One of the greatest virtues of living on Marco, Goodland, and the Isles of Capri has to be the diversification of the people that live here, and the folks that visit from around the globe. Everyone has a story, a lesson to share, or a tall tale that will throw a big twist into whatever we think we know.
The best stories come from the least expected sources, but one factor remains the same: the older the storyteller—the better the stories.
After gathering up a crew and setting the sails, I was surprised and delighted when I heard the classic Scottish brogue from two of our passengers. The couple was from St. Andrews Scotland and immediately their animated conversation captured the attention of everyone on the boat. The elderly couple was the perfect model for aging with a spry step, a sparkle in the eye, and a bubbling sense of humor barely contained.
The wind was fair with the gulf just starting to whitecap, and with all sails set the boat slipped through the water with hardly a whisper. This was the setting when the stately gentleman from Scotland asked a question that was new to any of the Marco Beach Boys.
“Tell me lad, and how long have you been a golfer?” Scotty’s highlands accent queried.
“Oh, I’m not a golfer,” I foolishly replied as I reached to trim a sail.
“What?” Scotty leaned closer. “But you’re a sailor,” he insisted with amazement, “Do you dinna know that sailors invented golf?”
“No, sir,” I shook my head, “I didn’t know that.”
“Well then, my laddies and lassies, this is a tale that must be told.” Scotty settled back and looked around the boat.
There were four other passengers and now everyone onboard was waiting and watching intently. After a quick wink at his wife and a pat on her knee, Scotty continued.
“As you might well know,” the highlands accent explained, “St Andrews in Scotland is a very old city. Aye, she’s a bonny town and nestled close to the sea. Many years ago,” Scotty paused as he looked about catamaran and then aloft to the sails and the rigging, “Before boats were made of plastic, there were sailors in Scotland who sailed wooden ships with canvas sails.”
“Now go on with you lad,” Margaret, his wife interrupted. “Will you tell the tale and dinna insult the captain’s boat?”
“Quite right love,” Scotty nodded and gave a quick pat to his seat. “She’s a bonny little vessel, but the ships in St Andrews were very different. These were the larger vessels that were deep in the sea, and when the sailors came ashore, they used small boats as ferries to reach the shore.
“Will ya na wander in your telling,” Margaret elbowed her husband, “And get to the story of golf!”
“Dinna rush me lass, this is history, and I believe everyone is interested.”
Everyone was. Every soul on board was captivated.
“Aye, it’s a simple tale and as commonsensical as Scotland. When the sailors of old landed on the beach, they began their walk into town. Of course, anyone coming ashore carried a proper walking stick because the ground was made uneven by the actions from the sea.”
Scotty winked before he continued.
“On the hilly path into St. Andrews, there were nine grass-covered knolls grazed flat by the local sheep. In between the knolls, there were dried pools of sand created by high tides and storms. Along the paths and upon the higher hills, there was always a bonny view of the town and the sea.
“Naturally,” Scotty looked his audience, “When the boats came ashore, the sailors walked in groups. Walking atop those knolls and between the sandy spits, the world’s greatest game was invented. This was a sport created by sailors who selected the most perfectly rounded balls of sheep dung.
“The sailors used their walking sticks to drive the balls along and they counted—with much competition—the number of strokes needed to knock a dung-ball from one fence post to the next. There were nine posts on the walk into town, and the same nine posts on the way back to the sea. The sailors played nine posts in and nine posts back, they counted all the way, and that, my ladies and lassies, is the true history of golf!”
As the boat quietly sluiced along, and every American sat speechless, Margaret came to her husband’s support.
“Aye,” she said with that wonderful brogue. “It may sound like a tall tale, but every little bit is true! Even now in St. Andrews, we have a golf museum. We have golf clubs over five hundred years old, and balls made of wine cork and leather. The sheep dung was used only in the beginning.”
Margret continued with the voice of a highlands schoolteacher. “According to official archives, the history and origins of golf start with our story, but during the time of Caesar, Romans played a game using feather-filled balls struck with club-shaped branches. There are illustrations from Holland that show the Dutch playing a similar game on frozen canals. Other cross-country games including balls and clubs were also popular in Belgium and France.
“We do know that golf was outlawed in Scotland in 1457 because the new sport interfered with the practice of archery—a skill important for national defense. We also know that St. Andrews in Scotland is the home of the world’s oldest golf course established in the 16th century.”
When the tall tale of golf was finished, everyone had questions about Scotland, the Loch Ness Monster, and whiskey, but this story told by the couple from St. Andrews, will forever remain vivid in the Marco Beach Boy Chronicles. Whether it was the history lesson from across an ocean, the sailing conditions of the day, or the incredible drive that is human competition, I believe Scotty and Margaret told a tale that will always be par for the course.
Tom Williams is a Marco Islander. He is the author of two books: “Lost and Found” and “Surrounded by Thunder –the Story of Darrell Loan and the Rocket Men.” Both books are available on Kindle and Nook.