Scotland – In golf, a common expression is that when you find the green with your approach shot you’re on the “dance floor”. And this in a roundabout way got me thinking on Friday about how not everyone playing in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, which I’m in Scotland covering, is a good golfer.
I’m referring to the amateurs who take part in the separate pro-am – specifically the celebrities, business leaders and men and women from other sporting codes. Take, for instance, Michael Flatley of Riverdance fame. His high-stepping routines on stage have thrilled audiences across the world. But captivating onlookers on golf’s “dance floor”? Maybe not.
On the first hole he played at Kingsbarns on Friday he would have in all likelihood four-putted had his betterball partner, former US PGA champion Rich Beem, not told him to pick up his ball. Celebrated actor Hugh Grant, of Four Weddings and a Funeral fame, has a great smile which he uses to great effect here with the rosy-cheeked Irish lasses behind the ropes almost swooning as they hastily fumble for their cellphones in order to get a snapshot of the man. Grant is a regular in the Dunhill Links tournament and says his worst moment was putting into a burn (instead of the hole, dammit!) from the 16th green at Kingsbarns on live TV and watching his ball being carried out to sea.
Still, Grant plays a pretty reasonable game. He’s steady and owns a respectable nine handicap. Kyle Maclachlan from Desperate Housewives? Not too bad off 12, and able to string together a few pars on a good day. But sometimes his form is off and, yes, it does get pretty desperate. American actor Dennis Hopper, who appeared in many box-office films including Rebel Without a Cause with James Dean way back in the 1950s, Easy Rider and Apocalypse Now, sadly, passed away from cancer a couple of years ago. But he too was a Dunhill Links regular who masqueraded as a 21 handicap but looked far worse. One year his golf got so bad at Kingsbarns that members of the media were calling him Chopper Hopper. On a couple of occasions he had spectators diving for cover with his wild duck-hooks off the tee.
Of the 100-odd bunkers on the Old Course at St Andrews three are named after South Africans, and all are at the par-4 ninth hole.
They were put in by Old Tom Morris in the Boer War and are called, appropriately, Kruger (after President Paul), Mrs Kruger (his wife) and Cronje, after the Boer leader who surrendered in 1900 after the relief of Kimberley. The pros easily fly these bunkers with their drives, but you might well find, for instance, Marvin Shanken (Shanker?) hacking away in one of these evil little pits. Marvin, chairman and owner of Shanken Communications in New York which publishes Cigar Aficionado and Wine Spectator magazines, is Thomas Aiken’s regular pro-am partner here, and Thomas says he’s a wonderful guy and a brilliant businessman. But, to be brutally frank, his golf swing is far from pretty which is why his handicap is ... 26.
And on the subject of bunkers, let me again refer to Michael Tobert’s wonderful book about St Andrews, called Pilgrims in the Rough. He mentions, at the par-5 14th hole, Hell Bunker, a vast expanse of sand with a vertical face 10 feet deep. Our own great Bobby Locke, for instance, went in there and ended up with a triple-bogey eight in the 1939 British Open.
Tolbert, though, relates how the Bishop of London was reported to have been so pleased to have got out of this huge hole at his first attempt that he exclaimed to his playing partner, one Andra Kirkaldy, “Out of Hell in one!” To which Kirkaldy retorted: “When you dee (die), mind you tak’ yer niblick wi’ ye’.”