A Golfer's Education

A Golfer's Education

by Darren Kilfara
     
 

View All Available Formats & Editions


A YANK ON THE LINKS

Advance Praise for A Golfer's Education:

"Darren Kilfara journeys to Scotland, makes an ace, breaks par on the Old Course, finds Heather off it, and lives out a golfing dream. For the rest of us, anyway, there's his enchanting book." (MICHAEL BAMBERGER author of To the Linksland)

"Kilfara spent four happy years at Harvard,

…  See more details below

Overview


A YANK ON THE LINKS

Advance Praise for A Golfer's Education:

"Darren Kilfara journeys to Scotland, makes an ace, breaks par on the Old Course, finds Heather off it, and lives out a golfing dream. For the rest of us, anyway, there's his enchanting book." (MICHAEL BAMBERGER author of To the Linksland)

"Kilfara spent four happy years at Harvard, learning the many useful things that Harvard has to offer. Then he went to St. Andrews and learned about life. A Golfer's Education is a graceful, insightful and often funny account of that journey." (DON WADE, author of Talking on Tour)

"He writes about golf passionately and perceptively; he captures the lure of the links vividly; and his analysis of his tendency to be a 'score-obsessed golfer' is as wise as it is painful.... A fine golf memoir." (Booklist)

Editorial Reviews

bn.com
Darren Kilfara thought that he had discovered the ultimate golf scan: By enrolling for a year of study at St. Andrews University in Scotland, he planned to escape stress from his Harvard schedule and benefit from a little-known St. Andrews offer. For a mere $150, he would gain a yearlong student pass to the famed golf courses of St. Andrews, the birthplace of the game. Though originally intended as a lark, Kilfara's scheme evolved into a transformative experience. Overcoming his obsession with scores, he learns to love the game, the people of Scotland (one of whom he marries), and the alchemy of this strange and subtle sport.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781565123014
Publisher:
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date:
10/26/2001
Edition description:
1 ED
Pages:
368
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.64(h) x 1.09(d)

Read an Excerpt


Chapter 1 - Finding My Thrill

I staggered to a halt halfway around Landsdowne Crescent, a block and a half short of my destination, and gasped for breath. How could Edinburgh be this hot in September? It felt like Houston in July-sweat poured down my forehead and arms, and my muscles turned to jelly with astonishing speed. I sank against a black wrought-iron fence, desperate to escape the sun's glare in the mottled shadow of several overhanging branches. Haymarket Station was close by, but both the street and the enclosed park behind the fence were deserted-not a taxi in sight.

I willed myself back to my feet, thinking only of a shower and sleep. Bending over, I gripped my leather duffel bag with my left hand and my bulky suitcase with my right, heaved them a full six inches off the ground and began to wobble forward. Veins bulging from my temples, I made it three-quarters of the way around the curve of the road before my luggage toppled back to the sidewalk with a muffled thud. Peering around nervously, I slunk back down the road to where I'd left my rucksack and my overstuffed golf bag carrier and winched them over my shoulders, enthralled by the thought of torturing myself again, and again, and again.

In this manner, I huffed and puffed my way to the end of phase one of my Scottish journey. My stinginess bemused me greatly. I could have stuck to the legal luggage allowance for my flight from the States instead of cramming everything I could into four bags and gambling that the lady at the airline desk wouldn't compute the sum of their cumulative weights. I could have taken a cab from the train station instead of staging my impromptu weight-lifting contest. And I could have chosen a slightly nicer place to spend my first night in Scotland than Eglington Youth Hostel, which, though eminently clean and well kept, wasn't exactly the Lodge at Pebble Beach. But I was already in hock to Harvard to the tune of five figures, and money was tight. I'd vowed not to touch what little I had before my two-day introduction to Scottish golf: 36 holes at Gullane, and 18 holes at North Berwick.

I've been a connoisseur of golf course architecture as long as I can remember. When I was seven years old, my family went to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, during one of my school vacations. My father and I played Harbour Town (I shot 107 from the ladies' tees, although my mulligan tally is unrecorded), and afterwards in the pro shop I spied a copy of Golf Digest's 100 Greatest Golf Courses-And Then Some on a bookshelf, which my father bought for me. The round at Hilton Head, so different from any of my golfing experiences to that point, gave me an idea of what special golf courses looked and felt like. The book, filled with pictures and lists and diagrams and scorecards and tales of champions and championships past, made me dream of new worlds full of adventure and wonderment. Best of all, I knew that my fantasies could be made real, and since returning from that first eye-opening vacation I'd tried to live out as many of them as I could. As my tastes became more sophisticated my horizons broadened, and the prospect of a day's play at Gullane-itself hardly the stuff of my childhood fantasies-induced in me a restless night's sleep. I'd heard fine things about Gullane, particularly about its No. 1 course, and you can only play in Scotland for the first time once.

The next morning, after what felt like hours spent excavating my golf bag from among the clothing and linens in my carry case, I put most of my worldly possessions behind the front desk of the youth hostel and walked down to the Edinburgh bus station to catch a seat for the 45-minute ride to Gullane. I felt goofy carrying my golf bag through the downtown area of a major city and taking a bus to get to a golf course. I didn't imagine that many of my fellow passengers were rushing out of town for their tee times.

But a bus has its advantages. As we drove through the eastern suburbs, I was delighted to glimpse the white rails of the racecourse at Musselburgh, which meant I'd also spotted the links at Musselburgh, most of which is enclosed by the horse racing facilities. Now barely more than a museum piece, Musselburgh was one of only three courses to host the Open Championship prior to 1892 (the others were the Old Course and Prestwick). My pulse quickened further when I saw road signs to Aberlady and Longniddry-names into which I read important golfing connotations, even though there were none. (Aberlady has no course, and Longniddry a relatively unknown one.) At a bend in the road we passed an elegant-looking links partially etched into a hillside; thanks to my advance research, I correctly deduced that it belonged to the Luffness club, reputed to be among the few exclusive and snobbish clubs in all of Scotland. Not much farther along, another taller, plateaued hill rose from the ground. It was smothered with golfers, and before I knew it, the panorama encompassed golf holes in every direction. Just short of a smallish-looking village, my bus came to a stop. I was the only person to get off.

I stopped to study the scene, and compared it with my preconceptions of Scottish golf. The size and scale of Gullane Hill notwithstanding, they matched almost perfectly, right down to the weather -gray skies, puffy clouds, a noticeable breeze. Apart from two middle-aged gentlemen who walked past wearing Medinah-logoed sweaters and baseball-style caps, nothing looked like America. Of the vegetation only the odd squat tree rose above ground level. The many fairways I could see were dappled in thin, greenish shades of dun, and the greens were a uniformly brownish shade of green. It was obvious which was the showcase course: unlike the No. 2 and No. 3 courses, which begin on the inland side of the main road, the No. 1 seemed to grow out of the town itself, as if it had sprouted from a seed planted just outside the members' clubhouse and been allowed to grow in a natural direction toward the sea. And since the Scots as a people don't believe in practice ranges, there was barely even room for a putting green between the town and the first tee. This wasn't the same game I played in the States, and it would have been wrong to pretend otherwise. Therefore I found it somehow appropriate that we tourists, fully welcomed but not wholly included, were consigned to the changing rooms, lounge and bar of a visitors' center on the inland side of the road.

The current members' clubhouse, a stately white building that dates back to 1928 but looks at least a century older, was merely one of a row of stately buildings running along the road on the right of the No. 1's first fairway. How many American golf clubhouses sit on public streets, tightly flanked by private houses? I had never been in one, nor seen one, nor even heard of one at any type of golf club in the States, from blue-collar municipal to blue-blooded Brookline. But in Scotland many clubhouses blend in with their surroundings. (In Gullane's case, the buildings flanking the clubhouse are actually older than the clubhouse itself.) I can think of two reasons why this might be so; both of them appeal to me, for they explain in part why I find Scottish golf is so irresistible.

One of them has to do with the golf course architecture. The ancient Scots first coined the terms "outward nine," "turn" and "inward nine" because their courses were roughly linear: nine holes out to a point, nine holes back from there to the clubhouse (the "back nine"). In such a layout, only the first and 18th holes abut the clubhouse area. In contrast, most of the courses designed in America (and elsewhere) in the last 50 to 100 years form loops that return to the clubhouse twice (after 9 holes and after 18), and that means the real estate around the clubhouse must encompass at least four holes instead of two. Such layouts emphasize the importance of the club and its facilities relative to the golf course itself, and they don't leave much room for anything else-least of all buildings that aren't the pro shop, the snack bar or the caddie shack.

The other explanation is rooted more in social history. Golf in America has never been all-inclusive. America's first golf courses were built in the suburbs, away from the major population centers in areas where the wealthy often had large estates and land holdings. More significantly, the "Golden Age" of American golf course architecture (roughly between 1910 and 1930) coincided with the decline of the railroad and the rise of the automobile, and nowadays the vast majority of Americans get to their golf courses by car. Whether in 1909 or 1999, if you couldn't afford a car, you probably weren't high enough on the social ladder to play golf. So American golf clubs have always needed parking lots in the vicinity of their clubhouses, further insulating such clubs from their surroundings with wide moats of concrete. None of these facts are true in Scotland. Links golf predates motorized transport by centuries. Many people still walk from their homes to the first tees, especially at linksland courses near towns and villages like Gullane. You can't be too low on the social ladder to play golf in Scotland. The smallish parking lot at Gullane Golf Club is over the road by the visitors' center because the members don't need one.

Scotland's democratic approach to golf seduced me quickly. An insignificant student with neither influence nor connections, I was able to arrange tee times at time-honored private clubs like Gullane with only a politely written letter and a little advance notice. It would never occur to me to try this in America. While the golf club is very much a fundamental component of the Scottish community at large, in America it tends to serve as an escape from it. America has physically reclusive and socially exclusive country clubs populated by members living in gated communities. In Scotland, people think a town should afford virtually the same access to its golf courses, even the very best ones, as it does to its streets and parks. Sure, you have to pay your green fee, and at some clubs you have to change your shoes in the parking lot. But as I stood on the first tee at Gullane No. 1 and waited to hit my first shot in Scotland, I experienced an overwhelming sense of gratitude at having the chance to hit such a shot in the first place.

And the course . . . I loved every bit of it. I loved the way the conditions challenged my imagination as well as my golf swing. I loved the strategic impositions of the wind, and the obligation to attack on even the most difficult downwind holes for fear of losing ground on the upwind ones. I loved using my putter from any and every spot in the fairway within 20 yards of the green. (I'd always used my putter more than most, but now I could invoke Scottish tradition to justify my technique.) I loved the crispness of the sandy turf and the gentle reverberations conveyed from my divots to my hands along the shafts of my irons. I loved the simple, monochromatic flags on the greens-red for the No. 1 course, white for No. 2, yellow for No. 3-and the tingles of anticipation I felt every time I spotted a new red or white flag on a nearby hole. I loved the quirkiness of the chunky, zebra-striped directional poles-some of them placed to indicate the ideal aiming point to the golfer facing a blind shot, as intended, but some defining an obviously poor line of play, and one or two randomly assigned to holes with perfect sight lines, seemingly apropos of nothing. I loved the taste and texture of what the Scots called "bacon"-less crispy than its American namesake, but also meatier and juicier-as the luncheon roll I ate between rounds melted in my mouth. And I wholeheartedly loved how the breeze politely slackened in the afternoon, allowing me to take advantage of the relatively easy No. 2 course and record three birdies and a one-over-par score of 72. I kept most of my feelings to myself, but the adoration in my eyes must have made my playing partners want to retch.

Read More

Meet the Author


Darren Kilfara has played golf for Harvard University, written for Golf Digest, and provided color commentary for ESPN International's soccer broadcasts. He lives in London.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >