'The Edict' by Bob Cupp

By: Jeff Shelley

This is one of the most enjoyable golf books I've read in a long time. Author Bob Cupp, a well-known golf architect responsible for 140 courses, has crafted a fine historical novel that succeeds in characterizing the birth of golf in Scotland.

The story's center - and the book's title - is the events that lead up to the banning of golf by the Scottish Parliament in 1457. In a rather whimsical move rooted in politics, King James II claimed the game would interfere with Scotland's ability to defend itself as the citizens were diverted by such recreational passions such as futball and golfe. The monarch, who said these games should be utterly cryit downe, believed that the time men devoted to these idle pursuits would be much better spent on practicing the longbow.

But there's much more here. Cupp asserts that prior to the Edict, golf was booming, particularly in the game's birthplace of St. Andrews. He goes to great length to detail how shepherds originated the game while tending their flocks - smacking rocks with sticks into rabbit holes as they went out and back on the grassy links while the animals grazed.

Cupp weaves an intriguing tale around the main character, Caeril Patersone, a sheepherder who exhibited an innate flair for the game. After the ban was lifted by King James IV in 1503 and golf became an integral part of Scotland's personality, Patersone went on to much success on the links, and was "befriended by royalty and the officials of every burgh."

Other characters are modeled after 20th century greats. "The Dandy," Mal-Giric Alexander, is a caricature of Walter Hagen. Others include The Blacksmith (Adam Paternis), a spitting image of Arnold Palmer; the Wee Ice Mon (Baithin Douglas) is, of course, Ben Hogan; The Blond (the "mythical" Nectan MacGregor) is Jack Nicklaus; and The Natural (Colaim Cummings) is Bobby Jones.

He even includes the game's first-ever golf course architect (Angus Gille-Copain), who Cupp terms a "hole finder." After Gille-Copain died, in reverence to this mythical figure who regaled pub patrons with his knowledge of the game, golfers "placed a flag in each hole to stay by itself - as if his smiling ghost were there to encourage them on - and there they stand to this day."

Cupp's tale has many elements that will make both golfers and non-golfers keep turning the pages. These include surprisingly violent, but well-wrought confrontations; a love interest involving Patersone and a very fair maiden; a knack for describing Scotland and its natural virtues; and a fine way with language, particularly while casting the distinctive birr of the game's founders.

Yet above all, Bob Cupp has woven a story that underscores his eternal fondness for golf and how the game's roots run deep in the Scottish psyche.

"The Edict" by Bob Cupp, 226 pages, Alfred A. Knopf, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-307-26645-3

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