A Golfer’s Education

After reading the outer jacket of this book and realizing that Darren Kilfara, a junior at Harvard,  had succeeded in staging the ultimate golfer’s year abroad at the University of St. Andrews, all I could do was administer myself a dope-slap and mutter to myself, why didn’t I think of that?  Of course at 54 years of age that was water under the dam.  The only thing left to do was experience it vicariously by reading his travelogue memoir of youthful golf discovery.

What unfolds is an articulate and perceptive tale of his discovery of the charm of Scotland, golf in Scotland, and links golf in particular.  Along the way he realizes there are American golf biases, like religious commitment to the scorecard and pencil, that he needs to abandon, as well as unexpected subjects that need intellectual attention, like course architecture, if he is going to come away from this immersion process with a fuller understanding of the game of golf.

The book chronicles golf courses you are familiar with and one’s that you should become familiar with.  His student life sketches a refreshing ground level view of life in Scotland.  Through his experiences he jettisons his engrained perceptions of what golf is about and embraces the mysterious rapture of links golf  it’s unique challenges.  He comes to learn why those who play links golf think it builds character and enforces humility teaching us to cope with the challenges of our lives with a more realistic perspective.

Of Golf in Scotland:

“Many people still walk from their homes to the first tees, especially at linksland courses near town…you cannot be too low on the social ladder to play golf in Scotland.…The golf club is a fundamental component of the Scottish community at large.”

“In Scotland “putting” is a recreational activity in it’s own right.  Virtually every city, town, and village has at least one putting green available for public use.”

Of the Beauty of Scotland:

“A breeze whistled softly across the gorse, tugging gently at the sleeves of my jacket.  The dying embers of autumn  flickered in the darkly proud gorse, in wispy fields of soft beige and muted green….. The stillness, the ethereal peace of the moment overwhelmed me.  The earth itself reposed in contentment: miles of tiny, pimpled dunes beyond …..mirrored my goose bumps….beckoning me away.  In the near silence I stood: alone, yet not alone.”

Of Links Golf:

“I loved the way the conditions challenged my imagination…..I loved the strategic impositions of the wind, and the obligation to attack on even the most difficult downwind holes for fear of losing ground on the upwind ones.”

“In the wind the truth of score becomes subjective….The Scots have a solution…Match Play.  On windy days there are three options:  stay inside, forget about par, or measure your progress against a friend and neighbor instead of counting strokes”

Of  Scottish Courses:

“Cruden Bay is a flawed work, some of it’s holes downright weird.   But the composition as a whole was incontestably dramatic, unceasingly moving, and, at times, breathtakingly beautiful.”

“Machrihanish also possessed a staggering repertoire of memorable holes; at each of the first eight holes I glimpsed a different vision of links nirvana.”

“That’s how (Royal) Dornoch works.  Strategically speaking, it lulls the golfer to sleep.  Dornoch is never penal, and average golfers will be buoyed by the absence of visible hazards.  But every hole has an optimal angle of approach.”

“The Old Course certainly grows on you: round by round you absorb it’s intricacies.  And sooner or later, you find yourself playing left and creating doglegs because you want to, not because you’ve been told to, an important collaboration between pride and intellect that can yield decisive results on your scorecard.”

Even a Ferris Bueller Episode:

Describing an inebriated session of “Street Golf” in downtown St. Andrews with a couple of undergrads,  “We’re just underway…tee off at the University Library a short time ago.  The hole is a vodka bottle in Miss Scarlet’s room which is on the fourth floor of New Hall.”

This book is readable and engaging-you will enjoy it for it’s insight, a strong dose of Scottish golf history, and some college self-deprecating moments you can probably relate to.  For those traveling to Scotland to play golf it is a great primer, for those who have been there already it has it’s scrapbook moments.

(For additional background click to read a Golf Atlas interview with the author)

A Golfer’s Education

Darren Kilfara (2001)

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