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Letter from St. Andrews: Scot's Honor

There's a slightly different code of ethics on the other side of the pond

By: George Peper

Editor's Note: This article appeared in the September/Ocotber 2004 issue of LINKS.

Remember The Boy Scout Law?  “A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.”

I must confess, I was a lousy scout. Despite a dutiful, mind-numbing stint with my local troop, I never managed to progress beyond Second Class (about a dozen ranks below eagle) and my only merit badges came in “Dog Care” and “Theatre.” Part of my problem, I suspect, was my general disaffection for the great outdoors. The English romantic poets might have described me as “at two with nature.” As to those 12 essential virtues, “cheerful” and “clean” were about all I could muster, and rarely on the same day.

Still the cadence of that Boy Scout Law imprinted itself on my prepubescent brain, every bit as indelibly as “You’ll wonder where the yellow went,” “Nothin’ says lovin’ like somethin’ from the oven,” and “You get a lot to like with a Marlboro.” And recently it has begun to resonate in a whole new way.

You see, I’ve spent some time lately observing my Scottish brethren, and I’ve found that they are not like you and me. Indeed, they seem to live according to an entirely different code—a Boy Scot’s Law, if you will:  “A Scot is truss-worthy, florid, watchful, frosty, courteous, quick, diabetic, thrifty, drab, lean, and beverant.”  Allow me to explain.

Truss-worthy: Let’s face it, the Scots are manly men, supremely confident and secure in their masculinity. How else to explain a male populace that delights in parading around in plaid knee-length skirts?

Florid: My research has revealed that 87 percent of Scotsmen have alarmingly ruddy complexions. I’m not sure as yet whether the primary cause of this condition is sun, wind, booze, or rage, but I have definitely eliminated embarrassment.

Watchful: These guys never carry scorecards but they always know where things stand. At the end of a match, they can recall not only every shot they played but every shot played by everyone in the match. As someone suffering from incipient Alzheimer’s I find this attribute both helpful and annoying.

Frosty: The Scot’s have a reputation for being dour, but the truth is even more grim—they’re downright uncharitable, and I have the statistics to prove it. My soon-to-be-published white paper on international match-play morality will reveal, among other things, that the average length of a conceded putt on this side of the Atlantic is precisely 8.67 inches shorter than in the U.S. And that includes several dozen four-footers magnanimously granted by yours truly in the naïve hope of returned generosity.

Courteous: This is the first of two qualities on which Scots and scouts intersect. Never, on the 18th green, does a Scotsman fail to remove his tweed cap, look you in the eye and say “good fun” or something equally courtly. Also, when you trip over your putter and stumble headfirst into the chest of a Scotsman, hurtling him haplessly into the pit of a cavernous greenside bunker, he immediately looks up at you through sand-encrusted spectacles and says “sorry.” (Although, I must admit, that might have been an Englishman.) 

Quick: The Scottish golfer’s most endearing trait is unquestionably his fast pace of play. Rarely since I’ve been here has a round taken more than four hours—even Saturdays on the Old Course—and several rounds (with four players in the group, mind you) have taken under three and a half. The only time things slow down is when a foursome of those execrable Americans gets in front of us.

Diabetic:  With apologies to those who suffer from this disease, I was looking for a four-syllable word that means “so hopelessly addicted to sugar that their teeth rot out by the age of 25.” Look in the pocket of a Scotsman’s golf bag and you’ll find three Mars bars and a 16-ounce bottle of Lucozade, a “sparkling glucose drink” that comes in several sprightly colors and can, I suspect, be roughly simulated at home by combining one ounce of club soda with 15 ounces of Aunt Jemima syrup.

Thrifty: There’s a story about the four Scottish brothers who grow up playing golf together. One goes to America to seek his fortune, then returns a decade later. “Well, lads, let’s go out for 18,” he says to his brothers. “Oh, we don’t play anymore,” says one of them.” When the expate asks why not, the three reply in unison: “You took the bloody tee!” Yes, they’re thrifty here. Last week, when I needed a ballmark, I borrowed a one-pence coin from one of my companions. As we left the 18th green he immediately reminded me to give the coin back. I’m only surprised he didn’t try to charge interest on the loan.

Drab: This is after all The Auld Grey Toon and its inhabitants dress accordingly—as if they were attending a perpetual funeral. Golfers turn out in monochromatic outfits of black, gray or navy —khakis and brighter colors generally identify the visiting Yanks. Corduroy and tweed are the fabrics of choice among the old guard, but 1970s-style polyester is bewilderingly popular in this land where sheep outnumber men.

Lean: Remarkably, despite their predilection for sweets (not to mention potatoes) the Scots—or at least Scottish golfers—seem to be a relatively trim group. Back home, most of my golf pals had gelatinous guts, but over here that’s not the case. I suspect it has something to do with the absence of motorized carts.

Beverant: I’ve coined a word here, but hey, it works. Beverant (adj.) describes the Scotsman’s near-religious passion for alcohol. Clearly, one of the reasons these guys play so fast is to allow more time for post-round drinking. Besides, alcohol had a direct influence on the establishment of 18 as the number of holes in a proper round of golf. As the story goes, a pair of St. Andrews gentlemen set off on the links, taking with them a full bottle of whisky. After completing each hole they each took a hit from the bottle. When after the 18th hole, the bottle was dry, they could see no reason to continue playing, and so retired to the pub.

And that’s the truth. Scot’s honor.

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