Wednesday, September 2, 2015
Towering Tee, Internet Domain
I’ve had only one opportunity to play golf close to its beginnings when I was on a corporate team that was installing and training for an MRP operations system at one of our subsidiaries. We were working in a small town just outside Belfast in County Down, Northern Ireland. We had walked into the midst of a thirty year period now known as “The Troubles” where the Protestant majority wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom and the Catholic minority was pushing to become part of the Republic of Ireland. By the time we arrived on the scene, the British government had imposed direct rule on the area from London in an attempt to quell the unrest. Ultimately, 50,000 people were adversely impacted by the violence. The company car that had been reserved for our use had been blown up by police the week prior to our arrival, since it had been recovered as stolen. Stolen cars were generally wired booby-traps. There were recurring news accounts of men being “knee-capped” or shot in the knees in drive-by reprisals. We were instructed to always be seated in a restaurant with our backs to the wall and eyes to the front door after being checked for weapons in case someone busted into the room shooting.
Our small team was working long hours for two solid weeks to prepare for the systems installation. That left us with a Saturday for some R&R before we turned on the new system and began the rigorous process of debugging and trouble shooting. So we discussed the possibility of playing a round of golf on one of the local historic courses to stay out of harm’s way. It was early spring and the winds coming off the white capped Strangford Lough were raw and cold. Our hosts at work arranged for golf clubs and a tee time for three of us. I was very fortunate to find a wool stocking hat that evening which proved to be a life saver.
We arrived at Scrabo Golf Club early on Saturday morning. Green fees included 18 holes and a pint of beer. The famous landmark Scrabo Tower overlooking the course was built as a memorial to the 3rd Marquis of Londonderry. From this vantage point on a clear day you can see the coast of Southern Scotland, Northern England and the Isle of Man. Christy O’Connor has written that the formidable opening hole is “awe-inspiring and terrifying. You get to see the entire hole rising above you. There are glorious views and your drive rifles up a hill flanked by razor-sharp gorse. At the top sits Scrabo Tower and the green. Two mighty shots are required.”
We were quickly introduced to intersecting fairways which really gets your attention. There were blind shots all over the course due to the gorse covered contours of Scrabo Hill. I hit what seemed to be at least a 300 yard five iron to a par 3 green because I over shot it into the wind and my undersized ball sailed down into the depths of the lough. One of my playing companions stepped off the front of a tee box, slipped on the wet grass, and immediately disappeared from sight down the hill. Errant balls that found the dense gorse were lost for all time. The raw winds coming off the lough were bone chilling and numbing. My two partners saw their escape chance as we trudged close to the shelter of the clubhouse on the 15th green and they bailed on me. But I was determined to finish my one opportunity to play a round of golf in the cradle of its creation, so I soldiered on. When I finally stumbled into the clubhouse and a warm fireplace, my companions asked how I shot. With no sane golfers left on the course as witness, I softly muttered through my chattering teeth and a wry smile, “All birdies!”