Why lament the pending closure of municipal golf courses in Scotland, as I did in yesterday’s blog? Simple. It cuts off a vital route for people to take up the game.
You don’t need a PhD to figure out closing down municipal golf courses in Scotland or anywhere else does not help the grow the game effort that is such a buzz phrase these days. Take them away and we lose a vital entry point for new golfers. As fellow writer Karen Harding astutely points out:
“Smaller municipal and country courses have always been part of the pathway for golfers. To lose them is to a create a broken link in the chain.”
The most famous golf course in the world is a municipal course. For centuries, the Old Course (pictured) has provided a pretty good pathway into golf for St Andrews and Fife citizens.
I got into the game via the municipal and small course pathway. I got the golf bug growing up in Kitchener, Ontario from playing Merry Hill and Rockway Golf Clubs.
My parents were Merry Hill members. It was the perfect place for new golfers. In those days, it consisted of three 9-hole loops – the Blue, Red and White courses. These loops consisted of mostly short par 3 holes, sprinkled with short par 4s. There were no par fives.
My parents would take me out for nine holes on summer evenings. The first on the White course was about 130 yards. (I once watched my mother make a hole and one there.) Imagine the thrill for a new golfer to be able to hit the green on consistent basis rather than hacking it up a 450-yard par 4 in nine or 10 shots. The latter is a recipe for quitting the game; the former enticed me to continue.
Rockway is on King Street in the east end of Kitchener. Moe Norman wouldn’t have graced this great game if not for this municipal layout. Norman became the straightest hitter the game has ever seen because he honed his swing on Rockway’s practice ground. I still remember glancing over towards the practice ground and seeing him feverishly ripping balls. Fittingly, there is now a Moe Norman room at Rockway.
You could take the bus to play Rockway. I occasionally did when I was a university student. I graduated from Merry Hill and Rockway to other courses around the area when I got my first car.
I probably wouldn’t have made writing about golf my life’s work if not for Merry Hill and Rockway. These are the sort of courses Sir Henry Cotton celebrated 40 years ago. The Maestro was a supporter of cheap, accessible layouts in every major town or city precisely to enable people to take up the game. In Thanks for the Game, Cotton wrote:
“I do not see the luxurious country club type of operation with its necessary steep subscriptions and high green fees as a golf need of the future, but public golf or even private clubs geared to a lower end are wanted.”
Sadly, not so much anymore they’re not.