You’ve got to love the grand oul stretch in the evenings. I had the pleasure of joining two hackers for a hit after work on Monday; teed up at 7pm and had nine holes finished before nine. Where did we play? Where else but the R&R in Dunboyne, a golf course with a lot more holes than flags.
I remember the first time I played there. I was 18 and completely institutionalised by an elitist golfing culture at Celtic Tiger fuelled Carton House. Dressed to the nines in my Galvin Green staff uniform, I was immediately startled by the vertical drop off their practice putting green as I scurried to the first tee praying smoother surfaces lied in wait. I found the first fairway, or at least I think I did; a less severe cut of rough with the thick blades of grass curling around my sparkling shoes like a python.
And then the ground shook. At first I thought it was a meteor, it came down with such a thud; a Top-Flite 2000 came to rest within inches of my muddied feet. I looked up, furious, not just because this so-called golfer was playing with a self-inflicted handicap from the start by using such a brick of a ball, but because he almost hit me without the decency to shout ‘fore’.
But then it all made sense.
A three-ball of barbarians bewildered by etiquette; one sporting a Man United jersey, the other a singlet and farmer tan and the third without a top on at all, bags in one hand, Dutch Gold in the other, unapologetically approached as I picked up my Pro-V and made a dash for the second tee-box.
“This isn’t a golf course,” I cried as I scratched the first with haste.
“It’s the R&R,” said my playing partner. “What did you expect?”
“Rest and relaxation maybe?”
“Try rough and ready ya daft fool!”
Over a decade later and I really enjoyed my nine holes on Monday at the R&R. The grass was green and lush, the golf course was defined and testing and the company was tolerable. I was hitting Pinnacle Golds, playing in untailored shorts and relishing the opportunity to race around the golf course without restriction.
Just last week, PGA professional, Thomas Devine tweeted a picture of his junior section of ‘Future Elite’ fledglings practicing their putting wearing tracksuit bottoms and hoodies at Oulton Hall in Yorkshire. Unsurprisingly, the traditionalists weren’t happy behind their typewriters, but Thomas’ response was divine as he expressed an attitude more custodians of the game will need to adopt if the sport is to thrive.
“It’s important when these youngsters are six, seven, eight, that any barriers to them feeling interested in or enthused about golf are removed – and that involves the way they dress,” said Devine. “If they feel comfortable in trainers and a hoodie then that’s the way we should allow them to dress.
“At that age they just want to play. What’s more, I believe we should remove the barrier of cost by allowing children to wear their everyday clothing. We are coaching 21st-century children – we are not stuck in the 19th century and only accepting the offspring of the privileged classes.”
The sport has been historically expensive and despite the most hardened relics straining to ensure it maintains its elite status, the need for accessibility should soon trump the traditionalists. There are enough values promoted by the rules of our great game to ensure that loosening the dress code guidelines will have little effect on the way it is played.
The integrity of the game remains in the hands of the participants and as long as the golf course is being respected and maintained by those who use it, what difference does it make what people wear? Thankfully, life’s egg-timer is running out on golf’s snobby nature and soon the rough and ready among us will prevail.