All I know is, every time somebody at Muirfield or Prestwick or Troon or Carnoustie goes out and finds an old track iron which had to have been made over 200 years ago, somebody from the R&A will reach down into Hell Bunker or the Swilken Burn and find a club that is older. One envisions genial Laurie Auchterlonie, the honorary professional of St. Andrews, carving and hammering away these days, making an antique putter dated 1742.
What truly matters, of course, is that the whole scene is old—the gray clubhouses and the rolling land, the minute books and the scrolls, the wind and rain, the heather, dunes and swales—everything that makes Scottish golf what it is. It has been said by many that a golfer hasn't played the game until he has gone back where it all was, and where it all still is.
It is a special feeling, I think, that calls the golfer back to Scotland. "Take me to the grave of Old Tom Morris," a voice says. "Drive me around the Road Hole. Show me where the Wee Icemon chipped it in at Carnoustie. Lead me down the long narrow 11th at Troon where Arnie made the 3s. Let me hear the groan of the Spitfire ghosts at Turnberry. Carry me over the Sleepers at Prestwick. Bend me around the archery field at Muirfield. Drown me in these treasures of time."
The Scots themselves relish all this more than anyone. It is in their faces as deeply as it is in their verse. They are constantly writing poems about their bunkers and burns and braes. "The swallows are high in an empty sky, so let's to the tee once more." That kind of thing. It's enough to have a man packing his clubs, tossing his alligators into his suitcase and....
"So let's to the tee once more," I said to the customs official at Prestwick, having deboarded my Pan Am flight from JFK. "The nature of my visit? Well, I have a meeting scheduled with Heather, Whin, Bracken & Broom, one of your very successful brokerage firms."
There was this tour that Keith Mackenzie, the secretary of the R&A, had worked out for me. Fly to Prestwick, an old WWII air base where everybody played Twelve O'Clock High, and motor down the West Coast to Turnberry, the Pebble Beach of Scotland. Stay at the Turnberry Hotel, which is the only thing there and covers a hillside overlooking the course and the Spitfire runways. From Turnberry, he said, one could reach two other famous Scottish links—Troon and Prestwick—simply by driving over the Electric Brae, a road that goes up when it appears to be going down. Cover the West Coast first, said Mackenzie, then move to The Old Course Hotel at St. Andrews, where you can play the Old Course, right outside your window, and then journey north toward Dundee and Carnoustie or south toward Edinburgh and Muirfield.
"This is the best possible route for an American," said Mackenzie.
"But I'm Scottish," I said. "I'm just retracing my steps from a few hundred years before."
"Of course, dear chap," he said. "We're all Scottish when it comes to golf."
"Aye," I said.