A Golfer's Education


Darren Kilfara had a Scheme -- to study abroad at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, allegedly to write a thesis on the history of golf. It was foolproof. He would enroll at the school, attend a few classes, earn a year's worth of university credit, and thereby become eligible for a student pass to the golf courses of St. Andrews -- including the Old course, arguably the most famous golf course in the world -- for the low, low price of $150 for the year. A perfect plan, ...
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Audiobook CASSETTE Good 140250943X Ex-Library AUDIO TAPE Book with stickers and stampings on case and tape. Case is a hard plastic clamshell, that may have circulation wear n ... tear. All tapes are included that belong there. Please ask any questions before buying. Hawaii and Alaska residents are encouraged to use pri or itymail. Read more Show Less

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Darren Kilfara had a Scheme -- to study abroad at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, allegedly to write a thesis on the history of golf. It was foolproof. He would enroll at the school, attend a few classes, earn a year's worth of university credit, and thereby become eligible for a student pass to the golf courses of St. Andrews -- including the Old course, arguably the most famous golf course in the world -- for the low, low price of $150 for the year. A perfect plan, so of course it went awry.

A Golfer's Education is the true story of a young man, once a member of Harvard's golf team and a former writer for Golf Digest, who began his year in St. Andrews as an intense, uptight golfer willing to do anything to play a great course and ended it a changed man and a better golfer in ways unmeasurable by a scorecard.

This charming and funny book chronicles Kilfara's year in Scotland playing the finest golf courses in the country; learning that the Scots see golf as a reflection of their democratic ideals; discovering the subcultures of Scottish golf (drunken bohemian street golf, homeless golf fanatics, betting parlors, and poetic BBC golf commentators); falling in love with a Scottish woman; and finally overcoming his obsession with scores and handicaps to love the simplicity of the game.

Kilfara possesses a substantial knowledge of the game and of golf course architecture and is a perceptive, insightful guide to the great golf courses of Scotland. At the same time, he has created a timeless story of an irreverent young man, realizing his dreams in the birthplace of his sport.

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Editorial Reviews

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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.
Publishers Weekly
A Harvard junior (and golf team member) convinces his history department chairman that a year studying at Scotland's St. Andrews will help his academic career. As a resident of St. Andrews, the crafty student knew, for $150 he could purchase a year of unlimited play at the "Home of Golf": the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. Also an intern at Golf Digest, he finagles a deal to partially finance the trip by writing a series of articles for the magazine. This charming intro sets the tone for Kilfara's memoir/guidebook/tribute to the legendary (and a few lesser known) golf courses of Scotland. Besides waxing poetic about Scottish golf, eccentric golfers and British sports in general, the author also courts Heather, a Scottish lass who, though she lives in the sport's mecca, has never swung a golf club; they eventually marry. The author, who has written for Golf Digest and is an ESPN soccer commentator, is refreshingly honest, admitting, for example, that his youthful obsession with score contributed to occasional lapses in sportsmanship; he's also been known to break a golf club in anger. A student of golf course architecture, Kilfara makes compelling and informed descriptions of Gullane, Carnoustie, Muirfield, Cruden Bay and the fabled Old Course, among others. His narration of a marathon golf holiday (18 rounds of golf on 14 courses in 12 days) is alone worth the read. While insightful, chock-full of golf history, inspiring and amusingly self-deprecating, its unfortunately banal title and some extraneous detail could put some readers off. (Oct. 26) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781402509438
  • Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC
  • Publication date: 5/18/2011
  • Format: Cassette

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.
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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 couldhave 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.
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Table of Contents

Prologue 1
1. Finding My Thrill 9
2. Putting On Appearances 18
3. Something Old, Something New 36
4. Melville Mates 53
5. The Cruden Way 62
6. It's All Dunhill from Here 79
7. The Word on the Street 98
8. Northern Lights 108
9. Old Faithful 126
10. Weather-Beaten 141
11. Games These People Played 151
12. Prides and Prejudices 163
13. How the Other Half Plays 175
14. Smooth Sailing 195
15. Alliss in Wonderland 209
16. The Choke Artist 225
17. Blind Leading the Blind 239
18. Little Shop of Horrors 250
19. The Foreign Invasion 267
20. Beginning at the End 278
21. If It's Monday, It Must Be Machrihanish 289
Epilogue 320
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