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Golf's Good Old Days Were Actually Not That Great

By: | Thu 28 Mar 2024

The game of golf has seen seismic changes in recent times. On occasion it makes me long for the good old days. 

The thing is that having spent some time thinking about “the good old days”, it made me realise that they were not so good after all.

After you have read this, you may well agree with me.


Nowadays, professional caddies are, in the main, smartly dressed and pretty fit individuals. But it hasn’t always been that way. It was common for a caddie to wear a flat cap and a raincoat, with a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. Tour pros used to joke that they always knew which way the wind was blowing by checking out which direction the caddies’ cigarette smoke was blowing. These men were paid a pittance, were not allowed in the clubhouse and it is no secret that many of them liked a drink - or four! Yardage charts? In your dreams.

Sand in Tee Boxes

I learnt to play my golf in Scotland. That often meant that during the winter the ground was so hard that it was physically impossible to get a tee in the ground - those of you who face mats in the winter will know exactly what I am talking about. So the tee boxes used to be filled with sand that you could form into a mound upon which you would place your ball. Well that was the theory anyway - in the coldest days, the sand would also freeze solid!


We routinely complain that there are not enough rakes in bunkers at our clubs. My own club has at least one rake in every bunker. It is something that we take for granted. It wasn’t always like that. I can clearly remember the days when a rake was a collector’s item. Golfers were trusted to smooth the sand themselves, using a club to clear footprints, etc. You can imagine how that went!

Golf In The Old Days

Rubber Golf Shoes

You may find this one difficult to believe but 50 years ago we used to wear rubber golf shoes in the winter because leather footwear was not waterproof. The thing with rubber shoes was that, erm, they were made of rubber. Trust me when I tell you that playing golf in Scotland in January or February while wearing rubber shoes was something akin to torture - at the end of 18 holes you could not feel your toes because they offered no protection from the cold!

Non-Waterproof Waterproofs

Ah yes, waterproofs. Or, as most of us described them, an affront to the trade descriptions act. Today’s waterproofs genuinely keep you dry, but it hasn’t always been that way. The waterproofs that I used to wear were just about OK in fine rain. But if it started to come down steadily then the one certain was that the water would soak through and you would walk off the course drenched from head to toe. Not only that, but in warm weather these things would cause you to sweat profusely! Thank goodness for technology...

Crowds at Tournaments

If you routinely watch PGA Tour and DP World events on TV or attend them in person you will know that the crowds are strictly controlled. It was not always like that. Spectators used to routinely walk down the middle of the fairway alongside their heroes. But as the popularity of game grew because of the likes of Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus, tournament organisers had to think again. Thus, rope began to appear to keep the crowds back. This was also when the players stopped shouting “Fore!” when a golf ball headed towards the galleries.

The Interview

Back in the day if you wanted to join a golf club you first had to sit in front of a committee for what was an entirely formal interview. For this, you had to wear a shirt, tie and suit and you were then grilled. Talk about the Spanish Inquisition! It had nothing on a golf club interview, almost almost conducted by a group of men whose average age was usually about 75.

Being Blackballed

Did you know that there was once a time when a would-be club member could be prevented from joining a golf club if an existing member took a disliking to you? It was known as blackballing and it happened to a good friend of mine. He wanted to join a club in the Southport area that shall remain nameless. He had played there as a visitor and came to a par four with a blind tee shot. In front of him and his partner were a four ball of a certain age. He waited for what seemed like an age before striking his drive. As he reached the top of the hill he realised with horror that that the four ball were still in range. He had not hit any of them but one of them came marching up the fairway and demanded to know his name. He apologised profusely, gave his name and thought nothing more of it. Until he tried to join the club and was informed that his application had been rejected because the leader of the four ball had objected - and had been supported by the other members of his group. He had been blackballed!

Waiting Lists

When I was in my teens and early twenties, you not only had to endure an interview, but you were also stuck on a waiting list. That was plenty bad enough, but even worse was that you had absolutely no idea when you would receive a letter to tell you. This was long before the days of emails. And you had to pay your subscriptions up front in one chunk - there was no option to pay by monthly instalments.


Sadly, I remember all too well the time when women were treated like pariahs by golf clubs. I was a member of a golf club on the outskirts of Glasgow at which tee-times for women were heavily restricted - and they were not allowed on the course at weekends. Worse than that (much worse than that), they were not allowed in the main clubhouse bar and had to share the spike bar with the juniors. The only time they were permitted to enter the clubhouse was when social events such as dinner dances were held!

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