Wednesday, July 10, 2013

July 10, 2013

In 1421 a Scottish regiment aiding the French against the English at the Seige of Bauge is introduced to the game of chole. Hugh Kennedy, Robert Stewart and John Smale, three of the identified players, are credited with introducing chole to Scotland in the form of golf.
The game quickly caught on with great interest. So much so, that in 1457 golf was prohibited on Sundays because it interfered with military training for the wars against the English. Later that year, golf along with football was banned by the Scots’ Parliament of James II to preserve the skills of archery. It seems the Scottish leadership was afraid that golf had become a diversion that threatened national security.
In 1470 the ban was reaffirmed by the Parliament of James II. In 1491 the golf ban was again affirmed by the Parliament, this time under James IV. Finally, in 1502 with the signing of the Treaty of Glasgow between England and Scotland, the ban on golf is lifted. James IV made the first recorded purchase of a set of golf clubs, ironically from a bow-make in Perth.
The beauty of modern-day Scotland is that some things never change. Golf is still banned on Sundays at the Old Course at St. Andrews by the Royal and Ancient. On the Sabbath, the legendary golf links at St. Andrews becomes a public park where families spread their blankets and open picnic baskets on the 18th fairway. The Old Course becomes a direct walking route from the village to the rocky beach of the North Sea on Sundays.
And then there is this testy relationship between the Scots and the English. Alex Salmond is the First Minister of Scotland. He is smart, articulate and leading a charge to gain freedom for Scotland from the United Kingdom in the form of a referendum vote on Thursday, September 18, 2014- just a couple of weeks before the Ryder Cup. It’s also the same year that the Scots will host the Commonwealth Games.
Following months of discussion and argument, the Scottish and UK governments struck a deal on how to take things forward with arrangements to be put to the Scottish Parliament for final approval. Essentially, everyone over the age of 16 who lives in Scotland is eligible to vote. Interestingly, the 800,000 Scots who live elsewhere in the UK do not get a vote, while the 400,000 Brits who live in Scotland do get to vote.
The referendum question will be simple: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”
The campaign for Scottish independence began in earnest in 1707. At the time, the view was that Scotland was desperate for cash, but opponents of the move were outraged by claims that the Scots who put their names to the “Act of Union” (keeping the country part of the UK) were bribed. The episode moved Scotland’s legendary Robert Burns to write, “We are bought and sold for English gold. Such a parcel of rogues in a nation.”
Fast forward many years to 1934, and the establishment of the Scottish National party, created through the amalgamation of the Scottish Party and the National party of Scotland. After decades of ups and downs, the party won its first election in 2007 and formed a minority government. Eventually, in 2011 it secured its mandate for an independence referendum. Do the Scots really want independence? That’s hard to say, but most will tell you that the referendum will be closer than people think.
Scotland will again play host to the 142nd Open Championship next week at Muirfield, which many feel is the finest venue on the British Open rotation. Muirfield has hosted the Open Championship fifteen times, most recently in 2002 when Ernie Els lifted the trophy. Other past winners at Muirfield include Nick Faldo (twice), Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Henry Cotton, Alf Perry, Walter Hagen, Harry Vardon and Harold Hilton. Muirfield also hosted the British Amateur Championship ten times, the Ryder Cup three times and the Walker Cup twice.
There has been a swirling controversy in 2013 surrounding Muirfield’s membership policy that does not permit women to become members. It’s been a hot topic in the British press. No doubt the issue has been fueled since Muirfield last hosted the Open Championship because Augusta National admitted two women as members in 2012.
Said Kevin McKenna from The Observer, “Muirfield is one of our finest links courses and a regular host of this, the greatest golf tournament on Earth. By allowing this club to host the Open regularly, Scotland tells the world that a significant part of it remains backward and ridiculous. We permit Muirfield to be Scotland for a week or so and thus we tell the world that we treat women like second-class citizens.
“Muirfield is not alone in its cretinous, anti-women policy. Two other clubs that host the Open- Royal Troon and the R&A at St. Andrews- similarly refuse to allow women to join their organisations. The people who run the outfits insist that they do not break equality laws as they are private clubs that allow black people to use their facilities, but only if they are accompanied by white people.
“We are also told there exist dozens of women-only clubs in Scotland to cater for “the ladies”. These, though, possess few of the challenges and little of the splendor of many of the male-only clubs. The fact remains that if you are a woman who takes golf seriously you are barred from holding membership at some of Scotland’s finest clubs,” added McKenna.
Recently, First Minister Salmond made a stand when he refused his annual invitation to the Open. Salmond who is an enthusiastic golfer simply stated that his conscience could not allow him to attend an event being hosted by such an organization he views as sexist. Salmond’s stance was somewhat undermined when his own tourism minister accepted an invitation to attend Muirfield’s Open.
Some things never change in Scotland. The feud between the Scots and the English has persisted for centuries. Golf is still banned on Sundays at the Old Course. Women can’t join some of the country’s select clubs. As a visiting American next week at Muirfield, I choose to be an enthusiastic guest who offers no further political opinion on any of these issues.

But, in the spirit of Scottish predictability, count on this year’s Champion Golfer being from that short list of former major champions who are in the field at Muirfield. Look at its past winners. Els, Faldo, Watson, Trevino, Nicklaus, Player and Hagen. Is this fair and equal to all of those “other” players in the Open Championship field? No, but it’s just the Scottish way and that’s their business.    

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