Nostalgia for the days of the old clubhouse

The club house isn’t quite what it used to be.

Bonville's-18th-fairway-&-clubhouse

This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of Inside Golf where Michael Green writes a monthly column.

A friend of mine thinks you cannot write a good novel without having read the classics. Roger Federer thinks you can’t really love a sport unless you understand its history and how it has evolved, and I know several golf writers who think all trainee golf professionals should know the history of the game.

I’m not sure I agree with any of these comments and am usually skeptical when someone is offering up the past as an example of a better way of doing things. People often confuse nostalgia for quality.

Vinyl records conjure warm, albeit scratchy memories in the minds of old-time music lovers, an old FJ Holden is still the car of choice for a few car lovers, and I’ve heard some people talk about having a cold pie and sauce at the footy like it’s some sort of heavenly ritual. But are these memories really any better than what we have now?

Golf is full of this sort of nostalgia and I’m the first to admit, the game is better for it. But I’m still not convinced a carrying an old leather bag is better than pulling one along on a trolley. I’m not convinced hitting a guttie with a mashie was any more enjoyable than hitting a balata with a persimmon. Or whether either of them was more fun than hitting a modern golf ball out of sight with a 460cc metal driver.

But among my skepticism and confusion comes my own nostalgia each time I walk past a golf clubhouse. I concede that it’s sentimentality for a time long gone, but one I miss dearly.

The time I’m talking about was when clubhouses were the epicentre for the members of the golf club. The place would be overflowing many nights of the week with tired golfers scoffing down Pringles, drinking beers, and embellishing moments from their tedious round.

Much of my time as a junior golfer were divided equally between the golf course, the practice range and the clubhouse. My memories of afternoons and evenings following the Thursday or Saturday competition rounds are the fondest.

After spending a round with three other members who were happy to see one of the juniors join them for a game, I’d get shouted a coke or two while they’d go over the highlights from the day. Often including a few of my better shots in the discussion. I’d be chuffed.

The club captain would announce the winners for the day to plenty of banter. Balls were handed or launched at golfers depending on how liked (or lucky) that particular golfer was considered to be.

My understanding of the term ‘course management’ was still many years away, but the seed was sown in the clubhouse when I learned of type of golfer who was often aged over 60, didn’t hit the ball very far, often aged over 60 and who seemed to place among the ball winners every week.

I learned that if you didn’t go on to become a professional golfer – as I was going to be – you could still come off the golf course with a smile on your face, even if you had a bad round. I became aware of the term ‘burglar’ and took note of the names of golfers with bad tempers, who were to be avoided when signing up for a tee time next week.

I learned some jokes and other stuff too, that’s not fit to put into writing.

And so the sight of an empty, lifeless and often closed clubhouse after the end of an afternoon round of golf does make me nostalgic. While I am aware of golf club’s where the 19th hole is still a buzzing place to be after a round, they’re rare as hen’s teeth these days.

Were the days of busy, social, merry clubhouses better for golf than they are today? Probably. But today most people have little time to play golf, let alone spend time at the golf club. Not to mention the indisputable case for having less drunks on the road, quite possibly the biggest (and smartest) reason for the change in clubhouse habits.

It doesn’t make it any easier heading straight to the car after a round though. I’ll often sign the card and pack the clubs in the boot in a state of melancholy. Recounting all your great shots to yourself isn’t quite the same somehow. It’s almost enough to make me go out and buy an old FJ, put on some vinyl and read Dickens.

Perhaps I might even buy a mashie.

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