"When playing golf," Charles B. MacDonald wrote, "one wants to be alone with nature." The "father of American golf" may have been prompted to this reflection by a line from an old hymn: "Where every prospect pleases, and only man is vile."
Of course he was right, but how lunatic the prospect of summer golf in North America today makes the idea seem. Thanks to the otherwise fortuitous golf boom, between June and September practically everywhere in the northern hemisphere, there's hell to pay. For the year-round golfer accustomed to playing his home course in a brisk three hours and some, the onset of summer can mean only one thing: The hordes are headed north from their Arizona and Florida winter burrows, bringing families and business connections with them and calling ahead for tee times.
The well-clubbed golfer has it best. The poor supplicant who merely knows someone in a club will be obliged to resort either to groveling of a kind that would embarrass the rankest social climber or to bribery, which no longer works the way it used to. And yet even this miserable soul has it better than the golfer forced to seek a public tee time in summer. As long as the winter winds howl, there's hope: Sleet and snow will tend to thin the ranks. But once the days turn warm, the lines at Bethpage and Presidio stretch almost to the sea, no matter the hour. Resorts offer no haven; most are now (over) booked years in advance, at least the ones to which the golfing mind will instinctively turn in summer: the Michigan peninsula, Cape Cod, the Berkshires, the Rockies, the Smokies and so on. Here and there, once upon a time, one could chance upon an unexploited gem, whose remoteness, or intransigent stand on the matter of carts, generally disqualified it from consideration. But most of this kind have since been found out by golf-travel packagers, made accessible to private jets or ruined by cart paths. Fifteen years ago, in early June, when winter's nip was still in the air, I had some very enjoyable rounds on the Highlands course--the masterpiece of the great Canadian architect Stanley Thompson--way up at the tip of Nova Scotia's Cape Breton Island. Now, I hear, Highlands has carts, and since the desperation of golfers knows no season, nor terror of inconvenience, I fear that even in the chilly days of June the course will be crowded.
And this brings me to my point. If there is any hope for the summer golfer, I would like to suggest, it is to play in the "wrong" place at the "wrong" season.
A place like the Caribbean. In August.
Take Jamaica, my island. Almost forty years ago, my parents built a house at a new development called Tryall--a former sugar plantation about twelve miles west of Montego Bay, about ten minutes beyond the universally renowned resort of Round Hill. A group of Texans was behind Tryall, and since a Texan without a golf course is a person naked to the worst the world can do, the first order of business was to build one. The architect Ralph Plummer was hired and eighteen holes were laid out: nine down on the flatter land by the sea, nine up along the slopes--some gentle, some severe--that foot the ridge than runs down the center of the island.