THE Royal and Ancient – Deaconsbank

imagesI don’t care what anyone says, and believe me, they don’t care what I think either, but, the ONLY place to play golf when visiting Glasgow is NOT Troon, Gleneagles, Prestwick or Turnberry, NOT even Loch Lomond, now rated as one of the top golf courses in the whole of Scotland, it’s definitely THE Royal and Ancient Deaconsbank, situated just off the Stewarton Road in Thornliebank, one of Glasgow’s ‘leafier’ suburbs. Where?? I hear you all say, yes, Deaconsbank, a challenging  course, to say the least, and one upon which my golfing career began in earnest.

Rouken Glen park was situated about one and a half miles from my house in Heathwood Dr, very walkable, especially when you have no other means of transportation other than a bike. Inside Rouken Glen, there is a waterfall, a lake and the aforementioned Deaconsbank golf course. The park was built in 1906, from lands that used to belong to the Scottish crown, Rouken Glen was the best and only spot, when we were growing up, close enough to our homes for safe recreation. We used to go to the park to get ice cream from the many ice cream vans that would line up outside one of the park’s main entrances, and we’d also enjoy a round of ‘pitch n put’ or a wee journey out on a rowing boat around the small lake that boasted, of all things, an island! (This island was completely out-of-bounds to everyone who dared to venture close to its shore, except the park keeper, or ‘Parkie’, as we called him back then, but more about that later.) Yes, when the weather was good, or even when it wasn’t, we could be found taking a walk, with or without parental control, through the many miles of manicured pathways that Rouken Glen boasted. But it was Deaconsbank golf course that soon became our regular haunt and the golf course that would see most of my friends and I become addicted to a game that would taunt us all, throughout the rest of our lives.

My Uncle Stanley was the first person to ever take me to Deaconsbank, and I believe I was about 8 or 9 years old. I recall him being a good golfer with a low handicap, and I remember distinctly that as we stood on the first tee, him with his three wood and me with my 9 iron, he began to explain to me in great detail how the game of golf was supposed to be played. My dad had just purchased a half set of clubs for my birthday, this set included a three wood, 3,5,7 and 9 iron and a putter. Stanley taught me how each club should be played and what distance I could expect to get by using each one correctly. Before his intervention, my aim was to use my 9 iron for every shot and just THUMP it, because no matter how and where I played that club, the ball went soaring high into the air just like Jack Nicklaus’s shots when I watched him on TV. Stanley though made the nuances and subtleties of golf come to life and eventually I would be eternally grateful for his education and patience.

As the years went on and my good friends, Howard, David and also Stephen took up the game, we could be found spending all hours at Deaconsbank, often together, playing 18 holes under the most competitive of circumstances, but, as life always dictates, there were some good times and some not so good. With Rouken Glen and it’s surroundings shared equally between Glasgow’s middle class, upper class and, I use this term loosely, lover class, and with golf having no class boundaries at that time in Scotland, this led to a very mixed bag in the way of character participation on Deaconsbank’s   not so manicured and not very smooth fairways. Some of the experiences we had were often marred by the behavior of those who not only felt they were superior to us because of the distinctive and obvious age gap, but sometimes because they had a certain chip on their shoulders. They didn’t live in the best part of town and, in their own minds, had something to prove to the 4 of us, with whom they felt, for one reason or another, they had an inferiority complex. It would be with that attitude in mind, these imbeciles would take out their aggression on us, lesser mortals,  4 weedy 12 and 13-year-old boys, out to enjoy themselves until that ‘fear’ factor was directed almost deliberately and extremely often in our direction.

We would sometimes be playing the 6th or 7th holes, or perhaps it was the 7th and 8th, both with blind tee shots, one over a hill and the other down a hill,  not knowing when the right time to play should be. We would innocently hit balls into groups playing right in front of us, without any real intention or knowledge of their exact position, only for some imbecile with a 4 iron to hit the ball right back at us in a fit of pure anger. They would miss us by inches, and as this tirade continued, swearing like a trooper and gesticulating irreverently, one of them would always be seen marching towards us as if he were about to commit murder. Yes, unfortunately there was always one tough guy with a point to prove! This situation could sometimes be reversed, with our group the victim of a wayward drive by a nutcase baring a grudge, standing teeing off on the hole behind us, complaining that we were holding up his group due to slow play when all the time they could see clearly we were waiting for the people directly in front of us to move on, and that we had no choice other than to wait. But we would never try to intimidate any of them. We were too frightened and too young! Other times, we would be accosted by some of these morons who’d insisted we’d stolen their golf balls and then, as if we were thieves, asked or told to open our golf bags to prove we weren’t hiding this missing ball in our golf bags! Oh yes, these idiots roamed Deaconsbank at will and without any proper marshaling to keep them under control, we were all at the mercy of thugs who had nothing better to do than tease and accost kids!. One day, in the middle of summer, Stephen was chased by a thug golfer brandishing an 8 iron, just because this imbecile had missed a four foot putt and insisted Stephen had laughed at him from where he stood, some 150 yards away, while waiting for the guy to finish so we could play up to the green. The chase ended when the man with the 8 iron, who was on his 5th can of McKewans lager, stumbled on the edge of a burn (stream) and fell in, head first, can second, soaked to his skin and filling the air with so many expletives directed at us and Stephen that we believed he was about to have a coronary and die. He was eventually calmed down by some of his friends coming the other way on an opposite hole, but Stephen never returned to the course that day, scared off by his fear of being beaten to a pulp, and indeed didn’t come back to play there for about three months because he genuinely feared for his life!

Deaconsbank was filled with memories like that and also wonderful experiences too. My first birdie, my first eagle, my first ‘dinky wallop’ A dinky wallop was a motion that went something like this. We, Stephen, David or me, would approach the tee, (Howard never partook in this ridiculous act) taking out the club we were about to use for our next shot. We would throw our bags to the ground, take out a tee peg, place the ball on that peg, and without any practice swing, run up to the ball and whack it off that tee peg, more often than not, straight as a die and 200 yards down the middle of the fairway! We patented this stroke, only to see it copied in the Adam Sandler movie, Happy Gilmore, some 20 years later. Stephen and I mastered this shot and when we were bored stiff, often after waiting for ten minutes behind a golfer who thought he was putting for 5 million pounds, we would automatically turn to each other with that now familiar question, “Dinky Wallop?” and we would go for it. Sometimes it worked so well, we did it at every hole, often scoring better because we had nothing to think about other than contact with club and ball.

There was no clubhouse at Deaconsbank in those days, there is now, and so after walking three miles with our clubs over our shoulders, we would then proceed to walk the 6000 yards round the course before walking 3 miles home again, clubs still draped over our shoulders!  We were fit, we were tough and we were just being teenagers. I dare anyone to admit that their kids still do the same today. For all its inefficiencies, Deaconsbank was our course, it was championship standard in our minds and even though there was nothing very Royal or Ancient about it, we golfed until we dropped, even when the course was muddy and completely unplayable. We played in rain, hail, snow, and sometimes all three in the one day. We always walked, there were no buggies in those days, and we never ever complained about it. This was pre video game era and this was our life. We were privileged to have a course so close to our home and eventually even when we got to outgrow Deaconsbank and graduated onto nicer courses, we would return now and again, just to savor our younger days with some fun in the mud and appreciate how our lives had progressed and our golf game improved. My last time round Deaconsbank was in June of 1977, and I will never forget it. Howard and I were playing with two other men we’d never met before, paired up with each other by the course starter, and on the 11th hole we witnessed two Celtic fans attacking two Rangers fans on the green. It might have been the other way round, but we arrived too late to be the judge of who was to blame. The scene was surreal and both sets of ‘brawlers’ ended up being taken away in an ambulance, which had shot onto the golf course in its endeavor to get to the scene before the 11th green turned blood-red. It was my last experience of that golf course and although we never went back, the tree-lined fairways of that ‘park’ course we called ‘home’ remain ingrained in my blood today as if it was yesterday. It cost 2 pounds to play back then, I wonder if you can even get a coffee for that in their new clubhouse today??

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