(Editor’s note: While most golf courses in the United States don’t officially allow dogs, perhaps they should on occasion.)
My favorite memories on a golf course – bar none – come from evening rounds at the James River Course of the Country Club of Virginia several decades ago. Four of us – my two brothers, Dad and myself – were golfers. One – Mom – was strictly there for moral support and she was joined by another female:
Sandy, our dog.
Sandy was a mix, part collie, part something else (perhaps fox?) and weighed a little over 30 pounds. As soon as we saw her at the S.P.C.A., we snagged her. During the summer months from the late 1970s to the early 1980s, Dad would conscientiously get home for a quick dinner, and then we would all pile into his car. Sandy liked to be last so that she could then bound up and sit on someone’s lap to allow her long snout and tongue to hang out the window.
Once en route to the course, something caught her eye and she sprang out through the open window as we rounded a bend. People think chasing a white ball is insane; try jumping out of a car moving 25 mph!
We tried to be on the first tee no later than 6:15 p.m. as we knew the front nine would be empty.
Sandy would hover close by and when Dad addressed his drive, she’d get on her mark and then shoot off the moment he made impact. Dad was never fazed, and his focus always amazed us.
We never brought a leash and Sandy ran free. On the odd occasion, she might scare up a deer or two but generally she would chase squirrels and birds, alas with no success. That didn’t stop her from trying though. A few of the holes brushed up along some wetlands and sometimes she would reek to high heavens. The car ride back turned into a debate of who had to wash her.
We never had a problem with her or a complaint. The affable, long time Head Professional, Bill Smith, had no issue. This was Norman Rockwell type stuff; there was no need to alert the authorities that a father, mother and their three children and dog were out having fun.
As Sandy grew older and we took her to the vet, the doctor was always impressed by her leanness and muscle mass, especially her haunches. We attributed much of this to the miles and miles she covered on the course, likely four or five times the distance we did.
Alas, all good things come to an end and since the late 1980s, dogs are no longer allowed. Nor are they allowed on most courses in the United States. There are all kinds of reasons, some litigious, but to the surprise of no one, common sense still prevails in the United Kingdom.
On our first family trip there in 1983, we were standing high on the hill of the Turnberry Resort and looking across the rumpled links ground. We saw a few dog walkers, which prompted Mom to remark, ‘Wouldn’t Sandy love to be here – she would have such a grand time!’ It makes me sad, in part because neither Sandy nor Mom is still with us.
At the posh Sunningdale Golf Club outside London, the sight of a dog loosely tethered to a pull cart is a frequent one. One of the great moments in the game comes when you reach the halfway house behind the 10th green on the Old and New Course and near the 10th green on the New. Various golfers and their dogs convene for yummy sausage rolls with brown sauce while the dogs lap up water from the provided bowls.
The sense of camaraderie is palpable – and isn’t that what every golf club yearns for?
In 1990 we pulled in to Royal West Norfolk Golf Club and saw a dog waiting for his owner to assemble his trolley and then off they went for a quiet 2 ½-hour walk over those ancient links. Why would a club come between a golfer and his best friend? In the United Kingdom, the answer is that clubs largely don’t. It’s called civilization. If you need a lot of rules for your members, you either have too many members or the wrong ones. The Brits have it right.
Today, I live in North Carolina and on occasion, my wife and our two dogs accompany me for an evening four to six holes at Southern Pines Golf Club. I am appreciative that I belong to a place that likes to see its members enjoying the facilities. Sandy would like it too.
(Morrissett is a Golfweek contributor who works with our team of course raters. He’s also the editor of GolfClubAtlas.com.) Gwk