From time to time one is reassured that the core values of the great game persist. Through the hype and the accompanying naff that has crept into golf, like a strident whore at a Woman's Rural Institute jam making evening, there remain glimpses of recognition of real worth.
Golf has become increasingly manufactured as a consumer sport. In the process it has become debased and steadily separated from the very values that made it great and attracted the consumers to it in the first place. The game is not yet overwhelmed by hype but it is in imminent peril. Thankfully, despite all the money and media asphyxiation, the game remains bigger than Nike and Tiger Woods put together, this, despite the best efforts of their spin-men. It remains that way because there are still enough men out there with their trousers in their socks on a Saturday morning with their regular playing partners, prepared to fight to the death over a conceded putt.
One senses that the beautiful game of soccer and the noble art of boxing are about to implode under the ennui of strutting Beckham's and Tyson's. It is surely true that F1 motor racing is not what it was when Fangio and Moss strained every fibre for success. Schumacher and his Ferrari are about as related to motor sport as lap dancing is to ballet.
Golf quickly exposes hype to the discerning eye. Egg on the face can be a powerful deterrent to anyone overstepping himself. The Tiger must often wish that the copy-writers at Nike exercised more restraint and that TV commentators were not so concerned about why he isn't winning every tournament.
But all of that is for the birds. In golf we tend, in the main, to be more discerning about silk and flannel. We appreciate that golf is not only about its current great exponents but also about the golf course, its quality and presentation. This is only one feature that makes the game unique and, more than anything else contributes to its aesthetic appeal. In golf we recognise that the men behind the presentation of a course are of fundamental importance.
The National at Augusta is largely what it is because of the immaculate way in which it is presented for play. I do not simply refer to the patterned cut fairways or the boulders in the babbling brooks, but to the smooth consistency of the putting surfaces and the regularity of the fairway sward itself.
The men who maintain the great courses are very special men and the unquestioned leader of these men is my good friend and golfing adversary, Walter Woods BEM. Walter is the Kublai Khan of greenkeeping and he is indeed a very special person. That his worth was recognised by the Queen with the award of the British Empire Medal is reassuring: that the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America should award him the 'Old Tom Morris Award' this month in Orlando is heart lifting.
Previous winners of this award include great players like Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer and Patty Berg and famous figures like Bob Hope and Dinah Shore; people who ' through a continuing lifetime commitment to golf have helped to mould the welfare of the game in a manner and style exemplified by Old Tom Morris.'
That Walter's name should be added to this list is satisfying, but that his peers in his craft should recognise that his name merits such a place is exhilarating. Walter, with the possible exception of Sir Michael Bonallack, deserves this more than anyone else I know for he has been utterly selfless in his devotion to his work, his craft and the advancement of the game. It is also fitting that Walter should get the 'Old Tom Morris Award' for he occupied the same place with the same status earning the same respect that Old Tom did 100 years ago.
Walter Woods began his career on a little nine-hole golf course near his home in Tillicoutry. He struggled to teach himself the craft at which he would become supreme. He also worked at Hollinwell in England, of which, like Tullicoutry, he is inordinately proud. But Walter also managed the links of St Andrews for over 20 years. This is no mean task for the Old Course is divoted by every devotee of the game from Tennessee to Timbuktu while being prepared for Open Championships and Dunhill's when it is expected to be as immaculate as ever by players and pundits alike. The Old, together with the four other St Andrews links courses, should have been enough for any man but Walter also saw it as his responsibility to put in place a training programme for greenkeepers.
This came to fruition with recognised qualifications and the establishment of the British and International Geenkeepers Association, of which he was the first chairman. He retired in 1995 but continues as a consultant to the European Tour.
Walter Woods denies any relationship with his Tiger namesake although the determination of their play has much in common. He remains an outstanding golfer who has cost me much money and is an adept on the billiard table baize where he has cost me even more.
Walter remains one of 'Jock Tamson's bairns' despite the accolades that might have turned a lesser head. But that one of 'Jock Tamson's bairns' should be so recognised is reassuring. It could only happen in golf for in virtually every other sporting endeavour myth is mightier than the man. In golf at least, it is reassuring that the worthy still wins.
|| 19 - FEBRUARY 2002