Down the road from Muirfield, golf is growing just fine

The AIG Women’s Open isn’t the only major taking place in East Lothian Saturday.

Sean Zak

NORTH BERWICK, Scotland — This country doesn’t need your mega millions to “grow the game.” It’s doing just fine on its own.

Just down the street from Muirfield, where the best women in the world are pegging it on one of the best courses on the planet, there is the old Ladies Links. It’s nine holes, each around 60 to 100 yards, and has hosted golfers for over a hundred years. From members of the North Berwick Lady Golf Club, back in 1888, to Luke List and some other restless Tour pros during last month’s Scottish Open. Today, it goes by ‘The Wee Course’ and, naturally, it hosted the wee lads and girls Saturday morning.

“This is one of their, uh, majors. There are five of them,” said proud dad Tom Halliburton. His 11-year-old son, Aedan, won this event in 2020, and was back for more. It’s called the Malcolm Cup, an under-14 competition, played every year on the Wee Course, with five different trophies up for grabs across the field of 29.

Before the 11 am shotgun start, under a gray, cloudy sky, boys and girls covered the tiny practice green. Some grinded over 8-footers; others practiced their birdie celebrations. Moms carried clubs, dads carried scorecards. Grandparents delivered an extra sleeve of balls, just in case.

North Berwick is the type of tiny golf community that enriches itself just by being itself. Great golfers will grow up here, because of the above paragraph. But others in the field came from across East Lothian, and even the Lane-Fox family from Oxford. They’re summering up in Scotland for a few weeks, staying at Grandma and Grandpa’s, just off the 9th tee.

Sean Zak

Harold Lane-Fox and his brother, Walker, were late additions to the field. Harold joined Aedan, little Harvey Blair and another older boy, Luke McLaughlin. It was seven threesomes and two foursomes, and because of that, tournament officials reminded players to play quickly. They gleefully obeyed. Within seconds of the starting horn, little Harvey had already slapped an iron up the hill on the 1st.

There was running between shots, because why not?

Players complimented each other constantly, even from other groups. Ooh, unlucky when a putt missed the hole. They learned that from their fathers. It was a nice reminder that, although the people most eager to “grow” some to-be-determined corner of “the game” are the professionals who took mega-million appearance fees, the first golf coaches are always Dad or Mum.

The occasionally unfortunate truth is, professionals matter a lot, too. And you can see it in the mannerisms at the Malcolm Cup. The kids plumb-bobbed like pros, marked their balls meticulously, and stepped back off their ball, visualizing shots. Luke raved about watching Catriona Matthew. Aedan’s favorite player is Justin Thomas. Harvey was among the lucky few to meet Rickie Fowler during a clinic at the Scottish Open last month. He was still wearing his Scottish Open hat Saturday morning.

I couldn’t get a favorite pro out of 9-year-old Harold — he couldn’t decide — but his favorite course is Gullane No. 3. He and his brother, Walker, play off the forward tees. The Lane-Fox family has a favorite game: three-ball sixsomes. That is, alternate shot played by three two-man teams chosen at random between Mom and Dad, Harold and Walker, Grandma and Grandpa. No sport accommodates generations like this one.

Mom, Chrissy, grew up in Kansas, but now has one of those split accents that comes from many years abroad. She never played golf growing up, but she does now that she lives in Scotland. She attributes it to the barrier-free nature of golf here. They call this nook of the country the “Golf Coast.” It’s cheap, social, and everyone is welcome.

“You can play with men in their 50s, and older ladies in their 80s,” she said. “And you can always have a good game.”

She’s right.

There was plenty on offer at the Malcolm Cup.

Sean Zak

Chrissy carried Harold’s bag and was the unofficial chaperone of the group, teaching pace, reminding who had the honor, keeping track of who was keeping track of each other’s scores. They whipped around as fast as they could, 75 minutes of birdies, pars, bogeys and doubles. Before long, every competitor and their toting parents gathered around the starter shed to hand in their scores. The top eight would advance to match play. Anyone else who wanted to keep playing would be grouped up for separate nine-hole rounds. There were still four more trophies to give out.

The tournament official began reading the names of the lucky eight advancing to match play. Aedan’s name came first. Luke’s came next. Harold and Harvey waited next to each other, anxious to see if their score was good enough. Finally, Harold’s name was called, followed immediately by Harvey’s. Their faces said it all — a blend of Wow, I made it and Hoo boy, here comes match play. All four players from the group had made it to match play, and now they were about to compete head-on. They grabbed their scorecard and bags and eagerly turned to the 1st tee.

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