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May 01, 2008

Renaissance Man: It Begins with Blood Sausage

Breakfast of champions.

VitruvianmanConde Nast Traveler stuntman Mark Schatzker is on a mad quest to make himself into a modern day Da Vinci during a month's stay in Europe. His first task: Learn golf in Scotland. 

First, the good news. I have eaten all of two meals in Scotland, and both have included black pudding, which is the local term for blood sausage. Blood sausage, in case you've never heard of it, is a sausage whose filling is made by cooking a filler (say, barley) in blood until it thickens. The resulting product is notable for two qualities. It strikes fear and disgust into the hearts of vegetarians, and it is delicious. My first taste came at dinner here at the St. Andrews Golf Hotel. Six perfectly cooked scallops, each set on its own little island of blood sausage.

As I ate, I looked out the window. On the right, the North Sea, where the scallops came from. On my left, Scotland, an ancient land of barley and blood. In between the two lies an area called the link, the border between land and sea. It's flat and a bit rough, and for a long time wasn't much good to anyone. You wouldn't want to build your house there, due to the danger of flooding, and yet as a place to graze sheep or cattle it was only mediocre. Luckily, 900 years ago the Scottish invented the game of golf, and thus managed to turn the link land into some of the most treasured in town. It's also why in Scotland, courses built on these rough, grassy ridges next to the ocean are called link courses.

Jim Farmer
Jim Farmer.

I know this because Jim Farmer told me so. Jim Farmer is one of the greatest golf pros in Scotland. He's coached the likes of Paul Lawrie and Stephen McAllister, and he is the captain elect of the PGA of Great Britain and Ireland. Thus, it has fallen into his capable hands to teach my incapable hands how to hold a golf club. That alone took almost an hour, during which time Jim assessed that I am extremely right-handed. Relying too much on one's right hand is a very bad habit for someone who's a right-handed shot. The golf swing, Jim told me repeatedly, is a lot like swinging an ax into a tree. You only use your right hand at the very end, and only for a little added power. If, when making a golf swing, you try to muscle it too hard with your right hand, or flick your right wrist, bad things happen.

I raised the club to a horizontal plane and swung it like an ax. Jim was right. And thus I absorbed my first golf irony. We are all born lumberjacks. Every one of us could hack down a tree without so much as a word of instruction. But none of us is a born golfer. With a few minutes left in the lesson, it was time to hit a few balls. Bad things happened. The majority of them sliced, and the few that didn't skidded and sputtered for about 20 feet.

Looks easy on paper.

Back in the clubhouse, there was a crowd of German twenty-something males, all brandishing expensive golf bags and wearing aviator-style sunglasses. The scene looked something like a casting call for the German version of Top Gun ("Obere Gewehr").

Speaking of dogfights, there's no shortage of aerial thrills here at St. Andrews. Just to the north sits an RAF base, and jets are scrambled with pleasing regularity. All of which means you don't actually have to play golf to visit St. Andrews. You can sit on the link with a pint of beer in hand--or, better yet, a pint of single malt scotch--watch a pair of Tornadoes wheel on the horizon, and fantasize about the dropping of ordnance as you take a bite out of your blood sausage. As pastimes go, it requires little in the way of technique. You can use your right hand as much as you want. Bad things will not happen.

<< Introducing Renaissance Man | A Few Whiffs on the Fairway >>


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