Alliss' 19th Hole
Trivial Delights from the World of Golf
by Peter Alliss with Rab Macwilliam
Long Drive Out of the Past
by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1996 All rights reserved.
I find it curious how choices made by some unknown someone many years ago, by whim or by design, determine so much of our day-to-day lives. Out of the distant past come the crops we grow, the style of clothes we wear, the tools we work with and the games we play.
Our language, our science and much of what we like to believe we have figured out for ourselves are actually hand-me-downs.
Take golf, for example. Within 50 miles of where I live there are at least three new courses under construction, and more are planned. Greens and fairways are supplanting alfalfa and native fescues on many acres. Lands once grazed and harvested are now being groomed and divoted.
A hundred years ago hardly anyone in America played the obscure Scottish game that's become such a ubiquitous part of our culture. Now golf is nearly a prerequisite for success in certain executive professions. Even our presidents play the game.
I'd wager that more Americans can identify a sand wedge in a golf bag than can locate Scotland on a globe.
Many years ago I met a man whose father, he claimed, created the first golf course in Idaho. The man's name was Charlie Gill and to prove his assertion he produced old photos of his father, Charles Gill, in knickers swinging hickory clubs in the sagebrush foothills above Boise.
The senior Gill was a building contractor recently immigrated from Scotland in 1914 when he showed up in Boise's Sweet & Teller Hardware Store one spring morning to get supplies. When he couldn't find one of the items he wanted Mr. Sweet, manager of the store, sent him upstairs to look for it in a storage attic above the store.
There in that attic, amid piles of tools and nails, boards and wire, lay two hickory golf clubs.
Gill brought the clubs downstairs and showed them to Sweet, who said, "I've never seen them before. What are they?"
"They are golf clubs," Gill told him, to which Sweet responded, "What is golf?
"It's a game they play in Scotland. It's a great game."
Mr. Sweet gave Gill the clubs, but no golf balls could be purchased in Boise. Charlie Gill remembers his father driving tennis balls instead.
"He had so much fun batting those balls around that when a traveling salesman came through one day he ordered some golf balls and some more clubs.
With the addition of real golf balls and extra clubs, interest in the game spread from Gill to several of his friends. They spent their summer evenings that year grubbing sagebrush and clearing a couple fairways, and then playing a few holes of golf. They enjoyed themselves so much they began to talk of developing a full course and organizing a club. By 1915 Idaho's first golf course, Mountain View Links, was opened.
There were probably a thousand men like Charles Gill across America in the early 1900s and chances are someone else would have introduced the sport to Idaho and the rest of the country.
But maybe not. Maybe golf owes something to an immigrant who started playing in a field of sagebrush with two old clubs and a can of tennis balls..