The Legend of Royal New Kent

By: Jay Flemma


Author’s Note: Before he passed away, Mike Strantz and his friends would play a Ryder Cup-style match against his friends from Royal County Down in Northern Ireland. The historical significance of these matches that took place there and at Royal New Kent on alternating years is inestimable.

Recently, RNK has suffered from some conditioning issues. Mike only gave us nine courses. His legacy is monumental, but fragile. RNK represents a great deal of his Macdonald/Raynor tribute work. Let us all work to make sure this wonderful course is preserved.

Let us also resurrect, in some form, these matches in honor of Mike and his legacy. This piece was inspired by the story of the tree in Mark Twain’s work, “Joan of Arc.”

While cities may sadly mourn their starless nights, in a noble place on a high open plain far from the town, where the ink-black sky becomes bejeweled with all the stars of Heaven, there sits a proud, majestic golf course. Its fairways are narrow, but welcome its friends with embracing arms, its streams are crystal and cold, and the torrid howl of the wind is its clarion call to golf.

Every year for a 100 years the descendents of the man who built it and his friends from the town and his other friends from across the sea would come and play and reminisce together; drinking water as sweet as honey-kissed mead, walking on sand and grass as soft as velvet and refreshing their souls.

For this century, their days were peaceful and lovely.

These golfers also paid homage and respect to the spirits of their departed friends who inhabited the course, and the spirits – who were always kindly to those who so love the game and the course, would return their kindness. They would call up the wind, cool the sultry summer air, and comfort the minds of those who were troubled, at least while they were at the course. And so the golfers and the spirits lived in harmony and affection.

Now because this relationship was pure, rare and wonderful, the Golf Gods granted unto the course and the players a mystical privilege not bestowed unto any others in this World. The privilege was this: When one of these friends of the course lay dying, through the fear of their clouding mind, darkening eyes, and failing strength, if their soul was pure they would see a rich vision of the course – perhaps in high summer at the height of her power or perhaps autumn-clad in all the colors in God’s palette.

That was what some said. Others believed the vision came in two ways. It might come once as a warning one or two years in advance of death if the golfer’s soul were corrupted and it would appear barren and desolate in winter. Then that soul would be gripped with a terrible fear and a longing for repentance. If they were redeemed, the course would again appear in all its splendor; if not redeemed, there would be no vision and the dying player would know his fate before death. His terror and remorse were horrible to behold, since he knew he was doomed.

Still others said the vision came only once and would come to those who were dying forlorn and lonely far away from the course they loved. As they longed for one final comfort of home, they would be blessed and would see, as Mark Twain wrote about the Tree where Joan of Arc played as a child, “The darling of their love, the comrade of their joys and the comforter of their small griefs through all the divine days of their vanished youth.”

Now some believe one of these legends and others believe another. While I believe fervently in all three, I know one truth to be self-evident. Like Mike himself, who built us this blessed plot, if a true friend of the course lies dying in pain far away, if they are pure of heart in their love of the game and the course, their longing eyes shall behold her once more. There, piercing the veil that separates Heaven from Earth, they will see the course in all her splendor and see all the spirits of the course once more. They will feel the wind on their face. They will smell the fragrant gorse. They will taste the cold, clear, cleansing waters once more.

And then they will transfigure. They will join the spirits and become one with the course and play her forever more.

They will be home at last. They will have earned their great reward.

Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://www.jayflemma.thegolfspace.com, Jay Flemma’s comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America’s great public golf courses (and whether they’re worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 220 nationally ranked public golf courses in 37 different states. Jay has played about 1,649,000 yards of golf – or roughly 938 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.

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