Rubenstein: Golf is a passport to the world
Published on Friday, May. 24, 2013 09:43PM EDT Last updated on Tuesday, Oct. 09, 2012 09:34AM EDT
I once wrote that golf is a passport to the world and that, in playing the game, “You go out to make pars and you make friends.” The pars have become less frequent since I wrote that but, happily, the friends have increased. I made a couple of new ones the other day when I played the San Francisco Golf Club in the company of Warner Bott Berry, a criminal defense attorney who retains a single-digit handicap and who knows golf inside and out, and an 86-year-old gentleman golfer named Maynard Garrison.
The new friendships began when I walked into the grillroom in the splendid old, understated locker room at the classic A.W. Tillinghast-designed course. Golf course architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. was my host at the club where he’s a member, and he invited Berry and Garrison, a retired lawyer, to join us. Berry, 72, and known to all as “Butch,” is a member, as is Garrison, an avid historian. He’s a member of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, and he’s belonged to the San Francisco Golf Club for 53 years. We met in a room with high ceilings and photographs all over the walls depicting the club’s history. Garrison, in fact, wrote a history of the club.
The plan was to get out for some golf, but the talk was so interesting that I wondered if we’d make it to the holes that sweep away from the clubhouse on the highest point of the course. I’d played San Francisco some 25 years ago but hadn’t been back since. Blair Jamieson, a young local pro who had tried to qualify for the Canadian Tour but who has now settled on a career outside golf, was also coming along for the round. But first, there was golf talk, and lots of it.
Maynard started with a poem somebody had written about the Brora Golf Club in the Scottish Highlands. It’s one of Maynard’s favourite courses. The poem sings the praises of simple golf on a links where sheep roam. I’d played Brora a number of times, and it was good to be reminded of the virtues of the game on a rugged piece of ground. Brora is golf for the adventurous, that’s for sure, and I’ve enjoyed every round I’ve played there.
As we chatted, Berry brought out a copy of my book A Season in Dornoch, and asked that I sign it. Clearly, I was with kindred spirits. He told me that he was from Ithaca, N.Y., and had graduated from Cornell, as had his father Romeyn. His father had graduated in 1904 and was the man behind the Cornell song The Big Red Team. Cornell’s teams were known as “The Big Red” from then on. Romeyn Berry had also written Talk of the Town pieces for The New Yorker.
Berry the elder retired to a farm called Stoneposts, wrote about life there and compiled his pieces and some speeches into a book called Dirt Roads to Stoneposts. A reviewer wrote, “This little book is earthy and homey and sounds and makes you hungry as blazes.” I’ll have to find a copy. His son also wrote a book. It’s a labour of love novel that was privately published by Arion Press in San Francisco in an edition of 1,000 copies. Called Scotsman’s Dream, Butch Berry’s novel incorporates course architects Tillinghast, Alister Mackenzie, and Donald Ross as characters. The plot turns on a course that they collaboratively designed in 1933, but whose plan was kept secret until a course based on it was built in 2000. The lesson is that classic courses endure. Yes, I was in the company of friends.
Soon we were out on the course - a course that endures - and down by the green at the par-five first hole. The green falls away to the right, and from back in the fairway it has the look of what Butch termed an “infinity” green. He laced his approach right at the pin, 15-feet short of the hole. I liked his swing immediately; it’s compact, he moves and rotates his lower body through the ball with speed, and, well, I wondered why I seem unable to do that anymore. I resolved to try.
Walking off the first green, Butch looked back some 520 yards to the clubhouse. “This is one of the greatest looks in American golf,” he said, and it is.
We made our way through the course. Butch hit one crisp shot after another, and Maynard contributed some sharply struck shots. They played only the first nine, after which Butch’s wife Christine and their two daughters joined them for lunch. As we shook hands, and looked back over the expanse of ground we had just traversed, I thought of what Butch had said. He’s an architecture aficionado and student, and the art of design continues to fascinate him.
“I learned two things from Tillinghast,” he said of his studies. “Par is to be defended at the green, and a round of golf should be an enjoyable experience.”
We had just enjoyed an enjoyable nine holes. Butch, his family, and Maynard, assembled on the patio for lunch, while I continued with RTJ Jr. and Blair to the back nine. We reached the 18th green an hour and 45 minutes later. Butch and Maynard were still on the patio, discussing course architecture, no doubt.
Why not? They were at one of its most important temples. I looked forward to further study at the San Francisco Golf Club someday soon, in the company of my new friends, Butch Berry and Maynard Garrison.
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at email@example.com . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein