I suppose that we all have our addictions. One of mine is a fondness for Scotland, its people, traditions, and landscape. Many others share this fondness. Some of us look especially to the cultural resources of Glasgow and Edinburgh. Glasgow we have come to appreciate as being remarkably rich in its cultural opportunities, resources for which it is too rarely noticed. Edinburgh has an abundance of cultural resources, most noticeable during the three weeks of its famed Festival in August and September. Others prefer the splendid austerity of the Highlands and the Islands or the gentler environment of the Southern Uplands and the border towns. Consuming haggis at a proper January Burns dinner complete with appropriate recitations, a piper, and the traditional sword opening the haggis combines several long-standing Scottish rites. And then there are the frequent weather changes with bright sunshine losing out to racing clouds, the wind, and rain.
Golf Images and Landscapes
All of these images came to mind when reading Robert Price‘s book. Sitting at the keyboard preparing to write this review I found it necessary to switch from my word processing program to a computer golf game which included the Old Course at St. Andrews as one of its options. There on the first hole was Swilken Burn, protecting the green. Deep pot bunkers were scattered about the course with their intimidating depth and steep-sidedness. And there on the 17th were the sheds abutting the hotel and beyond, the road.
Coming up the 18th fairway one saw the sea off to the left, the clubhouse behind the first tee and the other familiar buildings that are behind and to the right of that final green. Those same images are visible on television during network coverage of the British Open. My experience with golf in Scotland is mostly on far less noted courses, albeit courses that were a pleasure to play. Knowing that golf in Scotland is often played under demanding conditions — strong winds, thick and tall grass, gorse, chilling drizzles or pelting rain — I could depend on upon maintaining my high handicap scores. Despite these intense frustrations, there was a magic to playing golf in the home of the game.
Golf as both a participatory and spectator sport has experienced a great increase in popularity in the past 30 years; the number of golfers in the United States approached 25 million in 1990. The game’s continuing growth reflects a variety of changing socio-economic circumstances and personal goals of people in the United States. Similar changes are being experienced in a number of other countries. Golf is a sport that satisfies a diversity of human needs — some of a social or business nature, others relating to physical activity in a natural setting, and still others having amazingly different kinds of stimuli.
Golf also is often described as having been democratized during recent decades, with notable increases in participation among blacks, women, and nonprofessional managerial workers. The increasing number of rounds played is putting great pressure on available facilities, and projections for the coming decade suggest that the demand will accelerate. These trends are a result of more people having a greater number of options available to them in the use they make of their free time. Golf’s continuing growth reflects, in addition, the remarkable impact that charismatic professional golfers such as Arnold Palmer have had in popularizing the sport among the less affluent.
Scotland as the Home of Golf
Golfers everywhere seem to be familiar with and interested in the roots of the game. They also seek to play a variety of courses both in their local area and when on an extended journey. Many dreams of playing some of the prominent courses that are frequently shown in television’s coverage of golf tournaments; those dreams often focus on the renowned courses in the home of golf, Scotland. Venues such as the Old Course at St. Andrews, Muirfield, Troon, and Turnberry capture the imagination of many golfers. Tom Watson is quoted as saying after he had won the British Open for the third time at Muirfield in 1980, “Winning in Scotland beats winning anywhere else; I’m a traditionalist and a sentimentalist, and there’s nothing like winning a championship in the birthplace of golf. This tournament is what golf is all about.” Thus, this book by geographer Robert Price on the courses in the native home of golf deserves to be brought to the attention of both golfers and those interested in a geographic perspective on Scotland.
A geographer’s Perspective on the Sport
Price’s central purpose is “concerned with the description and explanation of the character of these golf courses”, the 425 Scottish courses Dr. Price includes on his list. In fact, the book has two basic themes: one, each course is classified according to landform and/or vegetation characteristics and the environmental nature of courses is discussed, either individually or in clusters in particular settings. The other theme is a product of the author’s knowledge of the sport and its history and his personal reactions to the courses. He has visited over 400 Scottish courses and played on 60 in addition to his familiarity with writings on golf in general and in Scotland particularly.
Thus, this book becomes an analysis and discussion of the varying landscapes of golf. At one level it is a remarkably detailed look at the golfing facilities in Scotland while at another it provides intriguing glimpses into the personality of places, the history of golf course design, bits of Scottish history, and an introduction to some of the personalities who have made golf prominent in Scotland’s sporting history. Price’s book should be of interest not only to golfers but to others with an interest in the physical geography of Scotland, and those looking for interesting insights into its cultural geography.
Price’s book has two distinct parts. The first deals with the history of golf, an explanation of the location of golf courses, an examination of the stages of the history and development of the sport, a review of the natural elements that influence golfing environments, and a classification of Scottish courses. The latter half of the book provides rather detailed descriptions of the courses, using a regional scheme of organization. Four regional groupings are employed: 1) Dumfries and Galloway, The Borders, Lothian; 2) Strathclyde; 3) Central, Fife, and Tayside; and 4) Highland, Grampian, and the Islands. A very detailed appendix presents ten characteristics on each course and maps indicate their location. A brief but useful bibliography is also provided.
The early origins of golf are mentioned but particular attention is paid to developments in Scotland. The focus of the discussion is based on the reality that “Scotland can rightly claim to be the ‘home of modern golf’ in that it was here, between 1740 and 1900, that all the major developments in the game, its equipment, and administration took place. It was also from Scotland that the rules, players and course designers spread throughout the world. Many of the game’s traditions started on the classic links courses of Scotland”. Price provides a fascinating commentary on these topics and on related themes such as the evolution of the modern golf ball and golf clubs and on the emergence of golfing societies and clubs (as of the late 1980s 355 of Scotland’s 425 courses were a part of private clubs; only 16% were public).
The analysis of the where and why of golf course locations is handled chronologically using five eras in the development of golf. The first period deals with the evolution of the original course referred to as “old links courses,” courses that still evoke the primary image of golf in Scotland with their exposed location along wind-swept shores, some low-lying while others elevated on coastal platforms. This initial period and its successor set the stage for the “golfing boom” which occurred between 1880 and 1909.
During this period 56% of Scotland’s courses were built and, for the first time a majority (175 of the 223 constructed during these three decades) were placed in inland locations. In turn, many of these courses were located in direct proximity to the expanding urban centers and were suburban in their setting. It was also during this period that many of Scotland’s most famous golf course architects emerged, quickly spreading their influence widely around the golfing world. More recently, there has been a slower but steady expansion of golfing facilities. Currently, relatively few additional courses are scheduled for development, although those that are planned are likely to be a part of either golfing resort communities or linked to major new housing and time-share schemes. Most Scottish courses have been developed for the resident population; the new courses are increasingly being developed with the visiting golfer in mind. Golf is recognized as a significant resource for Scotland’s important tourism industry.
The Physical Environment of Golf Courses
One of the book’s main points is that “although a golf course only occupies 100 to 150 acres of land its character is greatly influenced by the physical environment of its particular location. This physical environment consists of rocks, landforms, soil, vegetation, and weather.” Dr. Price goes on to evaluate all of these considerations and to develop a classification based on them. Landforms and vegetation play a special role in his classification. However, all who are familiar with Scottish temperature, moisture, the wind, and other atmospheric conditions will appreciate how these play a major role in golfing environments. Weather conditions are, on average, sufficiently mild, however, so that play is possible in many courses throughout the year for hardy golfers. In the summertime, the long periods of daylight permit completion of an 18 hole round started at 6:00 p.m.
The classification of courses based on landforms results in the following types: undulating; hillside; drumlins; eskers, kames; kame terrace, sand, river terrace; raised beach/platform; and dunes/sand plains (links). Four types come under the classification based on vegetation including woodland, parkland, moorland, and links. The original courses of Scotland were all links courses and it is only on such courses that major championships such as the British Open are contested. Today, 116 courses are in coastal settings. Dr. Price describes in some detail the nature of all of these environmental factors and types and in the second half of the book provides specific characterizations of the courses in the four regions. The detailed textual descriptions are helpfully reinforced by a substantial selection of photographs, maps, and sketches.
The Social Mixes with the Physical Setting
Numerous sidelights or interesting reactions and interpretations are provided throughout the book. A few examples follow. The nine-hole course in Musselburgh is used to demonstrate the relationship of a course to the history of golf. The course oddly enough, mostly inside a horse racecourse) has been in use since 1672. During the last century, it was one of the foci of Scottish golf as four major golfing societies played there. Many of those associated with Musselburgh became prominent professionals, course designers, or manufacturers of balls and clubs. The town became a center of golf equipment manufacturing. The standard hole cutting tool was introduced here. The course gradually lost its central role because of overcrowding and a greater accessibility of many golfers to other emerging courses.
Another example: “The Old Prestwick and Royal Troon courses are virtually continuous. In the 1920s the ninth green at Troon was only a short distance from the Prestwick course and members of both clubs would play from Troon to Prestwick in the morning and, having had lunch at the splendid Prestwick clubhouse, would play back to Troon in the afternoon.” And with reference to St. Andrews, “The Old Course originally consisted of 22 holes — 11 out and 11 home. By the time the first survey of the course was made in 1836, it had been reduced to nine holes out and nine home, and from 1832 homeward players holed out on the same green but in a different hole. There were no tees, the player simply teeing off within two clubs’ length of the previous hole. Since sand for teeing-up was obtained from the bottom of the hole, the holes became progressively deeper. Separate teeing grounds were introduced in 1846.”
One of the most prominent inland golf complexes is the first class facility at Gleneagles. “Golf at Gleneagles is expensive by Scottish standards but there is no other golfing complex to match it in terms of facilities, accommodation, scenery and overall quality. Even for the dedicated coastal-links golfer, Gleneagles has something special in the way the natural features have been incorporated into these inland courses.”
And, finally, as a sample of the author’s reaction to a course, in this case at Cullen east of Inverness: “The seventh tee is perched on the cliff edge with the green of this 231 yard, par three holes some 80 feet below on the links part of the course. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the result of a two wood hang in the air for several seconds before pitching on the green, on the first occasion I played the course. During two subsequent rounds in the same week, it was impossible to see the green from the seventh tee because of sea fog (or |haar’) which can be another local hazard along this coastline in summer.”
This is a very detailed book despite its relatively short length. It is readable and has much to offer golfers and those with an interest in Scotland, its environment, and sports history. Dr. Price achieves the goals he set in writing this book. He has also most effectively demonstrated how geographers can use principles of their discipline and engagingly apply them to a popular subject. Some modest suggestions for a second edition include adding a ‘how-to’ chapter on golfing in Scotland for the non-Scot. Another useful feature might be to include information that would assist golfers with handicaps that range from very low to embarrassingly high, in selecting courses to play that match their ability.