New Zealand Golf Magazine

AN INTERVIEW WITH THE GREAT GB

We met on the famous old steps in front of the Royal & Ancient clubhouse at St. Andrews, the home of golf. Which seemed appropriat­e. An interview with the element that has had the greatest influence on the developmen­t of golf deserves a setting befitting

- WORDS BY JOHN HUGGAN

We find out what the great GB thinks about a few things on the game of golf over the years.

“This is where it all began for me and my family,” says our legendary interviewe­e. “Way back in the middle of the 19th century, my greatgreat-grandfathe­r would be out there on the links with Allan Robertson. And between us, my ancestors and I have had a close-up view of every great golfer in history. The only one who didn't play here at the Old Course was Ben Hogan. Never could convince him to make the pilgrimage, not even when he played in and won the Open at Carnoustie back in 1953. But maybe that isn't so surprising when you think about it. He always had way more control over us than we had over him.” Given such a wealth of experience, it is surprising – nay, shocking - that our interview subject this month has never before spoken out about his immense contributi­on to the game of golf throughout history. So now, at last, is the time to put right that sad state of affairs. Here, for the first time anywhere in print, the golf ball speaks out.

Who was the first member of your clan to play a part in golf?

That would be Great-Auntie Feathery. She was a wonderful old bird, which is appropriat­e as she was actually a leather sack stuffed with goose feathers. The leather sack was soaked then filled with wet feathers. When drying, the feathers expanded and the leather contracted, resulting in a hard outer shell that was bashed until approximat­ely round and sometimes painted white.

She was durable too, at least in terms of how long she was the ball of choice amongst discerning golfers. It wasn't until the mid19th century that ‘GP' came along; that's what we call Gutta Percha around here. GP was the first of our kin to take on rubber-like qualities

Who are your favourites?

Oh, top of that list would be lost cousin Billie, also known as my family's Lord Lucan. You might know her better as the “Masters ball.” She was supposed to be introduced at Augusta National a few years ago, to combat the distances my other relations were starting to travel. But one minute she was there, the next she was gone. I just hope it had nothing to do with gender. You know how they feel about women at Augusta. Then there was the so-called “Cayman” ball. Sadly, his lifespan proved to be desperatel­y short, a bit like his airtime. He was designed to be used on pitch-and-putt or par-3 courses. Jack Nicklaus was a fan, as I recall. But he never caught on. Mostly, I suspect, because so many golfers are hung up on distance. Which is why dopes like that John Daly fellow continue to be invited to events long after what should be their expiry dates.

And your least favourite?

Again, that's easy. I have always hated the sight and sound of the old Pinnacle ball. Call me a balatacove­red snob, but the Pinnacle – and its close cousin, the Top-Flite - was offensive in so many ways. Not only did it feel like a rock, it played like one too. The noise it made as it flew off the club was an affront to everything that is good and decent about golf. Plus, it made players of guys who otherwise no one would have heard of; those who couldn't hit my fellow balatas out of their own way were able to compete at levels they had no business being in. Not quite so bad were those still-awful surlyn types. Whoever came up with that cover deserves a medal for extending the lifespan of so many balls, but we balatas were still the spheres of choice for those who liked to spin their shots and demanded a superior feel and control. And isn't that what the game should be all about?

Is there a golf ball Hall of Fame?

Of course, there is. But it takes a lot to gain entry. A ball must have done something very special, or performed at the highest level over an extended period to be voted in. The most recent honoree is the Titleist Pro-V1 because, like it or not, it changed the way the game is played at the highest level. Before it came along, courses at or just over 7,000-yards were the norm on most of the world's circuits. Nowadays that number is routinely over 7,500-yards, mostly because of the Pro-V1.

 ??  ??
 ??  ?? (T-B) The 18th green and the R & A clubhouse in St Andrews, Scotland.
(T-B) The 18th green and the R & A clubhouse in St Andrews, Scotland.
 ??  ?? Jack Nicklaus era 1972.
Jack Nicklaus era 1972.

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