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Dreaming of a Green Christmas

Imagine Golf Club's Dermot Gilleece is in search of a winter golfing idyll

Posted Dec 21, 2010 by Dermot Gilleece

green golf

The notion of climate change takes on an intriguing dimension when I recall how Bernard Darwin once wrote of Green Christmases which made us the envy of our golfing brethren in more hostile climes.  In the recent past, one could picture hardy souls relishing the good fortune of knocking the little white ball about on soft and yielding turf during the holiday season.  Current, decidedly white conditions in these islands, however, are causing us to look elsewhere for a golfing idyll.

Like southern parts of the United States, for instance, where golfing conditions could hardly be more attractive.  Which explains the varied and fascinating events which greeted the New Year back in 1927, when Gene Sarazen won the Miami Beach Open with a seven-under-par total of 277.

A closer look at times past, reveals that on January 1st 1928, the Penn Athletic Club opened an 18-hole miniature golf course on the roof of its building in Philadelphia.  And that in January 1932, the US Golf Association standardised the golf ball, directing that it could weigh no more than 1.62 ounces and measure not less than 1.68 inches in diameter.  But it would be 58 years before the R and A formally adopted it, on January 1st 1990.

For those of us from the Northern Hemisphere, anything other than a cold, if not a white Christmas, is difficult to imagine.  I remember being in New Zealand for golf's World Cup in November 1998 and sitting in short sleeves at a clubhouse bar drinking a cold drink and listening to "Silent Night" on the Tannoy system. This was the North Shore GC outside Auckland, where I had the pleasure of a delightful, winter round of golf in perfect conditions.

Much has changed since Darwin wrote about Green Christmases - "To be quite accurate, this golfing party of mine will begin just after Christmas" - for "The American Golfer" in December 1922. They gathered at a destination in Wales, unnamed by the author but familiar to all Darwin devotees as his beloved Aberdovey.

He wrote: "The same party has met in the house of the same kind host since some time at the end of the last (19th) century.  One member of the party celebrated a year or two ago his 21st consecutive annual visit, and I might have equalled his record but for the war years (1914-'18).  I remember we had been promised Madeira of Waterloo year (1815) to drink in 1915 and I had to put off my share till 1919.  In a gathering so old established, there must be some regrets.  There have been one or two gaps in our numbers and the collective golf of the party, which was not very good even in its comparatively youthful prime, is not so good as it used to be.  Neither is it so energetic."

As for the golf course, the scribe went on to enthuse: "How green it all looks, like a kind of dewy, winter freshness.  All signs of parching summer are gone, there are no hard dusty yellow patches.  The turf is soft and yielding, the ball sits up asking to be hit and hit it we must, for there is now little run in the ground and a two-shot hole is a two-shot hole.

"Time was when we dashed down to the course after an early breakfast, bearing with us bottles of a soothing and agreeable shape to supplement our lunch, played our two singles for certain and then, when some felt a passing weakness towards home and tea, we were marshalled by our inexorable host, paired off and sent out again to play a nine-hole foursome.

"There in the village street walks a portly and dignified figure in black.  To the summer folk he appears merely a Minister but we remember him as a little, sandy-haired caddy boy called 'Ginger', who used to carry Cornelius Nepos in his pocket and study the classics between his master's shots.  We can remember when there was no clubhouse, when no ball had ever been struck over that hill now shored up with black sleepers, which today is famous, when there were only flower pots instead of tins in the holes."

Darwin concluded wistfully: "How we do hate those summer intruders. What do they know of those historic times?  It is our links, and we made it."

- Dermot Gilleece

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