Troon, ah yes, the Royal And Ancient. Home of one of the greatest golf courses on the planet, and also some that are pretty darn close. Situated about a half hour from where I lived in Glasgow, right on the Irish Sea, Troon was incredible. In the 1970’s it was a very small town, famous for two things. One, the golf course, which, once every 8 years hosted the British Open, ( in golf circles formally known as THE Open), and two, Troon was one of the only towns left in the UK without a traffic light in sight. The town council mandated that Troon remain that way until well into the 1980’s, when to a great furore by all its residents, the very first pedestrian crossing light was installed. Ah yes, that was a sad day indeed.
Jimmy Gardner worked for my father’s company, as a sales representative. Jimmy was Irish, and had a strong brogue to prove it. Jimmy also lived quite close to us, in a town called East Kilbride, a new town, built up in the 1960’s as an overflow town for the ever expanding Glasgow. Jimmy had come to Scotland in the 1950’s and he loved to play golf. He had been employed at Clydepak, my dad’s business, for a very long time indeed, and was one of the ‘better’ salesmen who worked there. He was a timid, respectful and often shy human being, but when you are 13 or 14, you don’t really understand these nuances, and to me, and to Howard, he was just a golfing buddy. Howard and were fortunate enough to be taken every single weekend by my dad and Jimmy Gardner, to play golf at Troon, only we never played the R and A course, we played the municipal version. At that time, 5 pounds bought you an annual membership to Troon Muni, which had three nice courses available to enjoy. Fullerton,the easy course, for beginners and ladies alike. Lochgreen, more difficult, longer and certainly a challenge, and finally, Darnley, the most difficult of all three and one we never ever ventured out onto. It was a ritual of sorts, and it went on for many years. Jimmy would come to our house, picking up my dad, Howard and me, and off we’d go. We would arrive, certainly excited, although if you played like my dad, perhaps not too interested, and we would park and then place a golf ball into a hole filled rack with numbers from 1 to 50. Depending on where your ball was, determined your tee off time. In those days, we knew that arriving around 10 am got us a tee time within 15 minutes of unpacking our clubs from the boot of the car.
This weekly event started when I was 7 or 8 and continued until I was 14. We rarely missed a weekend, no matter what the weather, and in all the years we played at Troon, we only ever got rained off once. Quite remarkable when you think that Scotland gets 360 days of rain every year! Troon is sheltered by the Isle of Aran, and seemed to miss out on a lot of the weather the rest of the west coast fell foul to. It made for great golf conditions, and also kept Howard and I at loggerheads, battling one another for golfing supremacy right throughout our entire ‘early’ years. More often than not, Howard would win, but the real battles began when he and I took on Jimmy and my dad. My dad had what can only be described as, an ‘unorthodox’ approach to a golf swing. Let me try to describe it best I can.
Let’s say the pin was situated at the center of the green, the hole was dead straight, and there was no wind. Length of the hole for this example, 150 yards, no bunkers, no water, no other hazards. all simple fairway. Easiest shot in the book for an average player, an 8 or perhaps 7 iron, maybe with a slight draw or cut, and classic swing pattern, letting that player line up with feet and body aimed directly or perhaps slightly right or left of the pin. You’ve seen it a million and one times on TV, and there’s nothing too difficult, other than making the correct contact with the ball whilst following through to ensure fluidity and compression. Swing, hit, ball in the air, on the green, one or two putts, and par! Easy game! Well, obviously not quite that simple, but not too far away from that description.
My father on that exact same hole. Ball on tee, body facing 5 miles to the right of the pin, no joke! He would aim about 90 degrees to the right of where any mere mortal might think about aiming. It used to scare the shit out of all those golfers playing on the hole next to us, or the one’s approaching us, because they all believed he was aiming deliberately at them! He would then swing, at least that’s what it was supposed to look like, but it was more of a hack. The ball would take off and do it’s best impression of a banana. It would shoot off to the right, bending severely to the left in an incredible instantaneous semi-circular movement, like a boomerang, only it didn’t have enough bend on it to arrive back, (even though it tried hard), at its place of commencement. Having aimed so far right, he would end up 180 degrees opposite where he’d begun, on the left of the fairway and often in the rough or just lost! We always laughed, we always took the piss out of his attempt at playing the game, but he never changed and never deviated from this comical and often farcical swing pattern. He putted in similar fashion and was fortunate whenever the ball ended up in the hole, often by luck and luck alone. When he got a par, on any hole, he was proud as punch and when asked, some years later, why he didn’t play the game any more, his reply was simple. “Alan got to the age of 10 and beat me every week, so I quit!” True, oh so true.
When Howard and I took on Jimmy Gardner and my father, Jimmy was the one holding their team together, but never for very long. Most of the games we played ended by the 12 or 13th hole. Howard and I being too far ahead to be caught! But battle we did, week in week out, until the day arrived when neither Jimmy or my dad could take it any more, and they threw in the towel for good. All of this was for a five pounds per year! Five pounds for one hundred rounds of golf, or more! You could play every day, twice a day, and sometimes 3, when the clocks went forward and it didn’t get dark until 11. But try doing that now? Impossible!!
In my home town, here in the USA, the course, which is right opposite my home, charges $135,000 just to join!! Can you believe that? On top of that joining fee, all members pay $800 per month, just for the privilege of being a member. How stupid! People here are nuts. They are sucked in by this ‘country club’ mentality, which is complete nonsense and so far away from Troon, it’s just laughable and completely unimaginable for those of us who grew up in that era.
Howard and I, and one of my cousins, Martin, decided on going to Troon for our weeks holiday one summer, the summer of 74, the year Richard Nixon resigned, in fact it was that same week. We spent a week in a bed and breakfast, played three rounds of gold every day for 5 days, and the bill came to 25 pounds, including golf! Oh how things have changed and oh how elitist the game has become, certainly in this country. In the UK, especially in Scotland, you are born with a set of clubs in your hand or a football at your feet, at least you were back in those days. Now, I am not so sure. Perhaps a computer joy stick would be more appropriate. Golf was affordable, and it isn’t now. It costs me $100 per round at most of the courses I choose to play, and that’s anywhere in CA. It’s become a thing of the past to give a child a set of clubs, unless you were lucky enough to be born to the likes of Mr and Mrs Woods et al. So all those years ago, seem like a lifetime, and they probably are. Jimmy is no longer with us, my father hasn’t hooked a golf ball since 1972, Howard no longer plays the game and I, well, I play once a month, if I’m lucky, and I truly begrudge paying every single penny of the $100 they want for the privilege. I am also dreadfully upset at the time it takes to play 18 holes. It used to take us 2 hours and 30 minutes, perhaps three hours at a push. Now, five hours is normal. Everyone wants to be Tiger, no one wants to have fun, but that’s a story for another day.