Golf in the United States sounds like it’s a relatively terrible experience compared to golf in the UK.
I’ve yet to play in Ireland, or Scotland, but I’m dying to go after listening to pro golfer, and former U.S. Open champion, Geoff Ogilvy’s compelling explanation for why the game is so much better in Scotland than it is in the U.S., or his home country of Australia.
In the U.S., golf is an exclusive sport. In Scotland, it’s an inclusive sport.
In the U.S., golf is seen as a sport for the rich, but over there, it’s an everyman’s game.
“In the U.S. and Australia, it’s a private club with a big fence around it and the privileged few who are special get to go in the gate and play golf and talk about the little people who don’t get to go in there,” says Ogilvy.
“In Scotland, especially Scotland, it’s the people’s thing. The golf course is the town,” says Ogilvy. “It’s so inclusive, and it’s public land, and the man walking his dog to the beach asks you how you’re playing that day when he’s crossing the fairway, and there’s no, ‘Don’t hit the ball near me,’ and you don’t get mad at him for crossing the fairway, it’s all just part of it. It’s absurd how far away the rest of the world has got from this model, because it’s so perfect, and you can see how golf got as popular as it did.”
For evidence of how different golf in Scotland is from golf in the U.S., look no further than this week’s Open Championship.
The championship is being played at Muirfield, which is the oldest golf club in the world. Golf magazine said that Muirfield is more exclusionary and snooty than Augusta National, home of the Masters. If you know anything about Augusta National, you know that it’s a very particular place with very particular rules.
Yet, if you really want, you can play Muirfield. Golf writer David Owens says you can book select tee times on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Muirfield. The course hosts thousands of non-members every year.
Augusta National has no such policy. It’s impossible for a regular golfer to get on the course.
This theme is prevalent throughout the great golf courses of the U.S. and the U.K.
Of the 10 best golf courses in the U.S., as ranked by Golf Digest, only one is a public course — Pebble Beach. And it costs $495 for a round. (To become a member at the other nine courses, it will cost a lot more than that, and you’re going to have to know someone to even be invited.)
Of the 10 best courses outside the U.S., as ranked by Golf Digest, nine are in the U.K., and all available for anyone to play. The price to play those courses isn’t cheap for visitors, but they can cost less than a round at Pebble.
Then, there’s the way golf is played in Scotland.
In the U.S., golf is played on “parkland” courses. In Scotland, it’s primarily “linksland” courses. The parkland courses are all well manicured, and you attack the course through the air, basically throwing darts at the greens with your shots.
In the Scotland, you’re running the ball, you’re dealing with weird bumps, bad weather, and fun greens.
I recently played Chambers Bay in Seattle. It’s a links-style course. It was a lot of fun because I could slam a shot out of a bunker into a huge slope on the green and have it feed back to the hole. It’s almost like a grown-up version of mini golf.
Tiger Woods considers the Open Championship his favourite major because of the different style of play.
“I love the creativity of being able to hit shots and utilise the ground as an asset. That’s something that we don’t have in the states; we don’t really play that game here,” says Woods.
It’s not just the style of golf, but the pace of play that’s appealing, as well.
Muirfield is famous for its “two and half, two and half, two and half,” which is a two and half hour round of golf followed by a two and a half hour round of lunch followed by a two and half hour round of golf.
At other, less exclusive clubs in the U.K., rounds generally take less than four hours.
Here in the U.S., if you can bang out 18 holes in five hours during the peak summer season on a public course, consider yourself lucky.
The U.K. is also heavy on walking golf, not cart golf. The best thing about golf is walking. It’s good, peaceful exercise. Carts are just a distraction and they slow the game down, as you have two people in one cart trying to keep track of shots that often go in opposite directions.
Mostly, though, it’s the spirit of community in the U.K that sounds so appealing.
Here’s Ogilvy, summing it all up: “I don’t know if there’s any words for it, but it’s the intermeshing with the town and the experience and the people and the town and the local caddies. And you go to the pub and everybody knows the 14th hole was difficult today because it was playing off the left. It’s just a fantastic experience, it’s all in, it’s the whole town. It’s all inclusive, everybody knows the sport, even if they don’t play it, they understand it. It’s everything the game should be, which is why I enjoy it.”
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