Let the Big (and Little) Dog Hunt

Thanks to @MichaelClayto15 for posting this photograph on Twitter:


There are many ways to recall and celebrate the King–all of them insufficient–but remembering him as a dog-lover captures some of his goodness and grace.  This photograph of Palmer and sidekick got me thinking: If golf with dog was okay with Arnie, why isn’t it acceptable on tracks across the golfing world?

As I golfed my way around the UK in 2015, I saw a half-dozen golfers playing alongside canine companions, their best friends tethered by long leashes to their trolleys (pull-carts, another convention I’m not sure why we don’t embrace over here).  Scotland’s sacred right to roam (allowing a Scotsman to walk anywhere he pleases on his native soil) meant that sunny days brought packs of Labradors out to the edges of the links, where cordial hellos and nods were exchanged between golfers and the dog-walkers in the dunes.

Nothing lights up a foursome like a visit from the greenskeeper’s Golden Retriever, often a resident mascot and the only dog allowed on property.  But why are these hundreds of grassy acres left to one lonely goose chaser?  Why can’t golf and Terriers get along?


Weighing pros against cons isn’t a fair contest.  Pros: More walking golfers.  Fewer carts, with their myriad negative impacts on courses and the cost of golf.  Health benefits, for you and your loyal partner.  Growth of the game: I will be at the PGA show in a few days, where thousands of exhibitors will unveil strategies for bringing new faces to golf, while I think the best one is currently sleeping under my chair.  “Honey, I’m taking the dog out for a walk,” sounds far more selfless than, “See you in four hours.”  I would be even more tempted to seek out nine holes on a Friday afternoon if I knew it was a chance to get Gipper some fresh air and exercise.  And don’t overlook integrity–who could give himself a six-footer, or scribble down an unearned score in front of his most honest, faithful friend?

Golfing alone is as much fun as one-person karaoke, but it has become more of a reality in today’s golf, where foursomes and twosomes are ever more difficult to arrange (I don’t think my dad ever failed to walk into the pro shop and find a game at his club back in the day; today it takes a dozen emails and three apps to fill a foursome).  Offer a golfer the option of some companionship, even if it’s the slobbering, silent variety, and you will see more golfers heading to formerly empty tee boxes.  And once someone invents a meat-scented spray to apply to your golf ball, golf with dog will take on a whole new level of desirability, as long as we can keep our ball on the property.  (As the Irish caddies like to say after a wayward tee shot, “Lassie couldn’t find that if it was wrapped in bacon.”)

The con list is short, though obvious: Dogs do their business outside.  So do golfers, mind you–my dog is far more discreet in seeking out a tree to relieve himself, versus some of my playing partners who revel in golf’s unwritten rule that men can piss pretty much anywhere but the putting surface, embracing the strange liberation of outdoor trou-dropping.  There is nothing about a dog’s business that a plastic bag won’t solve.  Of course you would only bring a well-behaved dog to the golf course, but again, I’ve seen more damage done to greens and tee boxes by players after a twelve-pack than anything my Lhassa Apso could accomplish.  Geese and their indiscriminate shit-storm are the real menace to golf courses, and more Fidos on the links would bring a quick end to their free run on the fairways.

I suspect that the reason we don’t allow our dogs on our golf courses is the reason we don’t make a lot of common sense changes in golf, out of a sense of, “We don’t do that because we never have/We do it this way because it’s always been done this way.”  Golf changes at a glacial pace, and has always been far too worried about ruffling the feathers of a few curmudgeons.  But consider the fact that I took the below picture at Royal North Devon, the first golf course in England, and an Old Tom Morris design:


They’ve been doing golf a lot longer than we have, and they aren’t afraid to let the dogs out.

Kids and spouses and country and God aside, many of us love two things above all others: Our golf, and our dogs.  They both need fields and companions–may the day soon come when they play joyfully together.

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About Tom Coyne