| The Kilted Caddie
The Kilted Caddie explains why some golf traditions simply cannot and should not be changed…
Do you know why some golf traditions simply cannot and should not be changed?
Iam a big fan and follower of golf traditions. I like them almost as much as I like my beer, and they are as integral to our glorious and historical game with its near-mythical social status as the blessed amber nectar itself. Golf is imbued with many great and varied traditions. From the big post lunch serving of Kummel and afternoon two balls at Muirfield, to the early morning gunfire in St Andrews as the new Captain of the R&A drives into office. He hits a shot off the first tee of the Old Course and eager local caddies, which line the fairway, scramble and fight for his ball in the hope of winning a gold sovereign. Our traditions are quirky, unusual and part of our rich golfing heritage.
The Muirfield two-ball format, which is now called ‘Scotch foresomes’ throughout the world, is ostensibly to facilitate members to ‘walk off’ their hearty lunches, of which the Honourable Gentleman’s Club is of course famous. However, it could also clear the head a tad after the consumption of the renowned Kümmel digestif, for that liqueur is not for the faint-hearted or lightly constituted.
This may now have worryingly penetrated Japanese culture, and this is how. A St Andrews caddie, George Murray, who lives in a beautiful flat overlooking the 18th tee of the Old Course was invited out to one of the premier clubs there with a friend, where they happily played their morning round. However, at lunch, they were each presented with a bottle of malt whisky. So, in true Scottish fashion and of course not to appear rude they duly consumed the whole bottle. Afterwards, they somehow made it out to play two balls. At least that is what George said he saw.
The playing in of the Captain of the R&A hearkens back to when Queen Victoria’s youngest son, Leopold, was becoming Captain. And they wanted to honour the moment in true heraldic fashion, and so a cannon was fired at the side of the tee in time with the ceremonious drive, and so it is done to this day. The Captain wins the Silver Club and the Queen Adelaide Medal. However, the whole occasion is given added spectacle as a significant number of local caddies line the fairway in the hope of retrieving the ball. The lucky chap who manages to grab it amongst
the scrum of caddies (‘a pudgie’) gets presented a gold sovereign. I just missed out on this a couple of years back and was running to get to it against my golf writing nemesis Oliver Horovitz. But unfortunately, I slipped and went head over heels causing much amusement to the onlooking R&A members back on the tee, who thought I’d fallen into the Swilcan Burn. I seemingly just disappeared.
My first club Mortonhall in Edinburgh has a wonderfully eccentric tradition called the Dewar Hill Race. Outside our clubhouse, there is a rather large and steep hill rising about 150m to what used to be the old 18th tee. Now the race involves running up this said hill and playing out the old par four 18th as quickly as possible. We ran it again as part of our Centenary Year celebrations, and very many brave and gallous members turned out. However, several looked hugely challenged afterwards. I got the best time with 3mins 57 and a par but Mr Keith McCall, ex-British Universities Golf Champion and R&A member, managed a birdie and won it on handicap. Time handicap that is. I tried to reinstate this as an annual event at the end of the next year’s Club Championship Finals Day, but unfortunately, they set the time to coincide with the start of a free champagne reception and that, as opposed to chugging up a severely challenging hill overwhelmingly swayed everyone, which was a pity.
For ’professional golf’ originated in this way, not by running up hills I mean but from evolving tradition. To conclude the R&A Autumn Meetings in the mid 19th century, members put money into a pot for locals, mostly caddies, to play. It was called the ‘put ins’ or ‘in puts’, and the fact was that the locals could end up playing for quite a healthy pot. A 20-year-old man called Tom Morris won the 1841 ‘put in’ with a score of 93 which was a record. This effectively is the progenitor of ‘professional’ golf.
Now I am of the opinion that the ‘put ins’ is a very noble tradition indaeed and that it should be reinstigated as soon as possible. But for heaven’s sake chaps don’t set the match date to coincide with our annual knees up in The Jigger!
Some traditions simply cannot and should not be changed. Hic.
Henrik Stenson jumps over the famous Swilcan Burn on the 1st hole during the 2010 Open Golf Championship at St Andrews
American Tom Lehman chips on the second during the third round of the 2013 Open Championship