Fergus Bisset: Family competition

The most important golfing prize of 2008 is yet to be awarded and Fergus is one of only three men who could take the title.

When I was about eight, my family went on a trip to St Cyrus beach just north of Montrose. As I remember, it was a pleasant, blustery summer’s day. We built castles, ate a sandy picnic and ran in and out of the sea.

After lunch I began to pester my father to play cricket as I had a new bat, ball and stumps - you know, the type of kid’s set that comes in a string bag. He resisted at first but after an hour or so of whinging and a little cajoling from mum, he caved in.

I’d anticipated a short session of informal, and fairly gentle, batting and bowling, but dad’s view was - “If we’re playing, we’re playing properly.” He paced out 22 yards on a firm piece of sand and purposefully rammed in the stumps. “I’ll bat first.” He said. I agreed, unaware of the blitzkrieg I was about to face.

I took a long run-up and bowled as hard as I could. But I was only eight and, by a grown-man’s standards, my effort was pretty feeble. Dad gracefully stroked the ball away towards the boundary and announced it was a four. I dutifully trotted off to reclaim the ball and try again. Two hours later I was beginning to get a sore arm and was pretty grateful when dad shouted down the wicket, “I’ll declare when I get to 400 ok?”

Like dad, I seldom feel as competitive as when I’m up against family members. Whether the activity is getting into the bathroom first or solving the Countdown Conundrum, I simply have to win. I’m sure I’m not unique in this. As the festive season approaches, I’ve no doubt most of you can remember walking out on a Christmas Day game of “Risk” against your grannies or falling out with your sister over a disputed line call in “Subbuteo.”

The reason I’m thinking of all this is because next Monday is the most critical day on the Bisset competitive calendar. Yes, it’s the St Andrews Christmas Quaich. Every year in the week before Christmas, noble warriors of the Bisset clan fight it out around St Andrews’ Old Course for the season’s most coveted trophy.

Since its inception in 2002 there have been only two winners. I took the inaugural title and dad won in 2003. I’ve been victorious in the last four tournaments. My recent dominance has been impressive and I don’t think the fact there have been just two competitors should take anything away from my achievement. The thing is, the rules of the Christmas Quaich state that only members of the Bisset family, plus their spouses and offspring, can win the competition and we have quite a small direct family.

But, in 2008 a third contender will enter the fray – my younger brother Roddy. He’s something of an enigma - occasionally brilliant but often unpredictable, he’ll either storm round in level par or self implode on the seventh.

None of us has been able to prepare as we’d have liked for this great contest because the courses up here have only recently re-opened following an extended period of snow and ice. So, the battle should be fought on a reasonably level playing field.

Could we see a new name on the illustrious trophy? Not if I’ve got anything to do with it.

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?