As an elder of the Church of Scotland, Tom Morris held an unshakeable conviction about not playing golf on Sundays. His stance against it was so unbending that there is no Sunday play allowed on the Old Course at St. Andrews even to this day. All I can say is if there was no golf on Sundays when I was growing up, I might never have played it; certainly not with the same passion that developed under the influence of a golf-crazy parish priest with whom I played at 2pm sharp every Sunday when I was still a teenager. The idea that: “if the golfers don’t need a rest on the Sabbath, the course does” would not have appealed to me or my reverend friend, that’s for sure!
The late Father Gerry Enright PP was a larger than life character who had a vast knowledge of golf; a fitness fanatic and an enthusiastic advocate of “temperance”, Fr. Gerry believed that a healthy body was the citadel of a healthy mind and a part of keeping it that way was to play golf every hour that he could spare. As soon as he had completed his Sunday duties, he headed straight for the golf course, usually at Limerick GC (Ballyclough) but he was also a regular at Ballybunion too.
I was playing no more than my third or fourth round of golf (on my own) when we met on the second hole at Ballyclough in 1961. He was an awesome (to me) 2 handicapper and I did not have a handicap yet, but we played nonstop until darkness fell. From then on, we had a firm date to meet at 2pm every Sunday to play as many holes as we could manage. We regularly played 54 holes; anything less than 36 was considered “useless.” Forty-five holes became our regular Sunday diet. We would play 27 “practice holes” without stopping, then have some refreshments before getting down to the “serious business” of trying to do a score on our final 18. Sometimes if things didn’t go well over the first few holes, and the coast was clear, we would rush back to the first tee and begin again.
Not at the beginning because I was no match for him but, later Fr. Gerry’s declared his definition of eternal happiness was “to be three up on Ivan Morris and my office said!” My clerical friend was very hard on me. He refused to give me any strokes, but when I passed him and had a lower handicap than him (eventually) he didn’t demand shots but holes up instead. I am not sure whether it was because he hated losing so much or because he was ‘toughening me up’. Either way, it was terrific training. There was never any comfort zone when playing Fr. Gerry for half-a-crown.
One Sunday, with darkness approaching, we were playing our last 9-holes when I suddenly caught fire and shot five birdies in a row. On the sixteenth I announced that I had better go. “I haven’t been to Mass yet and I’ll just get there on time if I leave now”. I said. “You can’t leave now! You need only one more bird to be home in 29 and 65 overall and your best score ever. I’ll give you a dispensation if you promise to go to Mass tomorrow instead!”
The temptation was too much. I played on but my heart wasn’t in it and I could only manage two regulation pars and failed to shoot my 29. Indeed, I have never managed to do it. I blame ‘the curse of Old Tom Morris’ for playing golf on Sundays that is behind this ‘everlasting failure’ in my 60-years old golf career.