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We All Won the Walker Cup

By: Jay Flemma


It was exactly 100 years ago that iconic golf writer Bernard Darwin first saw a sunset over National Golf Links of America. "It is with a perceptible thrill that one catches one's first glimpse of the course . . . It was my good fortune to arrive at the course at just the hour when the spirit of romance most palpably brooded over it." A century later, nothing has changed, for as a velvety dusk descended upon scenic Southampton, N.Y., on Sunday, the warm glow of the sport-light shined in the smiles of everyone at the 2013 Walker Cup.

Wide-Angle Views at National
Golf Links of America

The scoreboard read United States 17 - Great Britain & Ireland 9, but that doesn't matter, because the whole golf world won this Walker Cup. It was the incomparable grandeur of majestic National Golf Links of America - arguably the greatest and most important course in the Western Hemisphere - where you walk in history with every step.

It was the camaraderie of American and GB&I fans, showing international cooperation and friendship even while engaged in a fierce competition. It was the altruism, wholesomeness and passion of amateur golf, far superior in ethos and sincerity to its professional counterpart. It was all the best virtues that golf embodies, on display for the whole world to see.

You wouldn't have thought that possible listening to the media run-up before the tournament. Before this 44th staging of the biennial matches between the best amateurs in America and GB&I, there was much negativity in an effort to create a "buzz." First there was incessant chatter about the so-called decline of American golf. People who lean on stats for support rather than using them for illumination tried comparing not apples and oranges, but apples and orangutans. Yes we've lost the Solheim, Curtis and Ryder cups of late, but that's only a two-year sample, far too short to draw wide-sweeping conclusions. And despite the doom and gloom, the Yanks won the Walker Cup comfortably.

No. 15 at National Golf Links of America

Then there was the hypercritical reaction to certain captain's picks. One pundit actually accused the American captain Jim Holtgrieve of sabotaging his team's chances by stooping to select certain players some felt inferior to his ultimate choices. But the entire team played well, almost completely top to bottom, and they dominated in the singles format 13 to 4. Indeed, the players were a joy to be around - grateful, gracious and generous with the fans.

Then, of course, there was the tired, obligatory demonizing of the local Hamptons golf fans as elitists. There were the typical rails against opulent, exclusive country clubs. There were the easy jokes about wealthy Southamptonians. One U.K. writer went so far as to snidely note that "more than half the people there will have an initial before their name." It was a mindless cheap shot born of resentment and old prejudice.

But it was completely debunked over the weekend. Everywhere you looked there were buoyant hearts and wondrous good cheer between all the fans - U.S. and GB&I alike. There was none of the ugly partisan acrimony that sometimes blights the Ryder Cup. Despite the insistence by some writers that we "bring a little New York flavor" to the proceedings by being boisterous, there were - thankfully - no drunk lugnuts shouting "Baba Booey!" And unlike the ridiculously overcrowded U.S. Open at Merion, there was room for spectators to walk easily around the grounds, often down the fairway with the players and caddies.

In short, there was nary a snap, snipe or sour note from the fans. Cynics decried the well-heeled locals as "the cocktail circuit," but there's a reason why it's called "polite society." The media might prefer Scottsdale every week, but the golfers certainly don't.

No. 18 - 'The End'

"That's not a golf tournament," Brad Faxon once famously complained of the boisterous scene at TPC Scottsdale during the PGA Tour's Waste Management Phoenix Open, and he's right. It might make for interesting television to have liquored-up troglodytes howling rabidly, but yet again we see that what's best for television is not even close to what's best for golf.

Sometimes the media's greatest talent is spreading enmity and discord. The fans, happily, displayed remarkable goodwill and friendship towards one another during the Walker Cup, and they set a terrific example for everyone watching on TV. Pretty good for a group derided as elitist snobs. Maybe we all ought to have first initials added to our names.

Finally, there was none of the crass corporate commercialism masquerading as culture. There was no vapid, needless "wives and girlfriends" dog-and-pony show, and there were no "apparel scripts" (the uniforms were sensible, as opposed to the loud, unwearable "look at me" garbage we've seen the last two years in the other team competitions. Octopus pants anyone?).

Local Supporters at 2013 Walker Cup

Where the media has made us a nation obsessed with fixations and instant gratification, golf has endured. This was the 91st anniversary of the first Walker Cup and the 100th year since C.B. Macdonald finished designing the National and, with the right kind of eyes, you can see what golfers have seen for a century. Yes, as Macdonald wrote, "There are no more beautiful golfing vistas in the world than those from the National Golf Club, unless it be those from Mid-Ocean Club in Bermuda."

But, more importantly, we saw golf bringing people together in celebration, win or lose. If there is one thing the media never gets right, it's that creating a buzz is counterproductive. You don't need to create stories in golf - the drama unfolds on its own. That's the magic of the game. That's the romance Darwin was writing about. With that as its fulcrum, the game can move the world.

Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://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 has played over 420 nationally ranked public golf courses in 40 different states, and covered seven U.S. Opens and six PGA Championships, along with one trip to the Masters. A four-time award-winning sportswriter, Jay was called the best sports poet alive by both Sports Illustrated and NBC Sports writers and broadcasters. Jay has played about 3 million yards of golf - or close to 2,000 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf, PGA.com, Golf Magazine 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.