September 27, 2012

The Scottish Enlightenment, Darwinism, and golf?

A central theme of the Scottish Enlightenment, as exemplified in Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations, is that some positive outcomes can result without conscious central planning: "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest." Moreover, there's a progression that seems obvious (in hindsight, of course) from Smith's Invisible Hand to Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection.

Rugged linksland at Rossapena, Ireland
One example of unplanned development is the evolution of the ancient golf courses of eastern Scotland in the coastal sandy dunes ("linksland") that weren't good for anything agricultural other than grazing. 

Golf has been played in Scotland for a long time -- the king of Scotland attempted to ban golf by royal decree in 1457 to get Scots to concentrate on the more militarily useful pastime of archery. We don't, however, have any records of golf course designers before the 19th Century. Yet, we know that Scots have been playing golf on, for example, the St. Andrews links for quite a few centuries. The Old Course at St. Andrews really is Old.

In general, golf courses tended to evolve by players wandering through the linksland, picking out targets to hit toward, first with rocks, then using leather balls stuffed with feathers. Players would pick the paths of least resistance through the dunes, which tended to follow trails made by grazing rabbits and sheep, who also wished to avoid the roughest terrain and sought out pathways most sheltered from the wind. Repeated walking of the most propitious paths by golfers matted the grass down further, leading to the evolution of fairways. (Golf architect Forrest Richardson summarizes Guy Campbell's 1952 essay on the evolution of St. Andrews here. And David Owen offers a good summary of how golf courses evolved here.)

But, the lowest spots of all, where rolling balls naturally gravitated, tended to be not grassed, but sandy because animals dug in there to get out of the wind. Further, as golf balls tended to wind up repeatedly in the same low spots, hacking the balls out cut back the turf and exposed the underlying sand. Thus, bunkers (a.k.a., sand traps) evolved in exactly the hardest places to avoid, adding challenge and strategy to the game. 

Eventually, in the 19th Century, St. Andrews golf pros like Allan Robertson and Old Tom Morris started consciously improving the Old Course in various ways, but the routing that is played today in the British Open still traces back to that which had previously evolved in the distant laissez-faire past. 

Here's a question: Is there any evidence that Scottish intellectuals such as Smith, Hume, Reid or others ever noticed how golf courses tended to evolve without planning? 

I haven't found any evidence off-hand, but Smith, for example, was famous for taking extremely long walks through the linksland during which he thought out much of The Wealth of Nations. Would he have noticed the processes affecting the playing grounds of the national sport as he walked across them? He was a perceptive man.

What about Darwin, who spent a couple of years as a medical student at the U. of Edinburgh? As a youth, Darwin was more of an outdoorsman than a student. His passion was hunting, but he may have taken some note of golf courses during his Scottish sojourn.

(By the way, the greatest golf writer ever, author of the first classic book on golf courses in 1910, was Bernard Darwin, the beloved grandson of Charles Darwin. This, of course, isn't evidence for any influence on Charles, but it perhaps illustrates my theory that some of the appeal of golf, the grandson's sport, is related to hunting, the grandfather's sport. You wander around a landscape with a club in your hand. Golf is kind of like hunting without the bloodshed, making it relatively more popular than hunting as the male population becomes less farm-based and thus more squeamish.)

Has anybody ever looked into this?

44 comments:

albert magnus said...

I think what you are really saying is that you are going to relate everything to golf until the readers buy you a golf vacation.

What are you thinking? Bermuda? South Pacific? Scotland?

Let us know.

DaveinHackensack said...

Steve,

You've got a big idea staring you in the face here. Time to right a pop-econ book about the evolution of golf, and its influence on world history and economics. Could be an airport bestseller.

BTW, speaking of golf, you might appreciate this. Jascha Kessler, a UCLA English prof whose had several letters to the editor published in the FT, describes in this one the time he caddied for Bobby Jones at a course in the Catskills in the 1940s.

Gilbert Ratchet said...

Surely if Smith did consciously notice the evolution of golf courses, he would have said so in the Wealth of Nations? It's a pretty big book.

Anonymous said...

off topic but:

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A civil rights group filed a complaint on Thursday over the admissions test at New York City's specialized high schools, among the nation's most elite public schools, citing effective discrimination against black and Latino students, it said.

The complaint with the U.S. Department of Education focuses on eight schools, particularly Stuyvesant High and Bronx Science which boast stellar alumni including Nobel laureates, famed actors and musicians and Attorney General Eric Holder.


http://news.yahoo.com/civil-rights-group-file-complaint-over-entry-test-200638912.html

Anonymous said...

Bibi Nuttyahoo just made a clown of himself in the UN.

Steve Sailer said...

"Surely if Smith did consciously notice the evolution of golf courses, he would have said so in the Wealth of Nations?"

Probably not. It was a sport unknown at the time in the main market for his book, England.

Also, even today it's an almost unusable source for intellectual arguments and analogies because nongolfers' eyes glaze over when you mention golf. Other sports, such as baseball, have a much better track record in the intellectual world.

Anonymous said...

@ Dave- Brilliant idea, but too bad Steve doesn't have a cushy academic/media sinecure to support himself while researching and putting together such a book. :(

DaveinHackensack said...

"Also, even today it's an almost unusable source for intellectual arguments and analogies because nongolfers' eyes glaze over when you mention golf."

But the potential audience among golfers is huge, as is the overlap between golfers and corporate execs who eat up this sort of pop econ. You could do talks about it at top golf clubs around the country (a great opportunity for you to visit them), record the videos, post them to YouTube, etc. Might even work self-published.

"@ Dave- Brilliant idea, but too bad Steve doesn't have a cushy academic/media sinecure to support himself while researching and putting together such a book. :("

He's already got some of it written -- he can incorporate some of his previous golf posts into the book.

Crawfurdmuir said...

It is well documented that Darwin was (in the words of the Australian historian of science Jack Lindsay) "stimulated into constructing his evolutionary theory by the work of Malthus on the pressure of population, which had behind it the advent of the industrial proletariat and the question of its wages."

Lindsay goes on to point out that (among others) Karl Marx was aware of the origins of Darwinism in the work of economists, and quotes Marx's observation:

"It is remarkable how Darwin recognises among beasts and plants his English society with its division of labour, competition, opening up of new markets, inventions, and the Malthusian struggle for existence."

The ideas of classical economists, then, had something to do with Darwin's theory of evolution, but the game of golf probably did not.

Anonymous said...

"New York City's specialized high schools, among the nation's most elite public schools"

... YAWN. Good for the NAACP. Make these elite whites, asians and jews deal with diversity they preach to the rest of us.

AllanF said...

@Anon - It's an airport book. No research necessary. It only has to sound good (ie. stroke his preconceived notions) to the reader.

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em... paging Mr. Gladwell...

a very knowing American said...

Glancing through "The collected papers of Charles Darwin," Paul Barrett ed, I see a fair amount of stuff on soil formation, especially the role of earthworms. Darwin clearly sort of identified with his worms, humble industrious creatures patiently effecting great changes in the landscape. But nothing about golf. (Btw, are earthworms on golf courses a boon or a bane?) Maybe a more careful look, or his other writings, would turn up something.

Steve Sailer said...

"The ideas of classical economists, then, had something to do with Darwin's theory of evolution, but the game of golf probably did not."

And the greatest classical economist was a Scotsman who took famously long walks through the linksland.

Anonymous said...

to parrot whiskey I will just say that liberals hate hate hate natural selection.

the only part of the evolution story is the part where there is no God at the beginning. On the Origin of Species... (as opposed to genus) is not at all something libs embrace.

dearieme said...

I wasted part of my youth hacking around a links course. I have to tell you that cricket and sailing are far superior sports for the summer. And rugby and football for the winter. And squash, badminton, table tennis, shooting, volleyball, trampolining, hill-walking ..... any damn thing but golf.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting and original. Write a book. Have lots of pictures. Every golfer will want it on his coffee table. Or write two books, the other a more in-depth and scholarly.

You'd enjoy it and you'd make a lot of money.

Good luck.

Risto


Anonymous said...

Kenneth Clark in "Civilization' stressed the importance of long walks to writers like dickens and poets like wordsworth. he remarked that the university tradition of professors taking an 'afternoon walk' around the quads with students at oxford and cambridge was on its way out (Cilization came out in 1969, so that tradition is long gone).

recent neoroplastcity studies show that walking stimulates the brains, thus the silly nerd 'standing desks' or laptop mounts on treadmills

PS, I am of Scots Irish extraction (really not like Whiskey's scot-irish) and I HATE HATE HATE golf.

Five Daarstens said...

I'm reading On The Wealth of Nations (Books That Changed the World) by P.J. O'Rourke now. So far it's a pretty good summary.

Ex Submarine Officer said...

I think the title for Steve's book on the subject should be "Link!", a triple play there on golf, evolution, and Gladwell's pop analysis.

Whiskey said...

Steve knows who I am, and believe me, you don't get more Scots Irish than me. Even my name screams Scots.

The Scottish Enlightenment is weird. The Irish nearly genetically identical living in much the same kind of environment produced ... nothing. Even the Anglo Irish free of Catholic doctrine produced very little in the way of the sort of deep thinking that the Scots did.

And it wasn't just economists and biologists either, Watt, and a thousand engineers helped power the Industrial Revolution. While Ireland produced ... great storytellers and not much else.

Anonymous said...

" Even my name screams Scots. "
yeah, just like Mike "wallace" on 60 minutes and Michael "Lewis" and of course Jon "Stuart"

ps, I am the (real) scot-irish guy a few posts up; Son if i had your views I'd get a DNA test

Anonymous said...

"Even the Anglo Irish free of Catholic doctrine produced very little in the way of the sort of deep thinking that the Scots did."
yeah just Edmund Burke, but of course, as a neocon, he means nothing to you.

Jerry said...

Can anyone offer more details about Adam Smith's "extremely long walks"? I can't look it up as I am not near any good library or bookstore.

Steve Sailer said...

Smith would get excited about a new idea and start walking and thinking about it, and he might stop 15 miles away and ask the locals, "Where am I?"

So, maybe he wouldn't notice much. Or he'd notice one thing very closely and not notice anything else. Smith was showing Adam Burke around a tannery once, and was explaining the division of labor so intently as they walked that he fell into a tanning pit.

Anonymous said...

The Scottish Enlightenment is weird.

It's what happens when you are the first country in the world to institute universal literacy.

To repeat something that's oft been told (and has a HBD angle), the Scots-Irish aren't necessarily Scottish or Irish. The culture is largely Border Reiver and at one time was native to the so-called ``Disputable Lands'' or ``Debatable Lands'', roughly the area north of Hadrian's Wall. An area often not tightly governed by either England or Scotland. What happened?

"When the thrones of Scotland and England were united in 1603, King James VI of Scotland became James I of England, and he embarked on the so-called "Pacification of the Borders", purging the Border reivers, destroying their fortified tower houses, rounding up their families and sending them to Ireland and elsewhere."

I was interested to learn when Neil Armstrong died that the Armstrongs were a large prominent extended Borderer family/clan.

BTW, Whisky, I think during much of this period the Irish weren't even allowed to wear swords, someone correct me if I'm wrong. Somewhat like in Japan; sign of lots of reasons why hindrances might abound...

Power Child said...

James Hutton is considered the father of modern geology. He often accompanied Adam Smith on walks. Hutton and Smith were close friends, and both were huge influences on Charles Darwin. There is an exciting connection between markets, geology, and biological evolution.

Golf courses are a great way to illustrate this connection.

By the way, another book that beautifully illustrates the evolution of a sport is "The Game" by Ken Dryden. It's about hockey. It's also just a great all-around book.

Steve Sailer said...

Excellent point about James Hutton. He actually came up with the theory of natural selection long before Darwin, but he didn't believe in evolution, so it didn't go anywhere, at least not directly.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Hutton

Steve Sailer said...

The central intellectual spine of the Anglosphere leads up to Darwin, who was a great man but not a towering individual genius like, say, Newton was. Darwin was standing on the shoulders of giants.

Steve Sailer said...

"Even the Anglo Irish free of Catholic doctrine produced very little in the way of the sort of deep thinking that the Scots did."

Bishop Berkeley?

Burke, Swift, Shaw, Yeats?

Anonymous said...

"The Irish nearly genetically identical living in much the same kind of environment produced ... nothing."

This shows how little you know about your supposed people. The Lowland Scots, who drove the Scottish Enlightenment, are a Germanic people and their native language, Scots, is related to English. They never spoke Gaelic, or any other Celtic language.

Volksverhetzer said...

Darwin spent a lot of time with farmers, in order to learn from them about animal breeding.

What I find funny is that the Ivory tower academics who only have academic friends, thinks everybody without an academic education are too stupid to gain any knowledge from.

A simple explanation for the Scottish enlightenment, might be that they talked more with ordinary people who had practical knowledge, rather than trying to extract knowledge from academic books.

Volksverhetzer said...

"The Lowland Scots, who drove the Scottish Enlightenment, are a Germanic people and their native language, Scots, is related to English. They never spoke Gaelic, or any other Celtic language."

This is somewhat true, but there were a Germanic minority among the Irish as well, and the lowland Scots is probably also a mixed population.

"The Norse–Gaels were a people who dominated much of the Irish Sea region, including the Isle of Man, and western Scotland for a part of the Middle Ages; they were of Gaelic and Scandinavian origin and as a whole exhibited a great deal of Gaelic and Norse cultural syncretism. Other modern terms used include Scoto-Norse, Hiberno-Norse, Irish–Norse and Foreign Gaels.

The correct translation for Gall-GhĂ idheil or any of the variant spellings is "Foreign Gaels" and is not specifically used to refer to Norse foreigners. It is a general term to describe a particular ethnic grouping of foreigners of which the Norse formed part. This term is subject to a large range of variations depending on chronological and geographical differences in the Gaelic language, i.e., Gall Gaidel, Gall Gaidhel, Gall Gaidheal, Gall Gaedil, Gall Gaedhil, Gall Gaedhel, Gall Goidel, etc. The modern term in Irish however, is Gall-Ghaeil, while the Scottish Gaelic is Gall-GhĂ idheil.[1]

The people concerned often called themselves Ostmen or Austmennr"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norse-Gaels

You also had Normans in Ireland, and Scandinavia and the British Isles have had continuous immigration both ways since. You for instance find a lot of redheads along the Norwegian coast, a trait one thinks originated on the British Isles.

Volksverhetzer said...

"Bishop Berkeley?

Burke, Swift, Shaw, Yeats?"


The Berkeley family is unique in English history in that it has to this day an unbroken male line of descent from a noble Saxon ancestor before the Norman conquest of England in 1066 and also retains possession of much of the lands it held from the 11th. and 12th. centuries, centred on Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berkeley_family

An Anglo-Irishman,[3] William Butler Yeats was born in Sandymount, County Dublin, Ireland.[4] His father, John Butler Yeats (1839–1922), was a descendant of Jervis Yeats, a Williamite soldier and linen merchant who died in 1712
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._B._Yeats

Burke is an English variant of a surname that is common in England and Ireland which originates with the Cambro-Normans. In Old English, the name means "fortified hill". Variants include Bourke, de Burgo, Burgh, and De Burgh. Many Irish and English emigrants to Quebec and other francophone regions of Canada chose to change the spelling of the name to Bourque. Burke is an uncommon given name. Several localities around the world have been named Burke (see Burke (disambiguation))
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burke

Jonathan Swift (30 November 1667 – 19 October 1745) was an Anglo-Irish[1] satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer (first for the Whigs, then for the Tories), poet and cleric who became Dean of St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Swift

As for George Bernard Shaw, he claimed Scandinavian and German decent.

Drawbacks said...

Re: the book idea, there are lots of books with "Darwin" in the title, lots with "Golf", but there's probably not a huge overlap in the readerships, at least not in the US.

not a hacker said...

You can learn a lot by playing golf. For example, Tuesday in Sonoma County I got paired with a traveling businessman (something to do with kiwi fruit), who played college basketball on the west coast in the Alcindor years. Though he looked white, he was a member of an Indian tribe. Anyway, talk got around to blacks, and he told me, "they're just like us."

Anonymous said...

I vaguely recall in one of John McPhee's geology books (probably Basin and Range), he writes a couple of chapters about the development of the theories of modern Geology and the theories of Evolution happening in the same time and place. And he brings golf into it for th same reasons Steve is hypothesizing.

Worth checking out for the bibliography, I imagine.

Crawfurdmuir said...

"Even the Anglo Irish free of Catholic doctrine produced very little in the way of the sort of deep thinking that the Scots did. "

How about the Boyle family? Not only did they produce the great chemist the Honble. Robert Boyle, FRS, but also Charles Boyle, the 4th earl of Orrery, an astronomer and also a FRS, after whom the orrery planetarium is named; Richard Boyle, the 3rd earl of Burlington, architect and patron of the arts.

Then there are the Boyles' kinsmen, the Parsons family, which produced William Parsons, the 3rd earl of Rosse, the Astronomer Royal, president of the Royal Society, and his two sons, Lawrence Parsons, the 4th earl of Rosse, also an astronomer, vice-president of the Royal Society, and Sir Charles Algernon Parsons, FRS, inventor of the steam turbine.

There may have been no confluence of intellectual activity in Ireland comparable to that in Edinburgh, but certainly the Anglo-Irish nobility and gentry made notable contributions to the arts and sciences.

bleach said...

I hate golf and I would still read a book on the evolutionary history of the game. The history is more interesting than the sport itself.

Dutch Boy said...

You're absolutely correct. Both Smith and Darwin created ideological rationalizations for why some people are entitled to exploit others (Capitalism and Social Darwinism, respectively).

Anonymous said...

"Steve knows who I am, and believe me, you don't get more Scots Irish than me. Even my name screams Scots."

I think Whiskey is just trolling at this point.

ben tillman said...

This might be your best golf-related post ever.

Anonymous said...

One of the things I'm most grateful for today is that my father and grandfather-very much against my mother's wishes-made me kill and clean chickens as a kid and then got me hunting, where the thrill of the shot was followed by the gut pile and the haulout.

So often young people today are squeamish and can not handle blood, guts and gore. I never liked it, but it does not scare me. And when I eat a steak at a restaurant, I am appreciative of the people who work in slaughterhouses and meat packing plants, to an extent kids today simply can't understand.

Anonymous said...


Blogger Whiskey said...

Steve knows who I am, and believe me, you don't get more Scots Irish than me. Even my name screams Scots.

Oh no it doesn't!

Anonymous said...

How far back are we allowed to look for significant Irish thinkers?
Johannes Scotus Eriugen