Golf in the (United) Kingdom: No Need to Pack Shorts

Lower right: the shorts rule at Hillside Golf Club, May, 2010.

When I played Royal Lytham & St. Annes in 2008, on assignment for Golf Digest, a local man in the group ahead of mine was wearing shorts—a great rarity on golf courses almost anywhere in the British Isles. A sign at Hillside Golf Club (a fantastic non-Open course, next door to Birkdale, where I’d played the afternoon before) warns golfers that shorts are permitted only if they are “tailored” and worn with “tall hose”—a requirement that neatly defeats the purpose of wearing shorts. Lytham used to have a similar rule, but relaxed it after a busload of barelegged Americans exhausted the golf shop’s supply of tall hose.

Tony at Hillside, properly attired, on a later trip, May, 2010.

The first hole at Hillside doesn’t look like much, but the course gets better and better from there, and the second nine is really terrific. (Greg Norman once called it the greatest second nine in Britain.)  The tenth is a “short” par 3, which plays uphill and into the prevailing wind to a seemingly sheltered but impossible green. You watch the group ahead of you nosing around for lost balls on every side. They wave your group up, and then you lose all your balls, too.

Tenth hole, Hillside.

Toward the end of my round in 2008, I got stuck behind four bad golfers, one of whom was constantly throwing up grass to gauge the direction of wind that was so strong it was knocking over his golf bag. I passed the time by chatting with four visitors from the Isle of Man, who had caught up to me from behind. They gave me a British 10-pence coin with the Manx triskelion—the symbol of the Isle of Man—on the reverse. It was my favorite ball marker until I lost it.

The three legs of Man: my favorite ball marker until I lost it.


Important Rule Change Regarding Legs

Hacker (real name) and Tony: what's the rule?

My regular Sunday Morning Group has its own rules, which are printed on the back of our scorecard. The most important ones: nobody gets a stroke on a par-3; nobody gets more than one stroke on any hole; you can’t win a skin if you aren’t present when we go over the scorecards; and “money doesn’t flow backward” (i.e., no refunds on wagers or anything else, even if somebody screwed up). We also give an extra stroke to anyone who wears shorts after November 1.

Our course stayed open so long last year—until New Year’s Day—that we added a new rule: anyone who wears shorts after December 1 gets two extra strokes. I was a beneficiary on our home course in December and on courses we visited in January, February, and early March, after our home course had closed. On one of those days, in the Bronx, I just about froze. But having two extra chances at skins is a powerful inducement—even though, when we’re on the road, we usually just throw the whole pot toward lunch.

Now that our home course is open again—six weeks earlier than normal—we face a dilemma. It’s still technically winter (since at this time last year most of the course was covered with snow), but yesterday the temperature was in the eighties. So do we give strokes for shorts, or not?

Luckily, Hacker (real name) thought of a solution: tomorrow, when our Sunday Morning Group plays its first official round at home since January 1, anyone who doesn’t wear shorts will lose a stroke. Deservedly.