The Spirit of the Links Part 15

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Even if one be but a drinker of tea and ginger ale, there is some interest in reading of the exploits of the old-time golfers of Edinburgh and Musselburgh. In the "bett book" of the Honourable Company, under date of 4th January 1766, there is the rule entered: "Each person who lays a Bett in the Company of the Golfers, and shall fail to play it on the day appointed, shall forfeit to the Company a pint of wine for each guinea, unless he give a sufficient excuse to their satisfaction"; and a most interesting entry in the minutes of 16th November 1776 tells us that "this day Lieutenant James Dalrymple, of the 43rd Regiment, being convicted of playing five different times at Golf without his uniform, was fined only in Six Pints, having confessed the heinousness of his crime." To this minute, signed by the captain, there is appended a codicil, stating, "at his own request he was fined of Three Pints more."

Always pints, and never pounds or guineas. The Company even thought that it was a proper thing for it to pa.s.s a formal resolution adopting certain liquors as the club drink, just in the same way as they would adopt a uniform. Thus, on 11th December 1779, the sentiment of Christmas being already abroad, it was resolved and duly entered on the minutes, that "Port and Punch shall be the ordinary Drink of the Society, unless upon these days when the Silver Club and Cups are played for. At those meetings Claret or any other Liquor more agreeable will be permitted."

O, say some, for the days of famous Jamie Balfour, secretary and treasurer of the Company in 1793! Never was jollier golfer. And never a man more honest, more deservedly popular, and loved by all his contemporaries than he, as witness the fact that when, alas! he went to the links of Valhalla before he reached the age of sixty, the company mourned for him as golfers had never mourned before. They met at a special meeting and dinner in the most solemn mourning, with the Captain in the chair and Sir James Stirling, Baronet, Lord Provost of the City of Edinburgh, beside him, and drank to Balfour's memory in the most solemn of toasts.

Jamie looked upon the wine when it was red; he could see no virtue in self-denial. He liked the sound of the drawn cork. When he heard one drawn in any house that he happened to be in, which gave an unusually sharp report, he would call out, "La.s.sie, gie me a gla.s.s o' that!" not troubling to ask what the wine was, but taking it for granted that for such a report it must needs be good of its cla.s.s.

A story is told that a lady who lived in Parliament Close, Edinburgh, was wakened from her sleep one summer morning by a noise as of singing, when, going to the window to learn what was the matter, guess her surprise at seeing Jamie Balfour and some of his boon companions, evidently fresh from an orgie, singing "The King shall enjoy his own again" on their knees around King Charles's statue. It used to be said that Balfour could run when he could not stand still, and the story is told that on one occasion, going home late from a festive night, he happened to tumble into the pit formed for the foundation of a house in St. James's Square. A gentleman pa.s.sing heard his wailing, and, going up to the spot, was entreated by Balfour to help him out. "What would be the use helping you out when you could not stand though you were out?"

said the pa.s.ser-by. Whereupon Jamie retorted, "Very true, perhaps, yet if you help me up I'll run you to the Tron Kirk for a bottle of claret."

And he did; and having won the first bottle, Jamie exclaimed, "Well, 'nother race to Fortune's for another bottle of claret," and he won that one also.

In its ancient days the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews was great on fines in wine. It promoted conviviality on every possible occasion, and, indeed, one of the first of its minutes that are now discoverable says, under date 4th May 1766, "We, the n.o.blemen and Gentlemen subscribing, did this day agree to meet once every fortnight, by Eleven of the clock, at the Golf House, and to play a round of the links; to dine together at Bailie Gla.s.s', and to pay each a shilling for his dinner--the absent as well as the present." It was some two or three years after this that means were devised for augmenting the dinner wine through the various social delinquencies of members. Thus, on 4th September 1779, a resolution is pa.s.sed as follows: "It is enacted that whoever shall be Captain of the Golf, and does not attend all the meetings to be appointed throughout the year, shall pay Two Pints of Claret for each meeting he shall be absent at, to be drunk at such meeting; but this regulation is not to take place if the Captain be not in Fife at the time." Many years later, in 1818, the wine tax on absentees was applied to members generally, under interesting circ.u.mstances, as indicated in the terms of the resolution that was pa.s.sed, which read: "The Club, taking into consideration that the meetings have of late been thinly attended by the Members residing in town, in consequence of several members giving parties on the ordinary days of meeting, and thereby preventing those who would otherwise give their presence at the Club, from attending them, Do Resolve, that in future such Members as shall invite any of their friends, Members of this Club, to dinner on the days of meeting, shall forfeit to the Club a Magnum of Claret for himself, and one bottle for each Member so detained by them, for each offence, and the Captain and Council appoint this Resolution to be immediately communicated to General Campbell." On 16th September 1825 a minute is entered, "Which day the present Captain, having imposed on himself a fine of a Magnum of Claret for failure in public duty, imposed a similar fine on the old Captains present." It is quite evident that in these rich old days the social side of golf was cultivated in a manner that makes the worthiest efforts in this direction in the twentieth century look mean in comparison.

The men of the old Musselburgh Club were great in conviviality. Here is a remarkable entry taken from their minute-book: "Musselburgh, 11th January 1793.--The Club met according to adjournment. The meeting was so merry that it was agreed that matching and every other business should be delayed till next month."

On 11th May 1798, when the Club held its meeting, the question was put as to whether the funds should be disposed of by the members present or delayed till the December meeting, when it was resolved by a majority that the company then present should determine it. Thereupon it was put to the vote as to whether the funds should be drunk, or part of them taken to "give their Myte to the Voluntary Subscription in aid of the Government," and it was carried unanimously that Five Guineas should be sent to this fund in the name of the Club, and that the remainder of the funds should be disposed of at the December meeting. Meeting at Moir's on 16th February 1810, the members "Resolve, That an annual subscription of One Guinea be paid by each member, from which fund the expense of the dinners is to be in future defrayed, but all the expenses of liquors to be defrayed by the company present. And any overplus at the end of each season to be sunk in a General _Gaudeamus_."

The old records of the Bruntsfield Links Golf Club are similarly entertaining. On 27th April 1822, "Captain Kilgour informed the meeting that Mr. Williamson had sent a small cask of spirits of his own manufacture as a present to the Club. The Secretary was ordered to transmit the thanks of the Society to Mr. Williamson, and to inform him that he was unanimously elected an Honorary Member." On 29th June 1842 we are told that "a very large party dined at Cork's, and the evening was spent with more than stereotyped happiness, harmony, and hilarity. A number of matches were made. Mr. S. Aitken (not, of course, when madness ruled the hour) pledged himself if, and when, Deacon Scott married, to present to the Club half a dozen of wine, and the like quant.i.ty to the object (lovely, of course) of his choice! This happy evening 'through many a bout of linked sweetness long drawn out,' partook of the transitory nature of all earthly things, and, as one of our poets says, broke up!"

After the meeting of the Bruntsfield members on 17th December 1842, "A large party dined at Goodman's, and spent a very happy evening, not the less so that some member, to the company unknown, made the handsome present of half a dozen of Champagne. Mr. Brown, after some very apposite remarks, read an interesting paragraph from the _Bombay Times_ of the 19th October last, noticing certain proceedings of a Golf Club formed in the East Indies, which gave rise to much felicitous discussion, and the appointment of a deputation, consisting of the Captain and Mr. Paterson, to meet and compete with the like, or any number of the Indian Club, the deputation to travel at the Club's expense and by the new Aerial Transit, which is expected to start early in February next." They were in a happy mood that evening.

The minutes record that on 18th October 1845, "The Club dined in the Musselburgh Arms Inn, and spent a very happy evening; but the meeting having been prolonged beyond the period at which the omnibus (in which seats had been taken) started, the members found it necessary to walk the greater part of the way to town."

Rich, indeed, were those ancient days of golf!


And so, heigho! another full year of golf has run to its end, and we come to pause for a little while to reflect upon the new chapter that has been added to the long happy story of our play; for, indeed, it is true of us golfers, as it is of others, that "we spend our years as a tale that is told." For some days now the links which have served us so faithfully and so well during all this year, have been at rest, asleep.

Nature, the gentle considerate nurse, sometimes comes to the help of these precious acres of green turf in that season when their lot is the least happy, fending away us tyrant masters while she lays them to repose and wraps up each teeing ground and putting green and all the way between in the thick mantle that she weaves herself. Perhaps the players do not always know that the gra.s.s welcomes this snow, and is not, as they might imagine, stifled with it and reduced to such unconsciousness as to be near the point of death. The snow both nourishes and warms the worn-out turf--collects and holds down for its sustenance all the available nitrogen in the atmosphere, and then covers it with that thick cloak which generates only warmth beneath. Presently, when the frosts cease and the snow melts and the gra.s.s lies bare again, those who have recollection enough for the comparison will see that it is greener and stronger than it was before. When there is a championship in prospect on St. Andrews links, the wise and good greenkeeper there beseeches kind Nature that of her infinite variety she will vouchsafe to his little patch of earth for some several days of winter a heavy fall of snow, that in due course he may better serve up to his master golfers a links of such perfection of order as will please them to the utmost. What shall he care if the old grey place is beleaguered by these storms of snow, if the Swilcan Burn is almost covered up, and if it would be as much as the life of the captain of the Royal and Ancient Club were worth to try to find the line to the Long Hole? Hush, you grumbling golfers!

The old course, weary, is at rest; and patiently will the happy greenkeeper wait for its awakening. There is something of pathos in the time and the scene, as:

"Full knee-deep lies the winter snow, And the winter winds are wearily sighing; Toll ye the church-bell sad and slow, And tread softly and speak low, For the old year lies a-dying."

How much does it mean to us, does a year of golf! In the last few moments of the year that you give up to golfing thought and reverie as you sit by the cheerful fire, and perhaps, according to the old fancy, toy on the hearthrug for a while with the putter that you hold at convenience in the corner, and the memento ball that you preserve upon the mantelpiece--at such time make a pleasant reflection upon all the joy and the gladness, and the health and the adventure, and the glorious rivalry and close comradeship that have been crowded into this short s.p.a.ce of time! Above all, think how much nearer in most blessed friendship has this year of golf drawn you to those who are most after your own heart! There is no habit of man that can do more than golf towards such an end as this, and it is in his abundance of the best friends that a man lives most happily and to the best purpose.

And the golfer has seen more of the year, of the real year of Nature so complex and so complete in its variety and balance, than the other men who live in towns. He braved it in the open lands through the bitter weeks of January and February, and he was cheerful through the winds and rains that followed, for as the rainbows spread across the sky he knew that the glorious spring had come, most heartening time of all the golfing year. Then would he stamp his feet on turf grown firm, and acclaim his ball with affection for its constant cleanliness. The golfer, even he of the town, hears the change in the song of the birds, he notices the newcomers among them; he has interest in the leafing of the trees, and lo! the big sun of summer shines upon him. And when can golfer be happier than when, after droning lazily through a hot afternoon, he plays an evening round upon the links in those most perfect conditions for pure delight? Surely it is hard to say which of those rounds is the best, that of the spring morning, the autumn morning, or the one in the balmy evening of June. And the golfer, bold and lucky, who once in a way makes his ripest play on some wild day in December when the wind from the sea comes like a blast across the links and all above is dripping scud, would in his pride not grant that the golfer lived his life at the full on any of those other days of peace and calm. So, from the play in the long summer twilight, we wander down the year, through brown October to the greys that follow, and the white curtain falls at last upon the exhausted season.

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The Spirit of the Links Part 15 summary

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