Anniversaries can be both stimulating and distressing. One is forced to recognise that one is getting on a bit, but one can also look back with some sort of satisfaction.
The New Golf Club of St Andrews celebrated the centenary of its founding on Wednesday 6th February. Not only have I enjoyed membership of the New Club for over 40 years, but I have also had the privilege of being club captain. My name is carved and embossed in gold letters with the 100 others whom the members have charged with the responsibility of maintaining bricks, mortar, ethos and the wellbeing of the game.
Although the New Club is a relative juvenile in the game at large and in St Andrews in particular, its place in the history of the game is assured although largely uncelebrated. Its foundation was in quiet conclusion of the St Andrews Links Act of 1894 when the town regained ownership of the links after nearly one hundred years. The same men, who fought long and hard and ultimately convinced the law lords that the rightful owners of the links were the St Andrews townspeople, were the men who founded the New Golf Club. At that time the townsfolk had no clubhouse, even though there were at least nine clubs in the town; all happy enough to meet in bars to organise their medals and happy enough to carry their clubs to the links and to the pub afterwards.
The town needed a clubhouse; what it didn't need was another club. It got a clubhouse and seven clubs disbanded to form an entirely new club - the New Golf Club.
Although, world-wide, golfers have acute feelings of belonging to their club, this feeling is particularly strong in Scotland where all of the old clubs are 'membership clubs', which means that every member is equity holding. In other words, they actually own their club - or at least part of it.
I have particularly strongly held feelings for my club not only because I had two grandfathers who were founding members and countless relatives who distinguished themselves in the place, but also because of the sheer entertainment value of it. The New Club AGM is the event of the year. With a disparate membership that embraces the entire spectrum of St Andrews society from University dons to doubtful dumbos, all equally opinionated, the humour that passes for informed debate is unsurpassed. I have never known anyone take anything other than the game itself seriously. It was ever so, even from the outset. The club's inauguration was timed to coincide with the Coronation of King Edward.
Edward King was made the founding captain whether he liked it or not. The fact that he was thereafter referred to as 'his majesty' drove the poor man to play out his days at Kingsbarns.
The earnestness of the club to the game is reflected on its list honorary members. There have only ever been four, and only ever one alive at any one time.
Tom Morris, the 'nestor of golf' who played a key role in the founding, modestly resisted the club being named in his honour but he did accept the first honorary membership in 1902. He lived and died in the club. His daily visit to his chair by the window overlooking the Old Course to gossip with his cronies ended one Sunday morning in may 1908 when he fell down the cellar stair, broke the base of his skull and died. Sandy Herd, one of Tom's favoured St Andrean sons, took his place on the honours board.
When Sandy passed away, Bobby Jones was awarded pride of place and, when his time came, Arnold Palmer had his name added to the board. This place isn't won easily and, judging from the hearty fax that Arnie sent the club on Wednesday, we won't be adding another for a while.
Reading the early minutes of the club leaves me in awe of the energy of these Victorian St Andrews gentlemen. One, Herbert Montague Singer, know to every small boy in the town as 'Monkey Brand' because of his striking similarity to a mutton-chopped monkey adorning the tin lid of a proprietary brand of black polish bearing that brand name, was especially energetic. Herbert was not only a leading promoter in founding the club; he was also the leading light in the Fife Golf Association and instrumental in bringing about the foundation of the SGU. He also ran the Telegraph Cup, the forerunner of the Scottish Amateur Championship and brought about its transfer to that title.
Apart from his organisational efforts in the game he also managed to invent a couple of patent golf balls - the Oratago-Singer and the Auchterlonie Flyer. Both balls found play in the Open Championship and royalty purchased both. There is some doubt that Herbert actually ever played the game although he did play cricket, for which, needless to say, he invented the Singer Improved Cricket Bat.
But men in the club who did play very well indeed surrounded Singer. Willie Grieg, a slater, was the first person to win a competition on these shores with the new Haskell ball when he won the Tait Gold Medal, the St Andrews Links Matchplay Championship. His boyhood friend, Sandy Herd won the Open with the ball some weeks later. Willie's son, Ken Grieg won the Scottish Amateur Championship. Willie and Fred Mackenzie, an ironmonger, were invited to represent Scotland against England at Hoylake but Willie had slating jobs on and declined. Fred went and trounced Bernard Darwin in such a nice way that the two remained lifelong friends.
Fred's medal collection is on view at the club and contains three successive Scottish Amateur Championship medals. Fred's career was short lived: he paid a visit to Chicago for health reasons and while there played in a couple of exhibition matches with some St Andrews born ex-pat pros. For this he unwittingly took money and talked about it when he got home. The R&A heard about it and declared him a pro golfer. Fred, aged 24, never played competitively again.
The club has enjoyed the successes of many of its best since. James Bunch winning the Scottish Boy's Strokeplay from a nine shot deficit brought much pleasure and Dr Duncan Lawrie's winning the Scottish Seniors title at Ladybank was held to be worthy.
Fred Mackenzie's cussedness, style and pride just about sums up this great club which bears the most appropriate motto, 'Semper Nova' Always New.
|| 12 - FEBRUARY 2002