Few places in this amazing world that is golf are as steeped in wonder. ¬†The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers professes ‚?? as far as I understand ‚?? to be the oldest golf club in the world. ¬†I‚??ve heard other superlatives used in conjunction with The Company too. ¬†Muirfield, ‚??Hon Co, ‚??HCEG‚?Ě, is as polarising as it is revered. ¬†Throughout this odyssey tales of affection have passed our ears, as have tales of disgust. ¬†Very seldom if ever is a storyteller‚??s reaction indifferent. ¬†It‚??s the sort of place, then, that I was wholeheartedly looking forward to visiting. ¬†(The fact that the Honourable Company plays their golf on one of the best courses in the world had something to do with my anticipation too). ¬†
Our host Roddy McDonald was a dear old friend of my Uncle Nigel‚??s. ¬†In fact Nigel was his Best Man. ¬†They studied medicine together at Edinburgh, a few years behind my dad (who, as Roddy pointed out, was one of ‚??the big boys‚?Ě - in that he only talked to you if he felt like it, not because he was physically imposing). ¬†Hearing about the escapades of The Brothers Patton was one of the most amusing aspects of Roddy‚??s good company ‚?? but more on that later. ¬†Roddy‚??s lovely wife Wendy brokered the outing, because Roddy‚??s not much fussed about email for various reasons that would become apparent. ¬†If I had a Secretary as delightful as Wendy I might give up email correspondence too. ¬†Sadly when I offered at the end of last year Jean ‚?? my eminently obliging secretary at Chapman Tripp ‚?? opted for the safety of employment by a large law firm instead of puregolf2010. ¬†We couldn‚??t pay her much anyway. ¬†There‚??d be a bit of travel involved too.
Roddy graciously allowed us to bring Jimenez in tow. ¬†Or Ed, as he‚??s known to most of you. ¬†The one that can‚??t putt. ¬†Upon receipt of this happy news Jimenez seemed rather more underwhelmed than expected ‚?? not for a lack of gratitude, but rather a complete lack of perception of what he was about to experience. ¬†Neither Mike nor I had ventured to Muirfield before either, but our experiences to date had been informative; we had a fair idea of what we were in for. ¬†As forecasted, Jimenez would be overwhelmed with what he saw. ¬†He wasn‚??t the only one either. ¬†
You need to know where you‚??re going. ¬†Driving through Gullane you take the last street on the left (I forget the name), alongside a field, heading towards the Forth. ¬†On the right at the end is a carpark marked discreetly for the use of Muirfield members and guests. ¬†3 or 4 rows of parking sheds were lined with the type of cars you might at a UBS annual conference in the Swiss Alps; then an overflow carpark extends into a field behind the last one. ¬†Into the overflow field we went. ¬†It was busy. ¬†Standing by the boot of the most recently parked car was a dashing gentleman in a sports jacket that HRH Prince William himself would be pleased to wear on a day excursion from Balmoral. ¬†The dashing gentleman turned out to be Roddy. ¬†
While I was wrestling with the gearbox we sent out Jimenez to greet him. ¬†Roddy looked frightened, alarmed even. ¬†Soon though order prevailed as Michael and I ‚?? who have poor hair cuts no doubt, but not El Savadorean underworld ones ‚?? fumbled out of The Tank gracefully. ¬†The 3 lads from Nu Zillin (well, counting me as an adopted Kiwi for the moment) were in their number 1s and ready for action. ¬†Our 4 marched around the corner to the right, through the cast iron gate and across in front of what appeared to be a packed hive. ¬†Tuesdays and Thursdays are visitor days, when mostly Americans turn up with their 225 quid (having booked well in advance) for The Muirfield Experience. ¬†The members don‚??t much bother turning up, instead choosing to take their gin at home. ¬†This however was a Wednesday and it was...lunchtime. ¬†Feeding time at the zoo. ¬†(The lunch at Muirfield plays about as important a part in the day as golf ‚?? but I‚??ll get to that in a second, bare with me). ¬†2 and a half; 2 and a half; 2 and a half, is the mantra - for the morning round, lunch and the afternoon round respectively. ¬†
Into the clubhouse we paced ‚?? almost nervously ‚?? past The Secretary‚??s Office and into the locker room. ¬†If naked old men is your thing then Muirfield‚??s locker room at 1 o‚??clock would float your boat. ¬†We dumped our gear then were led through the hallway, past a secret locker housing an electricity meter, into The Dining Room. ¬†Our very presence lowered the average age by a score and ten. ¬†What must‚??ve been a hundred gentleman were lunching before our eyes ‚?? only a handful being on the younger side of 60. ¬†Sir Alex Ferguson‚??s red face appeared at a small table nearest to the bar. ¬†The rest were either doctors, lawyers or businessmen. ¬†Maybe a vet or a dentist or even a hygienist. ¬†This be the professionals‚?? domain. ¬†And it has been for centuries.
Demand being what is is here, the queue for a gin was a long one (the huge old tanker, for those of you that knew it and drunk lustily from it, appears to have been retired, no doubt due to exhaustion). ¬†Us youngsters felt a little uncomfortable hovering around in the doorway, so we excused ourselves to inspect the silverware housed in a cabinet in the hallway. ¬†A silver golf club impressed itself most upon me: largely because it had dozens of silver balls chained onto it ‚?? one for each past Captain (when new members finally make their way into the Company they are reputedly invited to kiss the Captain‚??s balls). ¬†Before we knew it Roddy appeared with a tray of aperitifs and we were led into the smoking room. ¬†Someone asked whether he might have a coffee, but apparently it‚??s tea that‚??s taken before play, coffee after. ¬†A gin and tonic it was then. ¬†To say The Honourable Company‚??s habits are idiosyncratic is to say Stalin was a bit naughty. ¬†But then that‚??s their prerogative and who am I to argue. ¬†Truth be told such traditions don‚??t bother me one bit; on the contrary I enjoy learning about and partaking in them.
On the walls were mightily impressive paintings of past Captains and dinners and shindigs of all sorts. ¬†In the painting above the doorway ‚?? from memory, of a Recorder‚??s Dinner (the Recorder fixes and documents all the club‚??s matches ‚?? a very distinguished position indeed) ‚?? were a few gentlemen in red jackets laughing and joking with a dozen or so others in a smoke filled dining room (there were no anti smoking laws in these days and even if they were I don‚??t suppose The Honourable Company would take much notice). ¬†It looked like a fun dinner to attend ‚?? especially if you had a red jacket. ¬†One gentleman I spoke to was proud as punch because his mug appeared in the background, before his father (whom had been a member for years before him) had received the distinction of appearing on the same walls.
Fast forwarding to the present. ¬†We perched at a table near the west window amongst a packed gallery of old boys. ¬†Everyone was very pleasant. ¬†Matches were being fixed and other plans hatched; sexist banter was never far from earshot; and there was enough gin and tonic in the air and on men‚??s breath to intoxicate Keith Richard. ¬†A more surreal atmosphere you will struggle to find. ¬†Before long we were called to lunch, and joined one of the long tables running nearly the length of the dining room.
Like at Prestwick, the protocol is to introduce yourself to whomever is unlucky enough to find themselves at your side. ¬†Arthur drew the short straw. ¬†Poor Arthur hadn‚??t even been down to play golf but, rather, just for some lunch with his pals (a group of gents from Atlanta Athletic Club in Georgia over for a break). ¬†Without a hint of pretense or smugness Arthur proceeded to fill me in on what the next week or two held in store for him: among other (to most people, other worldly) things, a weekend down at Royal St Georges for a match. ¬†Salmon like Arthur swim in different currents to most of us. ¬†That said he was great craic and a pleasure to spend half an hour or so with. ¬†
The food? ¬†5 star. ¬†Like a very posh school dinner. ¬†Roddy led us up to right hand side of the canteen, to fetch our starter. ¬†I had cream of tomato soup with garlic croutons and lashings of parmesan. ¬†Then we were led up in due course to the left hand side of the canteen, to the carvery, where myriad options lay spread in front of us. ¬†My eyes were hungrier than my stomach, so my plate was piled high with roast lamb and curry and vegetables and every kind of sweetness imaginable under the sun. ¬†A modern day Oliver Twist, except I was too full to ask for more. ¬†I did however find space for a few biccies and cheese. ¬†As at Prestwick a few hazy weeks ago, the cheese selection looked like it had been lifted straight out of the delicatessen at Harrods. ¬†The brie and blue had labels more French than my muddled tongue can pronounce; they were rich too, taking me from a fullsome state into a near comatose one. ¬†For a weaker stomach it might all get a bit much. ¬†
Just when we thought it might be time for golf ‚?? a proposition that was becoming less and less likely as the clock hands continued to make their way around the dial ‚?? I found myself back in the smoking room with a digestif in front of me. ¬†Kummel. ¬†Of course. ¬†(I can hear you Prestwick & Royal Aberdeen boys snigger). ¬†Yes, a Kummel before golf. ¬†Everything in moderation, mind you. ¬†Half of the old boys ‚??round ‚??ere are doctors, so they must know what they‚??re doing. ¬†A bit like Laphroiag malt getting its way into the US during Prohibition under the pretense of being medicinal. ¬†Ha. ¬†By this time only a couple of die hards remained in the room, by the window ‚?? Arthur my lunch companion and his friend Gilmour (who was sporting the most fantastic red breeks you might ever lay eyes on). ¬†But they weren‚??t golfing. ¬†It was time.
Roddy in his wisdom had decided that he and Michael would take on Jiminez and Yours Truly. ¬†That way Roddy and I would be teeing off together and have a proper chance to swap notes on The Brothers Patton between blows. ¬†(In the afternoon at Muirfield, as many of you no doubt know, the format is foursomes). ¬†The offshoot being that Jimenez would be getting me into all sorts of trouble and me, on occasions, he. ¬†I‚??m pleased to report we remain friends.
What confronts you on the first tee is a sign of things to come. ¬†A lot of hay. ¬†(Not heather, Jimenez, that‚??s quite different). ¬†Somewhere down there is a fairway, although at first I couldn‚??t make it out. ¬†As good fortune would have it the ball that met my 2 iron found its way in the right direction, leaving Jimmy with a ¬†straightforward 3 iron onto the dance floor (which he duly played to perfection). ¬†This game is easy. ¬†The rest is a bit of a blur, though I remember at one point having to give The Baddies a shot a hole until they got from 3 down back to 1 down (a local rule named after a past member/Captain who conjured it). ¬†Some good shots were hit, but in honesty these were outnumbered by the bad ones. ¬†That however is the beauty of matchplay foursomes ‚?? you just need to defeat the other two rascals. ¬†Which we didn‚??t.
It‚??s hard to gain a full appreciation of the course having only really played half of it ‚?? foursomes and all ‚?? but I think I got the general gist. ¬†Under the early evening sun the famous sand filled holes where level ground used to be revealed themselves more honourably than they might otherwise do. ¬†Nasty buggers they are though, and thank you to Jimenez for putting me in a couple for practice. ¬†The layout of the course, which is relatively flat, is nothing short of ingenious: the way it winds around the perimeter in a clockwise fashion before turning in on itself but this time in the other direction. ¬†This way the wind plays different tricks on more or less every hole. ¬†Favourite holes for me were the 7th and the 12th. ¬†Walking up 18 was something to be savoured too; that magnificent clubhouse gazing nonchalantly down at you as you remove your caps and shake hands.
I can‚??t move on without mentioning the showers, which are well positioned to make this year‚??s Top 10, among very fine company indeed. ¬†A jumbo jet could‚??ve landed in my cubicle. ¬†Good pressure too.
Sadly the time came to leave The Honourable Company; we thanked and farewelled Roddy for what had been for all of us a tremendous afternoon (and a particularly eye opening one in Jimenez‚??s case). ¬†To put the icing on the cake Roddy reached into his boot and furnished us each with a sleeve of HCEG embossed pro-v1s! ¬†What a gentleman. ¬†Rest assured they won‚??t be making it out of their packet this year; but instead will be auctioned off for The First Tee at one of our events in December ‚?? buyers take note. ¬†Thanks again Roddy!
No sooner had we pulled out of the driveway than we found ourselves round the corner at The Old Clubhouse in Gullane, to catch up with Graeme Russell, a charming chap who appears to have the best job in the world. ¬†He‚??s Macallan Whisky‚??s ambassador to the US. ¬†So he saunters around doing demonstrations and dinners and generally spreading cheer with a case or two of Macallan‚??s finest tonic. ¬†But try as I might I couldn‚??t hold it against the guy, because he was a very good soul indeed. ¬†To our American friends: if anyone is interested in a whisky tasting evening with Graeme, drop him a line and make it happen. ¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†
It really was a day for ‚??catching up‚?Ě: before we‚??d even got to The Honourable Company I‚??d spent an hour or so with an old pal ‚?? Stevie Dick ‚?? whom I played hockey with growing up. ¬†He now plays for Scotland and Great Britain. ¬†And he‚??s still as affable a character as he was when we were 10. ¬†We just picked up where we left off. ¬†Over an espresso in downtown Musselborough we put the world to rest, then parted company probably for another 10 years. ¬†Then we‚??ll pick up again where we left off. ¬†Such is the way.
All in all, one of the most action packed and awe inspiring days of the year. ¬†I‚??ve done my best to encapsulate it in just a few paragraphs...no easy task.
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