In June, 2015, Tiger Woods made headlines when he shot the highest score of his professional career, 85, in the third round of the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio. However, embarrasing though it may have been, Woods’ score still came nowhere near what is believed to be the highest single round score in Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) history.
In 1974, at the now-defunct Tallahassee Open at Killearn Country Club in Tallahassee, Florida, the late Mike Reasor, who could be described, not unfairly, as a ‘journeyman’ professional, shot level par for the first two rounds to make the halfway cut. However, Reasor needed to complete the 72-hole championship to retain exempt status for the Byron Nelson Golf Classic at Preston Trail Golf Club in Dallas, Texas two weeks later.
On the eve of the third round in Tallahassee, Reasor was thrown from a horse, suffering ligament damage to his left shoulder, which effectively immobilised his left arm, and other injuries. Undaunted, but heavily medicated, Reasor played the third round with just a 5-iron, which he swung one-handed, and shot a 51-over-par total of 123. Later quoted in the ‘New York Times’, Reasor said of his record-breaking round, ‘You should have seen them laughing on the first tee today. I stepped up with a 5‐iron and barely got it to the ladies’ tee.’ Indeed, Reasor played round four in similar fashion, improving to a 42-over-par total of 114, but failed to recover sufficiently from his injuries to play in the Byron Nelson Golf Classic in any case.
The highest single hole score in a major golf championship is the 15-over-par 19 recorded by Raymond Ainsley on the sixteenth hole at Cherry Hills Country Club in the second round of the 1938 US Open. A hitherto unheralded professional, based at Ojai Country Club in Southern California, Ainsley hooked his tee shot on the 441-yard par 4 into the rough and found the so-called ‘Little Dry Creek’, which runs up the left side of the green, with his second shot.
Despite its name, Little Dry Creek was, in fact, five feet wide and filled with shallow, but fast flowing, water. Unbeknown to Ainsley, he could have taken a drop, at penalty of one stroke – he later confessed, ‘I thought it was a two-stroke penalty to start with’ – he chose to play his ball from the sandy creek bed. After three unsuccessful attempts, Ainsley lost his temper and starting swiping at his ball ‘like a wild man’ as the current carried it further and further downstream. After nearly half an hour, he managed to return his ball to dry land – albeit to a greenside bunker – and emerged from the creek, covered from head-to-toe in sand and soaked to the skin.
His subsequent bunker shot ‘airmailed’ the green, to the tune of 50 yards, and after further altercations with a tree, or two, Ainsley finally reached the putting surface in 17 strokes. Two putts later, he signed for a 19, which contributed to a 25-over-par total of 96, compared with 76 in his opening round the day before. Had he taken a drop and chipped in for par, he would still have missed the cut by two strokes.
‘Golf’ is, unquestionably, an ancient word, but its etymology is uncertain. The first written reference to the word, in its modern form, appears on an Act of Parliament dating from 1457, during the reign of King James II of England, James VII of Scotland, but alternative spellings, such as ‘gouf’, ‘gouff’ and ‘goff’ have also been identified in Scottish documents.
Lingusitically, the general concensus appears to be that the word ‘golf’ is derived from the Middle Dutch word ‘colf’, or ‘kolf, or the Middle High German word ‘kolbe’, meaning ‘club’ or ‘stick’. Indeed, a variety of ‘club-and-ball’ games, including colf, kolf and, in Belgium and France, chole, were played in Britain and continental Europe during the Middle Ages. In fact, a game called ‘kolf’ is still played, albeit on an indoor course, in the Netherlands.
Of course, it can be argued that the game of golf pre-dates any of these supposedly similar games, none of which has been definitively associated with golf, particularly as the name of a game, rather than a blunt striking instrument. However, the phonetic similarities between the various names cannot be denied and it is not difficult to envisage Flemish, Dutch or German sailors – who would have been regular visitors to the ports on the east coast of Scotland, because of the trade links between their respective countries – importing a game that eventually became modern golf.
The ‘Postage Stamp’ is the name of the par-3 eighth hole on the Old Course at Royal Troon Golf Club in Troon, South Ayrshire, which has hosted the Open Championship on nine occasions. The name was coined when William Park – not to be confused with Willie Park Jr., who won the Open Chanpionship twice, at Prestwick in 1887 and Musselburgh Links in 1889 – described the long, narrow green as ‘a pitching surface skimmed down to the size of a postage stamp’ in an article in ‘Golf Illustrated’ in 1922, but not officially adopted until the Fifties. Indeed, the eighth hole was originally named ‘Ailsa’, after Ailsa Craig, a granite, volcanic island that lies ten miles offshore at the mouth of the Firth of Clyde, but is clearly visible from the elevated teeing ground.
Measuring just 123 yards from the championship tees, the Postage Stamp is, in fact, the shortest hole in Open Championship golf. That said, the sloping green, which measures 40 yards long by 14 yards wide, is protected by five cavernous bunkers, including the infamous ‘Coffin’ bunker, cut into the base of the sandhill that flanks the green to the left. The signature hazard was added when the Old Course was redesigned by five-time Open Champion and renowned golf course architect James Braid in 1922, in preparation for hosting its first Open Championship the following year.