‘America! What have you done to the Auld Game?’ by W. Eric Laing

By: Dr. John Wagner

I would have titled this, “Eric: What have you done to writing good books?”

Since slow play is a favorite discussion of mine and I’m always looking for answers, I passed on my rule of, "If it doesn’t grab me in 30 pages, then I won’t read your book." So I struggled through this one.

And what a struggle it was. The first 13 pages are about a foursome playing very slow, with diagrams and all the ways a group behind them could have played through. A golfer shouldn’t have to read this to know slow play. Waste of time and paper.

The next section deals with Laing’s caddying days in Scotland. This was the only fun-to-read part, but it had nothing to do with curing slow play in America. I found it interesting that in this section he described a couple from England who came to play his course, but nobody wanted to caddie for them since they had terrible manners.

Later on, Laing talked about a boring and pompous army officer. All of these characters were from his country and, again, had nothing to do with slow play in America. It just shows there are boors and rule-breakers everywhere.

The book bounces around. Later on the author goes into a long description of a veteran caddie who looped all his life. The guy was some sort of legend to the author. But not the kind of person I would want to serve as a role model for reversing slow play. The looper had no social interaction and did nothing to make society a better place.

I am more interested in caddies like the Evans Scholars’ kids who work really hard to improve their lives. What I was hoping to find in Laing’s book were some good ideas on getting people to play quicker. We play in less than 3 ½ hours at our course. The author could have done some research on how to do this.

Some public courses are using marshals and, if you don’t keep up with the group in front, you’re removed from the course. At such facilities, players are told of this rule before teeing off. The system works. The British Columbia Golf Association has instituted time restraints at its tournaments that have really helped speed up rounds. I had hoped to see some of this in “America! What have you done to the Auld Game?” to show that the author had done some research and talked to various golf associations about some solutions.

But Laing doesn’t not even like the idea of “ready golf,” which he says, is just a different way to wake up people to play quicker. Instead, he uses too many examples of rudeness on the golf course, rather than dealing with positive ways to solve slow play.

I offer the following thoughts to ponder, and why Laing’s philosophy doesn’t work in the U.S.: He was raised in a small population of homogenous people where the culture blends seamlessly on a golf course. In America, you’re talking about 320 million people with many different backgrounds. While the golf industry tries to get more people to play the game, it can’t be a cultural thing, as Laing proclaims. That idea just doesn’t work here.

Sometimes I think slow play is a response to the sense that we have to do everything fast in America. So, when some Americans get the chance to play golf, they slow down and take their time. Over in Scotland, they play fast rounds and then sit and talk about it over a few brews. Over here, we play a slow round and then go home.

I do not have all the answers for slow play in America. But neither does this book.

“America! What have you done to the Auld Game?” by W. Eric Laing, NEOS Limited, 2005, $24.95, 220 pages, ISBN 1-894916-32-8

Dr. John Wagner has been a Seattle dentist for 37 years. He’s been published in several dental journals as well as had several articles appear in the turf magazine for Pacific Northwest golf course superintendents. John has served as a guest lecturer at the University of Washington Business School for several years and as a guest lecturer for several dental societies. Dr. Wagner is the co-designer (with Steve Shea of the Berger Partnership) of a golf course in Japan that cost over $120 million and was built by Wadsworth Golf Construction. He’s a Past President of the Washington State Golf Association and the current President of the Pacific Coast Golf Association. John is currently a Member of the USGA Green Section and a Director of the WSGA.