A New Perspective on Golf
This week, we're looking at all things golf. With golf known world-wide, we wanted to look at the well known game from a new angle. Darren Frankish co-runs 'Golf Car Company' with his father, Tom. This familiy-run lawnmower company provides green-cutting machines and golf cars to golf courses all around Scotland. Their contracts see them travel from the highlands of Scotland, through St Andrews, the golf hub of the UK, down to the lowlands. Tom also owns a Hickory golf course, on the outskirts of Edinburgh. This authentic version of original golf allows members to experience the game as it was a number of years ago.
In meeting Darren, I realise there is a lot more to golf than the game itself, so we sit down to chat about their take on the world renowned game.
So Darren, starting with a basic question - What is golf?
"Well golf is an old Scottish game. It was farmers who started golf in the first place. They would use their crooks to hit a ball around the fields, for entertainment, and it developed all the way from that bored farmer, to what it is today".
How does Scotland play a part in the world of golf?
"People travel to Scotland, from all over the world, to play golf.
There's something magical about playing the game here, especially
if you get to play on the old course at St Andrew's."
"We've done a lot of work on the courses up there and I always ask, who is it that is coming here to play? They tell me it's mostly Americans, Russians, Chinese and Japanese people. They all travel an incredible distance, to experience the game in the homeland. Golf is definitely still centered here, in Scotland".
Why do you feel, in becoming such a world-wide sport, that golf has managed to stay so popular in Scotland?
"I think it's partly because we have the most beautiful courses in the world. When you travel up north the scenery is out of this world. There's nowhere that quite matches the Scottish landscape. One of my favourite courses is Ballater, in Royal Deaside. It has everything. The scenery is something else! For a lot of people, it think it's not just about the game, it's about the environment and the idea that you're playing the game in it's place of origin".
Left & Right - Ballater Golf Course
Who is your favourite Scottish golfer?
"Tom Morris is a huge name in St Andrews, even now. He began as a Caddie and soon became a greenkeeper. He won open championships and his son followed in his footsteps. If you go to St Andrews, you'll see Tom Morris's name everywhere because he's still such a big name in the golfing world. In modern golf there are a few famous names, but I think they come and go. There's not one leader the entire time. Even if you look at Tiger Woods, he was big for a while, but even he has kind of disappeared now."
Next we move on to discuss Darren and Tom's Hickory golf course. The course is a nine-hole parkland course located about half a mile from Edinburgh City By-Pass.
Glenburn Hickory Golf Course
How did Tom and yourself come to own the Hickory course?
"Well my dad, Tom, bought a house up in Glenburn, near Damhead. He had 10 acres of land with the house, which was originally used for sheep farming, but he wasn't interested in that. He loved golf so he decided to develop a golf course instead. He wanted to do something that he was passionate about. That was how Glenburn Hickory Golf began".
Why Hickory golf, rather than the modern game?
"He opted for a Hickory golf course because the size of the
course doesn't allow for the space needed to accommodate modern golf clubs.
It's smaller than a modern golf course would be, and copes well
with the hickory clubs".
What is the difference between Hickory golf and the golf everyone knows today?
"Hickory golf clubs are made from hickory wood. So all the clubs are wooden, rather than todays clubs, which tend to be made from metal. There are also less clubs in a set, I think around seven clubs. In todays game there can be as many as 14 in a full set of clubs".
And why is there such a difference in the number of clubs?
"When the game moved into metal clubs, things just
evolved. It's all to do with angles and the club heads. When Hickory golf was popular, there weren't so many regulations, so you could have as many clubs as you wanted in a set, but often the clubs were too expensive to buy a tonne of them. These days, clubs are designed for every little part of the game, so there's a large number of clubs in one set. There's so much science and money that goes into it,
that we have all sorts of new designs."
Is there a general standard, of clubs and balls, set by an authority?
"There's a lot of technology involved in developing the golf
balls and even the clubs nowadays. The standard of all the UK golf
clubs are set in St Andrews by R&A (Royal and Ancient Golf Club), that's who the authority is. They dictate which weights and which
abilities each club needs to have. They have a testing center (Kingsbarns) with mechanical arms that throw the golf balls to test that
they work. America has got a separate standard (the USGA),
running along the same lines as the standard at St Andrews. The R&A
produce a book every year with the up-dated rules of golf as
the science and development going into constantly making the game
better, means golf is updated all the time, and the rules are adapted to
fit these new clubs and balls".
How imporant is golf to the Scottish people?
"I definitely think golf is more important to the Scottish people, than they realise. The revenue it brings in, through tourism has quite a large economical impact. There are groups from all over the world, that travel to Scotland to play the game."
What does golf mean to you?
"I like the history of things. I don't play golf myself, but I love the history. I also like looking at golf courses. The modern game, I'm not that fussed about, it's more about the romance of the old game. I think I have a different perspective on golf, than someone who plays the game. I've learnt a lot from green keepers who explain the more technical side of the course, such as green-cutting methods or weather factors. It's not all about the playing the game".
Do you have any funny golfing stories?
"We supplied a stretch golf car to St Andrews, it's function was to take groups of people from one place to another. We'd parked the car outside the club at St Andrews, when a tourist mistook it for his hired golf car. They had handed him the wrong key, and the next thing we knew he'd taken the shuttle bus, thinking it was a golf car. All you could see on the CCTV was this tourist, trying to maneuver this giant shuttle bus, thinking that was what he was to go round the course with. If you saw this shuttle bus, you'd know 100% it was not intended for the golf course, but he obviously didn't know better".
Look out for my interview with Tom, Darren's father, later! We'll be talking about the history and progression of golf. We'll also be chatting in more depth about Glenburn Hickory Golf Course, and looking at how golf has changed over the years.