Golf graduation address – Dr Louise Richardson

Tuesday 13 July 2010

St Andrews, the University, and Golf.

Chancellor, Honoured Guests, ladies and gentlemen,

This is a fabulous occasion, but it is an unusual one. But then again, this is an unusual town, and an unusual university. You may have asked yourself, as I did when I first heard of it, why does a university have a golf graduation? But when you think about it, it’s not so strange at all.

As a university we honour people whose achievements and values we find admirable, and who thereby provide role models for the next generation. As a university we seek to elevate the aspirations of our students, to maximize their talents, to instil in them a determination to improve the world they have inherited, and to provide them with the tools, both intellectual and practical, they need to do so.

The five men we have just honoured exemplify many of the qualities we try to impart to our students, though few of us have the talent for teaching daily demonstrated by Jim Farmer or have done as much as Johann Rupert to share the benefits of sports. Padraig Harrington’s discipline and hard work, Arnold Palmer’s gusto and determination, Tom Watson’s intensity and grace under pressure, are all qualities that our students will need if they are to realize their ambitions.

It is not that these admirable qualities are limited to those we have honoured today. Indeed, in the midst of these festivities, we should pause for a moment and remember those who are not here. The one and only Seve Ballesteros had planned to attend this ceremony. Unfortunately, he has not been able to come. We are carrying the event live on the university’s website. I don’t know if he is watching, but if he is, I know you would want to join me in telling him that we miss him and wish him well.

Another reason for the attraction of golf to many academics is that the qualities required for success in academia are not dissimilar to those required for success in golf: concentration, self discipline, resilience and lots of hard work.

In truth though, there is anther reason for the affinity between academics, at least those over the age of forty, and golf. As champion swimmers and gymnasts appear to get younger by the year, it is nice to have an occupation where age and experience can be an asset. It’s nice to be able to compete in a sport even when you are beyond your student years. We all watched keenly and rooted silently last year at Turnberry when Tom Watson at 59 came within a bounce of winning a record equalling 6th Open title. I think we were rooting both for Tom Watson and for every competitor over forty, everywhere.

Today’s celebration is just another illustration of the fact that the university and golf have been sharing the town of St. Andrews, sometimes more easily than others, for hundreds of years.

The long history of golf in Scotland is well known. The first written reference to golf here dates to 1457 when the Scottish parliament banned both golf and football and recommended archery instead. Evidently people didn’t pay much attention as, 14 years later, Parliament again banned football and golf. Once more people must have ignored the government because 20 years later they were banned yet again. This time they were described as “unprofitable sports.” Clearly times have changed.

Whatever about acts of Parliament, royalty were evidently playing the game in the early 16th century. James the IV was in St Andrews in 1506 and his accounts show that he paid one shilling each for his clubs and three-a-shilling for golf balls. He and his Court are credited with introducing the game to England. In 1513 Catherine of Aragon expressed relief that all the King’s subjects appeared to be kept happy by playing golf. In the early seventeenth century King James was worried about the fact that:

“no small quantity of gold and silver is transported yearly out of the Kingdom of Scotland for buying of golf balls” Clearly golf had become profitable to someone.

Notwithstanding the efforts of parliament, golf appears to have become a deeply rooted national pastime for both king and commoner by the 16th century.

The fact that Edinburgh magistrates in 1592 explicitly mentioned women when they tried to ban golf on Sundays, suggests that golf was played by women too as far back as the 16th century.

One of the more famous early women golfers was Mary Queen of Scots, who is believed to have played on our campus in St Mary’s Quad off South Street near the tree she is thought to have planted there. She is also often credited with providing the word for “caddy” which is believed to be an anglicised version of the young French cadets she brought with her and who would have carried her clubs. In his famous Rerum Scoticarum Historica, Buchanan rails against Mary claiming that she indulged in: “Sports that were clearly unsuitable to women.” At her trial one of the charges made against her was that she indulged in a game of golf within a few days of her husband’s death.

Another colourful early golfing fan was Dame Margaret Ross from Lochinch Castle, Stranraer, in the 18th century. So keen was she that she was believed to be a witch, with terrifying powers.  She was thought to turn herself into a golf ball and deliberately roll out of line on the greens to prevent people she disliked from winning. Apparently, when in the form of a golf ball, she would hop into the darkest recesses of the deepest bunkers, just to annoy her opponents.

Another good woman golfer was Lady Margaret Scott who won the first British Ladies Amateur Championship in 1893. She also won the second. After she won the third, the presentation scene was describes as follows:

“It would be unthinkable for her to make an acceptance speech. So her father, Lord Eldon, will make the speech for her. He will announce that his daughter will play no more championships. Three titles are quite enough for a young lady.”

I doubt Emily would agree.

There is a long line of enthusiastic and accomplished golfers who have studied at St Andrews. It has to be said that student golfers have been more successful than their teachers, related in part, no doubt, to the amount of time spent on the golf course. In 1642 the University Commissioners declared that “recreations are necessary” They went on to say that: “lawfull exercises, as gouffe, archery and other of that kind, which are harmeles and do exercise the body” were permitted, unlike “carding, dyceing . . . or exercises of that kynd” which were prohibited.

Perhaps because it was permitted, we have student diaries dating back to the 16th century detailing student golf. The three Mackenzie brothers, who were students here in the late 17th century, had real difficulty in honouring their father’s injunction only to play twice a week. Their accounts indicate that their annual expenditure on golf exceeded their expenditure on tuition.

Today the University of St Andrews is proud of our accomplished young golfers many of whom are recipients of generous golf bursaries. Students like Gordon Stevenson and Gemma Bradbury are continuing the tradition of student golfing success. Our recent achievements include the Scottish Men’s and Women’s Universities Individual Stroke Play Champions and the Scottish Universities Team Champions as well as our victory in the inaugural Smurfit Cup. In addition we field international players all over the world.

We look forward to watching these students one day compete in the Open Championships and who knows, they may yet be up here on stage receiving an honorary degree for their accomplishments and their contributions to the sport of golf.

Thank you

Louise Richardson

Principal and Vice-Chancellor

Category Sport

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