One For The Memory Banks
This hilarious and poignant memoir about author Luke Reese’s fascination-turned-obsession with golf and about the friendships forged by a mutual love of the great game played on great courses. Part travelogue, part memoir, One for the Memory Banks captures the give and take of competition and conjures these memories and relationships in technicolour.
“It’s one of the finest, if not the finest book I have read in a very long time. The incredible storytelling makes you feel as the reader that you are right there with them on the links.”
Jamie Darling, The Links Diary.
“Golf has thrown a lot of spaghetti against the wall,” Bondy responded. “Not much of it has stuck.”
On a frigid and rainy February day in 1997, our team gathered at our dreary golf assembly plant in Irvine, Scotland.
In addition to Bondy and me, our team included a vitriolic Frenchman, a highly rational Finn, and an elegant low-handicap Spaniard. The prototypes for a new set of Wilson irons, called Fat Shafts, had just arrived. They were cosmetically challenged but had an amazing technology that made mishits fly straighter. As might be expected from a company that wasn’t performing well in this category, the product was being rushed to market. Worse, the production forecast was due the next day. If the Wilson tennis division said they had the greatest new racquet, we would assume they were right. Not golf—at least, not yet.
Having seen prototypes months before, but never having hit them, we knew only the theoretical benefits. Our French product manager kept talking about the R&D testing results. But we had heard this BS before. I placed pressure on our team about this product launch: “Has anyone hit them?”
“Golf has thrown a lot of spaghetti against the wall,” Bondy responded. “Not much of it has stuck.”
I turned, "Bondy, what are your thoughts? If the fat shafts aren't home runs, should we allocate the money to tennis?" in other words, to Germany or France. To say this to Bondy and the golf team, I might as well have pulled the pin on a grenade. Bondy's steely eyes swept the room: "Somebody should hit 'em before we send in the forecast."
They all averted their eyes. Nobody wanted to make direct eye contact for fear of being sent out in this weather. The Spaniard recoiled. At his home course of El Prat in Barcelona, golfers ordered paella on a special phone from the course. It would then be waiting, piping hot, when they came in. Different golf. The cold didn’t bother the Finn, but he didn’t play well enough. The Frenchman wouldn’t tell us the truth.
As I looked around the room, Bondy and I caught each other’s eyes and nodded. He said, “OK, let’s go. These irons will be tested by a wily old Scotsman and a young guy from Ohio, who is going to be bothered by this cold and lose three and two…then he might be in a bad mood and cancel the entire launch.” As he exited the room, he turned back and winked at the international trio, “I might have to give him a few putts to keep these irons alive.”
We made our way through the cold rain to our tiny rental car. When we opened the car door, the wind slammed it shut—not once, but three times. Finally, Bondy stood in front of it while I piled things in the back seat. The trunk was too small to fit clubs.
During the four-minute drive to Western Gailes, we hit defrost twice to clear the windshield. We discussed just playing a few holes. We would likely finish at the seventh, which had a convenient turning spot to go back to the clubhouse.
The Ayrshire coast of Scotland boasts possibly the finest assortment of golf courses on a small strip of land anywhere. And conveniently, it also housed our distribution centre and factory. On the coast, seven courses sit next to each other, three of which rank in the Golf Magazine World Top 100. From our factory roof, we could hit a ball onto a course then play seven consecutive rounds, jumping from one excellent links to the next. Better yet, when I was learning to play golf, we would frequently work a full ten-hour day and play eighteen holes after work…provided we played fast. Links heaven.
As with movies and actors, each of the Ayrshire courses has a distinct personality. Turnberry is George Clooney and Brad Pitt. It is great-looking, big-budget, and full of substance. If Cary Grant, an old-fashioned leading man, is your hero, try Prestwick,
which hosted the first twelve Open Championships. Hitchcock fans would choose Royal Troon for sheer terror with a classic feel. Western Gailes is Woody Allen: quirkiness with intimacy. Rodney Dangerfield personifies Glasgow Gailes, Barassie, Lochgreen, and the Darley course, as they “don’t get no respect.”
Easily the most spectacular, Turnberry is a true championship links, with its famous white lighthouse, hilltop hotel, cliffside holes, and view of Ailsa Craig, a huge rock formation off the coast. Turnberry deserves its adulation and top twenty world ranking. A quick glance at Turnberry’s champions confirms its worthiness: Tom Watson in the famous 36-hole duel over Nicklaus, Greg Norman, Nick Price, and, sadly, not 59-year-old Tom Watson. As to the cost, if you feel compelled to order single malts and cigars or have laundry done, pay cash before your Depression-era father sees the bill.
Quirky, old-fashioned Prestwick, designed by Old Tom Morris, is the birthplace of the Open Championship. Blind shots, funny bounces, and members in plus fours abound. The grand stone clubhouse is a living museum, celebrating golf ’s hickory and gutta percha days. Tweed-jacketed members drink warmth back into their chilled bones. Some appear to have settled into their worn, leather chairs in the ’50s and awakened after Brexit. If they don’t leave the club grounds, they won’t notice any change.
Royal Troon is a brute but is eminently fair. One of the toughest holes is the eighth, a very short, 123-yard hole called Postage Stamp. On the par-four eleventh, the wind usually blows everything but a well-struck ball onto the adjoining railroad tracks. Bondy once gave me a 75-yard gimme for a ten to win the hole. He said, “That’s good—yer hole. Number eleven has seen enough of us.” In the Marine Hotel, adjacent to eighteen, you might find Tony Hercus, an insanely knowledgeable malt whisky bartender—just ask him. Sit at his bar for a few hours and the world of whisky opens up.
I could play any of those three courses exclusively and retire from golf a contented man. But for my money, nothing beats the setting and intimate feel of Western Gailes. The charming, red-tiled clubhouse is nestled amongst the dunes, girded by holes that stretch along the coast. A links clubhouse, as it is meant to be.
“Turnberry is George Clooney and Brad Pitt. It is great-looking, big-budget, and full of substance.”
The first hole satisfies two great links requirements: relatively short and wide open. The driving range is a bar, and the word “mulligan” doesn’t exist in Scotland. The first also provides complete refuge from civilisation after hitting the tee shot. Pass through the two dunes in front of the tee and all cares but the current round of golf are washed away.
With stunning views of the dune-swept course through the picture windows, the Smoke Room provides a natural transition from the locker room to the golf course. Sturdy oak chairs, well-worn by generations of Western Gailes golfers, are arranged around tables. A few members seem permanently affixed to their seats at the corner table. They occasionally brave the elements to play a seven-hole loop.
My personal favorite was 80-something-year-old Ian MacCleod, nicknamed “Cloudy,” presumably, but not definitively, because of his name. I played with Cloudy once early on a weekend morning. Not to be impolite, I drank a few with him before venturing out in the crisp air. My swing was never smoother. I have vague memories of losing on the eighteenth. After the round, Cloudy bought lunch. I bought drinks. As a Scot, Cloudy knew the winning side of that transaction.
At Western Gailes, many members arrive in coat and tie and proceed to the bar for insulation from the weather. They then change into golf attire. Post round, they shower, put on coats and ties, then rejoin Cloudy and the regulars in the Smoke Room to discuss the finer points of the day’s round. Bondy joked, “For them, it’s then home to a dinner of hot tongue and cold shoulder.”
“I’ll tell ya this…I knew who the boss was…held the flag stick and kept my mouth shut. Didn’t get paid much. Didn’t get fired. Learned a lot about life caddying for bad golfers.”
The club manager was startled when Bondy called: “In this weather, you must be crazy. Come on over. I just might be able to squeeze you in…tee sheet is pretty full.” We arrived at a completely deserted Western Gailes and sat down with him for a steaming hot bowl of Scotch Broth. We then put on every piece of clothing available, including bright red Wilson rain suits. Looking like two Santa Clauses with clubs bundled on our backs, we laboured to the first tee, waving at the incredulous club manager. He knew we’d be back after a few holes.
But before we play, allow me a quick word about my opponent…
Imagine a romantic 50-something-year-old Scotsman. A kilt wearing Sean Connery stands on the ramparts of his battle-worn castle overlooking the barren highlands. James Bond bedecked in a tuxedo at a casino, daringly outthinking his foes and romancing all women who cross his path. Those are the myths.
Reality offered a different Bond. Allan Bond, age 55. Called Bondy by all who knew him. My fierce and witty opponent. This large-boned man projected height and strength, with silvery hair worn slightly over the ears. His dress was always appropriate, but never dashing. There was little risk of hearing your wife mutter under her breath, “I wish you’d dress more like Allan Bond.” Determined, his eyes could fix a menacing look but frequently with a twinkle. What he said, he meant. Iwas glad that we met in 1994 rather than as opposing warriors during an Outlander or Braveheart time warp. He and I fought on more modern battlefields—those with eighteen holes. Though I was his boss at work, Bondy always got the better of me on the golf course…a fact he never let me forget.
Though Scottish clan life had abated over the centuries, respect for authority had been firmly ingrained in Bondy, always with a wry smile. Growing up on the west coast of Scotland in the 50s, he caddied for high handicap, upper-class gentlemen, who were quick to dress down a young wispy lad for causing their wayward putts. In his words, “I’ll tell ya this… I knew who the boss was…held the flag stick and kept my mouth shut. Didn’t get paid much. Didn’t get fired. Learned a lot about life caddying for bad golfers.”
You can imagine why this man made me nervous on the golf course…
Bondy and I readied to tee off; he agreed to give me four strokes. As I leaned over to put my tee into the hardened ground, it broke. Bondy quipped, “Here’s one for the memory banks…cancelled the new irons…young Mr. Reese broke all his tees before he ever hit a shot.”
Words by Luke Reese
Photography by Stuart Currie