with you.
    One day Ann borrowed the car to do God-knows-what. She brought it back with the tire in shreds. Bobby Unser never brought a tire in that bad. When it had been repaired, nothing daunted, she borrowed the car again.
    She charged Americans approximately the same daily prices as the Waldorf-Astoria, where, presumably, you would get a wastebasket of your own, to say nothing of a telephone and a permanent TV set. But Ann's final contribution to our stay was to purchase for me a railway ticket from Dundee to London. She reserved me a first-class seat — then bought a super-saver coach ticket. I thought it was just an honest mistake. And maybe it was. But when I sat in the first-class car I realized the Scots must do this all the time. Realizing the first-class cars are rarely used, never mind sold out, they buy standard tickets and then sit in first class, knowing the conductor won't be along till well into the journey and then may be too harassed to do anything about it. British Rail, you may not be surprised to know, is losing money.
    The Scots love golf and the Open at St. Andrews, but if you think they threw their tams in the air over a Briton winning it, don't be too sure. They don't take kindly to being identified with their fellow islanders to the south, whom they refer to as the “Brats” or the “Brat-ish.”
   Nick Faldo's win may have set off dancing in Trafalgar Square but no Highland flings were in evidence. You had the feeling the Scots were more happy when Lee Trevino won it. They like Mexicans.

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