The Open this year is at St Andrew’s, and golf has the same problems as always. Everyone is walking in the same direction (pretty much – these are professionals, after all) and every player refuses to share their ball. This is not head-to-head sport for those of us who like a bit of direct to-ing and fr0-ing, the pitting of one player against another.
What golf neds is the equivalent of T20 cricket, and I have the answer.
The admin people at the R & A should stand on the first tee (if I remember correctly) and look over the North Sea to Holland. At the same time they should squint until the past comes into view: the future can be found in the ancient Dutch game of Kolven.
The singular of Kolven is Kolf, but the Wikipedia entry for the game of Kolven bears no resemblance to a description I once read in a 1947 book called Ball, Bat and Bishop, by Robert W.Henderson. This book was written and published before the Internet, so it’s almost certainly correct, and the information needs to be spread before it gets lost beneath the curse of the recent.
Henderson describes an outdoors golf game with sticks, but crucially, players use only one ball. There is an attacking side and a defending side. The attackers name a target that is at least four shots away, usually the door of a church or perhaps a distant gate across the flat Dutch lowlands. The attacker names a par score to hit the ball to the target. The defenders will probably laugh.
The attackers start off with three shots in a row. The third shot is where strategy begins, because after the third shot the defenders get their turn to hit the ball. The defenders must stop the attackers reaching the church door in their specified number of shots.
I imagine the defenders just whack it as far as possible. Or they might aim at a foxhole or the middle of a dike. Sadly, Henderson doesn’t discuss tactics, nor whether the defenders then have an attack of their own.
A variation on this game would give golf the direct contest and contemporary appeal it currently lacks. Instructions for the R & A are included below, and the commitee men can tweak as they see fit, but the basics are all here. The game uses existing courses. It retains the benefits of open air exercise and the basic shots remain the same. Accuracy is still at a premium, as well as an ability to read the landscape. The added value is in the reading of another player’s mind, and the need to evaluate his skills.
A game for two players. It can also be played as doubles, in the Ryder cup for example.
The game is played tee to tee (as opposed to tee to green). There will be par 3’s, par 4’s and par 5’s. The committee can set up the course however they see fit, using whichever tees suit the purpose of the game.
Player 1 hits first. His objective is to land the ball on the nominated target tee. This is the tee Player 2 is defending.
Player 2 hits second. He hits the same ball as the Player 1, with his target the tee that Player 1 has just used as his starting point.
Players alternate shots. First to land the ball on the opposing tee is the winner.
Normal golf rules apply – Out of Bounds etc. A penalty shot gives two consecutive shots to the opposing player.
The Player who hits first can use a tee-peg, but no aids will be used thereafter. This means that the first striker (the server?) has an advantage.
First strike will either alternate or go to whoever wins the previous hole.
Hell, people, do some experimenting. See what works.
A final rule: The ball cannot be played backwards away from the target tee (otherwise the game could go on forever).
So now it’s over to the R & A. All I ask is a portrait next to Old Tom Morris.