The world’s seventh-oldest golf course comes with a mystical tale in a popular novel that includes a madman living in a cave beneath the par-3 third hole of the fictional Links of Burningbush.
The consensus is that American author Michael Murphy was inspired by the 177-yard No. 3 hole, The Briggs, alongside the North Sea at the Crail Golfing Society’s Balcomie Links, established in 1786, if not the course, in his best-selling 1972 philosophical novel, "Golf in the Kingdom."
"For reasons political and arcane, I cannot tell you its real name," Murphy wrote in the book’s opening page, "so will call it instead the Links of Burningbush."
The cave in which Murphy’s character Seamus MacDuff slept at night could well be a grotto nearly 800 yards away from Balcomie’s third, beside a path between Balcomie’s 14th green and 15th tee, down the hill from the clubhouse. A plaque at the cave’s entrance says Scotland’s King Constantine I might have been killed at that spot by Danish Vikings in 874.
While not questioning that The Briggs inspired Murphy’s No. 3, David Roy, the Crail organization’s managing secretary, says, "I think Burningbush is a composite of a number of courses he played. The first hole (in the book) to me seems like the first hole of Lundin Golf Club, for example." The Lundin links course is near Balcomie.
In 1992 the book spawned the Shivas Irons Society, named after a golf and philosophy guru character in the book. Roy says golfing members of that society "come and tell the friends of theirs. But there’s a surprising number who appear with the book."
Murphy’s book and numerous reprints reportedly have sold 1.5 million copies, mainly to Americans. A film version was screened at last month’s U.S. Open at California’s Pebble Beach and is scheduled for release next year.