Letter from St. Andrews: Why We Flock to Golf

Here's to golf's preeminent impressario—the noble sheep

By: George Peper

Editor's Note: this article appeared in the 2003 Premier Properties Guide, a special issue of LINKS

In keeping with the theme of this issue—Premier Properties—I’ve taken it upon myself to research the history of golf course living, to answer once and for all that burning question, “What in fact was the premier property—the very first golf course community—and who were the fore-sighted souls who made their homes there?”

On the surface, this would seem a relatively simple inquiry. Heck, the histories of golf equipment, instruction, and architecture all are pretty well documented—why not golf real estate? Damned if I know. Just suffice it to say that I did not reach enlightenment without many hours of dogged investigation.

I began with the assumption that it was an American who pioneered the little house on the fairway. But who? Was it impresario Charlie Fraser at Hilton Head? Was it the Duke of Pinehurst, Richard Tufts? Was it Henry Flagler, the turn-of-the-century oil magnate who railroaded tourism to Florida? None of the above—not, at least, in the eye of this reporter.

No my friends, the residential golf community goes back far more than one hundred years, and well beyond the parochial boundaries of our own United States. My research led me ultimately to the very home of golf—Scotland.

“Of course!” I can hear you saying. “Towns like St. Andrews, Carnoustie, and Troon sit hard by the old links of the same names. Those canny Scots started it all.” And you’d be wrong. Remember, there’s a chicken-and-egg thing going on here. Those ancient burghs didn’t sprout up around golf courses, they were in place a half century or so earlier and simply got lucky when the game blew into town.

Nevertheless, I can report with full confidence that it was on the ancient and storied links of Scotland that the game’s first real estate geniuses emerged.


Yes, fellow golfers, it is our docile ovine friends who, half a millennium ago in St. Andrews, originated the whole idea of fairway living. Nothing fancy, mind you—their needs included none of the hot tubs, media rooms, and wine cellars we insist on in our greenside palazzos today. But they nonetheless enjoyed a complete array of comforts, including full dining and toilet facilities right at their feet.

Indeed, in marked contrast to their long-held reputation, these were savvy, prescient creatures, always looking for an edge, planning ahead. (Is it any wonder that the word Swedish golfers use for “Fore!”  is “Sheep!” Don’t believe me? Ask Jesper or Annika.) Yes, long before the first golf shot was struck on the Old Course, long before the first expletive was spat at a missed three-footer, the wily sheep were there—casing the dunes, sniffing the beachfront, gazing smugly out to sea. Someday, they knew, the golf course would come to them.

Indeed, the golf course would come from them. Where they walked, fairways unfurled, where they slept, bunkers arose, where they ate, greens appeared. Veritable renaissance mammals they were—architects, greenkeepers, and agronomists—simultaneously routing, mowing, and fertilizing their own oeuvre, all the while enjoying the ultimate in golf course living.

And consider all the other wonders they made available to us—cashmere sweaters and tweed jackets, lamb shanks and mutton chops. (I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a hand in haggis, too, or at least a hoof.)  Many of the early males gave up their horns as inserts in golf clubs, and we can only speculate on what many of the early females gave up after their shepherds returned from a rough day on the links.

But I digress. The simple point, ladies and gentlemen, is that without sheep there would simply be no golf. You and I would be passing our free time playing mahjong, and our “premier properties” would be alongside shuffleboard courts.

So raise a glass, my friends, and join the Chinese in toasting 2003, The Year of the Sheep!


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