The Old Colonial was having difficulty with his glass of Tiger beer. The leading threesome in the last round of the Singapore Open golf championship was coming up the 9th fairway, and people were rushing out of the clubhouse, across the veranda and along the sidewalk to join the crowd around the green. Each time the Old Colonial lifted his glass someone would jostle his elbow and beer would slosh onto his mustache and down the front of his green golf shirt. Already there were stains on his golf shorts and puddles beneath his spiked shoes. "Blast!" he said, putting his glass on the table. "Good I'm not drinking raspberry cooler. I'd look like a stinking Christmas tree."
From the veranda of the Bukit Course clubhouse of the Singapore Island Country Club the view is across a putting green surrounded by gladiolas along a low brick wall. Beyond the putting green the eye wanders over a course that is abruptly hilly, wet and pea green, with a small lake in the distance. The season was early March, toward the end of what passes for winter on the equator, and heat rose in dark ripples from the trees. A tiny Chinese woman in pink stretch pants hurried past the table swinging a large straw handbag that did not quite touch the Old Colonial but made him jerk up a hand to fend it off and thereby knock the glass of beer into his lap.
"Do you know," the Old Colonial said after a moment of watching the woman scurry into the crowd on the other side of the scoreboard, "what has happened since the Chinese took up golf?" The implications of this question could be enormous, as the Old Colonial quickly realized. "Among other things, it has meant the decline of manners around this place. Wouldn't want them to know I said so, of course, but they simply do not have a feeling for decorum."
"I thought the Chinese were known for having an elaborate etiquette," I said.
"My dear man, you haven't been out here very long," said the Old Colonial. "You say the Chinese have an elaborate etiquette, and I say poo! If a Chinese hits his ball into a bunker, he thinks nothing of tramping up the sand. He will stand in the line of your putt. If the fancy strikes him, he will shoot first no matter who is away. It's all very well for you to hop off the plane and tell me the Chinese have elaborate etiquette, but I tell you, meaning no offense, that etiquette is what we had around here until six years ago. This was a golf club then, make no mistake about that! We were called the Royal Singapore. A thousand members, and the ones who weren't gentlemen had at least heard the word. The Chinese thought we were snobbish. Matters of politics persuaded us to combine with that other club, the new one with the poshy bathing pool, and now we have 5,000 members. Three thousand of them play golf! And most of them are Chinese! Dear man, look around at this crowd. Is this a royal golf club or is this an amusement park?"
The Old Colonial poked a finger at a photo on the first page of the Singapore Open program. The photo, beside a message wishing success for the tournament, showed Lee Kuan Yew, prime minister of Singapore, blasting out of a bunker with rather good form. "This chap had considerable to do with the changes," the Old Colonial said. "Now come along." He paused at the bar just off the veranda for another Tiger beer. "Quite tasty beer, actually," he said. Then he walked over near the pinball machines to a wall that held a board with the roster of club champions and another board with the handicap lists. Once they had been composed of solid colonial names like Oglethorpe and Pumphrey-Jones. Now they were made up almost entirely of names the Old Colonial would rarely have had to pronounce on the 1st tee, except perhaps when asking for his driver. "A beautiful island here, much of it. An industrious place. Only equatorial city I know of where chaps don't demand a siesta after lunch," he said. "But I shall go when the military leave in 1971. The businessmen may stay if they like, and good luck to them. But the truth is, this island is not ours anymore, has even lost the illusion of being ours, and I shall miss the place, but it's time for me to return home."
There was a shout from the 9th fairway, from somewhere behind the Qantas and Benson & Hedges and Dunlop signs, and I went out to watch the players approach the green. In the crowd were little dark Tamils, Chinese women in silk pajamas or the slit-skirt cheongsams, Malays in big straw hats upon which one expected to see embroidered "Souvenir of Mexico," British in shorts and white knee socks, British women in very short shorts and golf shoes with turned-down anklets, Chinese men wearing caps with emblems that said " Taipei C.C.," red-faced Australians in khaki shorts with cans of beer, young boys in sports shirts and tight pants, Sikhs with turbans and beards, Indian women in saris. For every Chinese, Malay or Indian woman in a traditional costume, there were several more in hip-hugger bell-bottom pants and oversize tinted spectacles.
David Graham, a thin young Australian professional, was on the 9th green with a 30-foot putt for a birdie 3. Playing with Tomio Kamata of Japan and Ben Arda of the Philippines—the threesome representing three of the 14 countries that had entrants on the Asian circuit—Graham was either leading the tournament or was a stroke out from hole to hole, depending on the progress of Kamata, Arda or Guy Wolstenholme of Great Britain. The crowd pressed close, curious to peer at Graham, who had set a course record of 62 in an earlier round. Movie cameras, which are permitted on the Asian tour, made fluttery sounds. A rooster crowed from a hut in the forest near the clubhouse. Graham stroked his putt and left the ball four feet short of the cup. The Australians in the gallery cursed and punched each other on the arm. Kamata putted out for his par and squeezed through the crowd ringing the green to buy an orange squash from the refreshment stand. After carefully studying his four-foot putt, Graham took his stance over the ball, brushed the grass with several practice strokes and then stood without moving for half a minute.
"He's losing his bloody nerve!" an Indian in a turban and gold-rimmed dark glasses said loudly.
Graham putted. The crowd turned away from the green and split into two prongs, one heading toward the 10th tee and the larger toward the shade of the old white-stucco clubhouse with its red-tile roof and arched doorways.