The Superb Golfer is well acquainted with imperfection; given its rampant pervasiveness in the world he inhabits, and has learnt to accept it as a cross he must bear for his unfailing excellence.
‘3:58’. “Very cryptic,” muses the Superb Golfer. The number, obviously a time code, inscribed on the golf balls he’s picked up from the pro shop at St Andrews in Scotland, is 20 minutes off his tee off time. The Superb Golfer is well acquainted with imperfection; given its rampant pervasiveness in the world he inhabits, and has learnt to accept it as a cross he must bear for his unfailing excellence. Still, he appreciates the intention and the novelty of the idea: printing tee-off times on golf balls given to visiting players is not something he’s ever seen before.
The marker on the first tee at the Old Course is a busy man, and appears slightly irked when the Superb Golfer asks him if he may have a word in confidence. The Superb Golfer, brought up in the true tradition of the game, is unmoved. He knows that discretion is key—in golf, and especially at the Old Course. Thoughts of being quietly thanked by the Royal & Ancient for bringing this oversight to their notice come to mind but he’s presently brought back by the gent who’s looking at him with some alarm. “You haven’t thrown back a few pints have you? You’re next on the tee…this is the time you must finish your round in,” says the bemused gent.
The Superb Golfer reels. Never before in the history of the game, (and how appropriate given the milieu), has he been gobsmacked by something so elementary. In retrospect, it appears evident what the numbers represent. But the Superb Golfer absolves himself this one time. After all, never before, in the history of the game in Asia, where he’s played most of his life, has a round ever been completed in three hours and 58 minutes. At the home of golf, history has been made not once but twice, and he’s not even teed it up yet. The mind boggles.
The Superb Golfer hasn’t had a few pints; a food bon vivant, he’s sampled the entire smorgasbord of fine spirits and gourmet spread on the degustation menu of the Emirates Business Class on-board the airplane that’s brought him to Scotland from India. The mandarins at the gulf-based carrier, aware of the Superb Golfer’s reputation as a sybaritic purveyor of the good life, have invited him to partake of the airline’s newly curated on-air repast.
With this unprejudiced mix of ocean trout, moreish cookies and cheesecake giving him gravitas on the first tee, the Superb Golfer unleashes a strategic 3-wood, that would place him perfectly for his approach. The impatient bevy of waiting golfers looks nonplussed; the ball soars more like the approach he’s yet to play and is lost in the afternoon sun. “Hello God!” chirps one of the less reticent of the lot. The Superb Golfer considers a riposte but thinks the better of it. The only thing worse than a skied drive would be to lose composure and he strides off purposefully. It’s the short game that matters at the Old Course, and not many people are capable of such lofty approaches, let alone with a driver.
17 holes later, the Superb Golfer and his partner are trounced 2&1 by an English duo. With his impeccable knowledge of golf history, the Superb Golfer draws parallels between the day’s game and the first international match in Scotland that is believed to have taken place near Edinburgh on the course of Leith in 1682 when two Scottish noblemen beat two English noblemen. “Well. But we lost…” demurs the unhappy partner. The Superb Golfer has just about begun an exposition on the spirit of the game, when the gent rushes off to the clubhouse citing an engagement. History is lost on lesser golfers, and the Superb Golfer is no stranger to those.
But for the reader’s benefit, starting in 1457, golf was banned throughout Scotland by the nation’s Parliament, which believed it interfered with residents’ military training. James II’s Act of Parliament banning the game is the earliest known written evidence for the game in Scotland.This ban was repeated twice more, in 1471 and 1491. Nearly 300 years later, The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews was founded.
It’s not just the history. As the 600-year history of the game at St Andrews has unfolded, what used to be a one rudimentary course, winding its way through heather and bushes has evolved into multiple championship layouts. It’s not just about playing either: golf buffs can visit the Royal & Ancient which runs the Open Championship and now governs the rules of golf everywhere except the US.
Unlike the Superb Golfer who’s incessantly invited by the finest courses in the world, most golfers will find it hard to get a tee time at the Old Course. He suggests they tee it up at the ‘New Course’: ‘new’ is relative at St Andrews and the course was designed by Legendary Old Tom Morris in 1895! With 550 courses for 5.3 million residents Scotland is the true home of golf.
On the way back, ensconced in his plush business class quarters, the Superb Golfer overhears a fellow flier bemoan that the weather in Scotland is ‘too fickle’. That man is obviously not a golfer. For that clan, the best time to go to Scotland is when the swing is feeling nice and, as Mr Snead used to say, ‘oily’. The Superb Golfer, for one, would take a good ball-striking round, played on a wet and windy day anytime. Way better than a morale-crunching mirthless game on the most beautiful spring afternoon The writer was invited by Emirates (Airline) to Scotland
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game