Lorne Smith (Fine Golf) Interview

Fine Golf Lone Smith

I’ve featured the superlative golfing site Fine Golf (which was both inspirational and helpful in my starting Dog Golf UK), and recently honoured its distinguished canine pioneer, Dexter, but I had not yet had a chance to sit down with Finbe Golf’s founder and leading contributor Lorne Smith. Lorne kindly agreed to an exclusive Dog Golf UK interview where he provided an authoritative and inspiring insight in the joy of golfing with dogs:

  • What was the first course you golfed with a dog?Northamptonshire County GC, my home club, was where I trialed Dexter on a golf course. Initially, this was on a lead and then, as he became trained not to ‘run-in’, to save the secretary embarrassment when out of sight of the clubhouse I would wind his lead around his neck so he was still ‘on the lead’ to keep within the Club’s regulations while being free to roam as I allowed. This worked well for ten years as the golfers who I played with all appreciated having Dexter around. He, being so well behaved, never distracted anybody and indeed added to the relaxed social occasion.
  • What gave you the idea to bring along your dog?My wife acquired Dexter as a puppy and quickly I saw that he was biddable and wanted to please. I then went to gundog training sessions and competed with him for four years in gundog tests around the UK. As part of that he needed to become ‘steady’ on game and not run-in on them, so coming on the golf course where there are squirrels, pheasants, and hares he learnt to leave them alone. This of course helps instill steadiness when in a sheep field and makes walking in the countryside so much more enjoyable, allowing the dog off the lead knowing he will return when called by the whistle.
  • What were your biggest challenges at first?Steadiness and coming back on the whistle. Labradors require a leader figure and want to please them. Even if your children, without knowing and just for fun, ‘spoil’ them by throwing sticks for chasing etc, he knew that when he was with me on a golf course he is working with me and there is an invisible bond between us. Between the tee, where he would sit to my front side (not behind, in case he moved and was caught by my backswing, as I have seen happen with another dog that incurred a severe headache) and the green, where he would sit to one side, waiting for everybody to putt out, he would often walk down the outside of the rough, if not walking with me. He appreciated that freedom so when I whistled him back in he would obey. The best trained dogs are not automatons, their natural instincts that have been bred in over the years supply their confidence.
  • What do you observe as the most common mistake dog golfers make?Dogs should not be allowed on a green, not that they will harm it, it is simply a matter of discipline. Actually, that is not totally true as Dexter without any encouragement used to always come in among the golfers when they were shaking hands at the end of a game whether that was a green out in the country or on the eighteenth. It was as though he was saying ‘I have been part of this social occasion and I also want to thank you for having me’. Unfortunately, on one occasion in front of the clubhouse it gave an opportunity to a dog hater to come outside and try to admonish me for allowing my dog on the green. The fellow received a sensible telling-off from my three golfing partners.
  • What was Dexter’s favourite course that he walked?I do not think it made much difference as he was not really interested in the game. On courses where dogs were off the lead he enjoyed going over and saying hello to other dogs but again he always returned when called.
  • Did Dexter have any special tricks he could do on the course?To show his skills off to golfing partners I would sometimes drop a tennis ball in the rough without Dexter seeing it and after walking on would send him for it, giving hand signals to guide him to the place, before he successfully retrieved it to me. If I asked him to hunt for a golf ball during a social game to help another player he would invariably find it though I did not ask him often as he might then get the idea it was OK to generally pick balls. There was an occasion, mentioned in his obituary, when on the Struie at Dornoch a player’s ball was hit on to an island and we could not get it. I sent Dexter over the pond and asked him to look for it. When standing over the ball he looked at me for instruction and then came back with it. Most summers after that he would go for a swim on that hole to cool off. One strange activity that Dexter did towards the second half of his life was pull prickly burrs from plants and then spit them out as he shook his head before pulling another until they all were on the ground in front of him. I have never heard of any other dog doing this. I don’t think using human psychology will ever determine the reason (see video below).
  • What is the biggest misconception about golfing with your dog?They must be under your control; it is not just a dog walk. As the handler, one must always remember the others one is playing with and not allow the dog to in any way interfere. This is actually a quite stressful aspect and one day when somebody asked me on the first tee how many extra stokes I would give them for my dog putting them off, I replied that that it was he who should be giving me strokes for the time I would spend concentrating on Dexter! A relationship with a dog has to have respect on both sides. I suppose this is easier to appreciate in a working dog, as Dexter was. On the shooting field when rough shooting, the ultimate type of shooting, the handler, depending on the intelligence of the dog, its level of training and its experience, will rely on the dog’s incredibly sensitive nose and allow it to hunt with all of the out of control possibilities that permits. However, the dog relies on the handler to take account of the direction of the wind to come up on where the game are likely to be, from downwind. The dual skill is to put up game within shooting distance and then retrieve, even from across a river.

After the interview, Lorne shared these added kind words about Dexter and Dog Golf UK:

  • “Dexter was quite a dog in his beauty, his long legs, his temperament, and his achievements in both shooting and golf and four years on a lump still catches when I am reminded of him. I hope others who knew him will be enriched also by reading this interview and I thank you Bruce for your love of golfing dogs and the work you have done to help increase the knowledge of which courses will welcome golfers with their dogs.”

Dexter picture

2021 Hall of Fame Inductee–Dexter

Dog Golf Hall of Fame - Dexter

Dog Golf UK announces the 2021 Dog Golf Hall of Fame inductee – Dexter. 

Dexter the black lab is a pioneer of dog golfing whose exploits were an initial inspiration for Dog Golf UK.  When we were first looking for courses to take Rusty and Grace on to.  His person Lorne Smith is editor of the Fine Golf website and newsletter which is a rich source of information on golfing in the GB&I and was the one place I found with information on the dog protocols of various courses.  It also featured a number of pieces about golfing with your dog.

Dexter holds the world record for the highest number of different Courses Walked by a Dog – 83.  Dog Golf’s Grace is up to 72, but since we have golfed most of the dog friendly courses within an hour’s drive, and given the uncertainty about 2021 with the pandemic impact (as many courses are limiting visitors with so much pent up demand by members), and given that Grace is going on 13 years old (still healthy and vibrant but get more fatigued on the rounds), Dexter’s mark could stand for quite some time.

Dexter’s obituary a few years back documented his illustrious career.  A few excerpt highlights:

  • “In early days, taking him on the golf course formed part of his training to be patient and not ‘run-in’ on squirrels etc. He learnt to wait by the green while the golfers putted out and then moving on to the tee would be seated in the right place to the front off-side.  He was seldom interested in the golf game itself but when he saw Lorne coming down the stairs in the morning wearing his golfing plus twos Dexter would not leave his side until he was in the car and on their way in case he was left behind.  Hares are the most difficult game to stop a dog from chasing and when out at Royal West Norfolk GC, Dexter put one up near the second tee and belted across the seventeenth fairway, losing it in the salt-marsh. When it is almost de rigueur to have a dog with you at Brancaster and many dogs can be less well-behaved than Dexter, Lorne was not too worried as the players disturbed on the seventeenth fairway were not angry but enjoyed the spectacle of his embarrassment and were at least impressed by Dexter’s obedience to return on the whistle.”

I contacted Lorne about Dexter’s honour, and he shared these added reflections:

  • “I am honoured for the late Dexter to enter your lovely idea of a golf dog hall of fame. A lot of people still ask after him as he was always with me if dogs were allowed and there are lots of photos on the FineGolf course reviews with him sat in front of somewhere that I wanted to photograph.  He did become a bit of a star primarily because of how well behaved he was having been trained as a gundog with whom I competed in trials as well as working him picking-up.”

2021 Hall of Fame Dexter

2021 Hall of Fame

How To Play A Round With Your Dog

I was at first delighted to find this video posted by the prominent golfing website, Golf.com – “How to Play a Round with Your Dog”. The tone was enthusiastically supportive of dog golf and it hailed from the USA where allowing dogs on the course is very rare. Unfortunately, the well-intended piece to camera was just filled with lots of misinformation that I had to correct so that misunderstandings would not put people off dogs joining their persons for a round. I thought the most effective format to do this in was a “reaction” video (posted above), but I’ve also included a crib notes below:

  • ”This is everything you should know about playing golf with your dog.” – Well, not really. Lots of important stuff missing (like keeping them off the greens), but hey, still a good start.
  • “The first thing you must do is determine if you are playing in the morning or the evening…” – Ahem…not quite. But you do put on the screen the REAL thing that you must do which is…
  • Find a course that allows K-9 Caddies.” – In the USA, this is the hardest part. And while it gets mentioned on the screen, the narrator never actually mentions it (in the UK, no problem at all with DogGolf.com !). Unfortunately, he seems to have messed up here because when I contacted Cherry Hills Golf and Lodge to confirm if they allowed dogs, they informed me that dogs were not allowed on the course. <facepalm> But let’s carry on with looking at this well intentioned video…
  • “You’re going to want to keep a leash on your dog for optics reasons at the very least.” – Actually, this is incorrect. Golf courses are very clear about their dog policy which is either (a) “lead required” – which means on the lead attached to the golfer or the trolley at all time, or (b) “under control” – which means that the pretence of dragging a lead on the ground is not required and the dog can move freely as long as the master keeps them behaving according to the strict guidelines.
  • “Start leaving your dog bag in the same spot at the tee box. It will be a bit of a lesson for where your dog can and cannot roam.” – I liked this tip. It is an especially good tip for dog golfers who play the same course all the time.
  • “Perhaps the most important question is ‘Is your dog a chaser?’…Nothing is more important than a tennis ball or a frisbee or anything that can get you a 10 second distraction” – Ignore this advice. It is terrible. The advice is essentially saying, “If your dog can’t control themselves from chasing your golf ball, then pander to them by distracting them with thrown items.” For starters, the players behind you or next to you are not going to be thrilled with you throwing objects around them just to distract your dog while you take even more time to tee off. This advice about “chasers” should read, “If you dog can’t control themselves from chasing the ball, then they should be kept on a secure lead during the entire round to prevent them from doing so.” Period.
  • “She even left her [tennis] ball by a tee box one time.” – Aggh…no! No dogs on any greens. That includes BOTH the hole greens and the tee greens (later at minute 3:00, the video shows the narrator throwing the ball across the tee green so that Jersey tears across it. Bad owner!)
  • You can never pack enough water or treats.” – While our Grace would endorse the latter part of that assertion, the water bit is probably a bit over-stated. Better advice would be something like, “Always make sure you have plenty of water for your dog either from water faucets on the course, accessible water bodies (like water hazards or streams) or bottles carries with you.”
  • “[For water] re-use these lemonade mix cartons. They work pretty well as a water bottle and a dish to drink out of.” – Handy tip for the USA (lemonade mix isn’t a commonly found item in the UK). Not sure that the portion amount for drinking would satisfy Grace.
  • “[Figure out] how to not get to excited about the bunkers.” – Let’s be more explicit here. No dogs in the bunkers ever.

[POSTCRIPT] A few days after this video was released, a follow up written piece was posted to accompany it, “9 Key For Playing Golf With You Dog”

  1. Is your dog a morning caddie, or an evening caddie? – This is a silly, misguided tip. The key tip is “If you concerned about how well your dog might fare, then choose an off-peak playing time.”</style=”color:>

  2. Permission might be easier than you think – Again, the author totally bollixed the permission issue. Frankly, in the USA especially, permission is difficult period. Also, his info on St. Andrew is wrong. St. Andrews has dogs on it *ALL* the time (except competitions).

  3. Leash up! – Per the video commentary, this advice is too simplistic. Either (a) respect the club rules (which may require a leash), or (b) keep your dog under control at all times (and a leash might be needed for some dogs).

  4. Is your dog interested in golf? – Strange tip. Nearly all dogs will relish a long walk with their persons (which is what “golf” is to them). The only real question is whether they can (or want) to behave well enough to do so.

  5. The tennis ball is your lifeline – Worst tip ever. Don’t ever bring a tennis ball (much less throw one) on a a golf course.

  6. The water limit does not exist (and here’s a pro-tip) – Having water is indeed important and the lemonade mix container is cute (for Americans).

  7. Endless treats don’t hurt either – Ok, Grace will not be happy with me if I don’t endorse this one.

  8. Doggy waste is different – Bit of an over-kill tip. The basic tip here is “Pick up after you dog and dispose appropriately”. Period.

  9. Start ‘em young – Yeah, ok. As long and people don’t think that old dogs can’t be taught new fairway tricks. Because they are often more chilled, we find that older dogs actually make better golfing companions.

Donnington Valley

Donnington Valley 1 dog golf

Welcome – Everyone greeted Grace with a cheery smile.

Walk – “Donnington ValleyS” might be a better name. The course itself is cradled in a picturesque Berkshire dale made all the more so by the colourful foliage of the late year afternoon. Then the course itself had its share of sub-undulations along the holes. And then the fairways and approaches themselves were littered with towering mounds and plummeting indentions (many of which were elongated sand trenches masquerading as a sort of sadistic bunker). It was valleys within valleys within valleys.

Water – The most striking water feature we have come across exploited the verticality of the landscape with a multi-tiered waterfall trickling down from one water hazard above to another below. The course also featured a pond with a fountain by the clubhouse and another by the 4th hole. With the recent precipitation, these were all filled to the brim with crystal clear water. And all except the pond below the falls were easily accessible for plenty of drinking by Grace.

Wildlife – A number of waterfowl (especially at the two-tier feature) including Egyptian Geese and quite a large flock of moorhens.

Wind Down – The clubhouse bar closed exactly when we pulled up to the window (4:30 pm). But not to worry as just down the road was the extremely welcoming pub, The Castle. They not only brought a dog bowl full of water to the table, but also offered Grace doggie-sausage treats which she appreciated as much s I enjoyed my Guinness. Not surprising that every patron in the establishment had their own pup in tow.

Donnington Valley 2 dog golf

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Donnington Valley 5 dog golf

Dog Golf Hall of Fame

Dog Golf Hall of Fame

As I have become more acquainted with the dog golfing community over the years, it is clear that some dogs stand out for their quality as a course companion and their extensive experience on the fairways. I’ve wanted to showcase some of the special dogs, and then visiting a course recently I was struck by the various wooden honour boards (“Ladies Champion”, “Club Captain”, “Holes in One”). I thought Dog Golf should have its own honour board.

Big thanks to Steve Spalding at Gold Tree Bespoke who are leaders in the leaderboard business making many of these honour boards for golf clubs and elsewhere. Steve provided the customised digital board above onto which we could inscribe the names of our honourees.

For the inaugural induction, there really could be no other than the co-inspiration for the site in the first place – Rusty.

  • Rusty pioneered dog golfing in the UK as one of the Dog Golf UK poster pups visiting over 30 courses in her lifetime. Her love of the outdoors and her attentiveness compensated for her occasional over-enthusiasm for a passing woodland critter.

  Rusty dog golf hall of fame

Golf Dogs of Instagram

A great source of “golf dogs” is the social media site of the moment, Instagram. Unfortunately, it is not as great a site for identifying dog-friendly courses. I explored Instagram, especially the #doggolf tag with 820 posts (for some reason #golfdog has 19,087 posts!).

Of course there was over half of the pictures with hashtag grenades that only vaguely has anything to do with “doggolf”. Some were just dogs on indoor putting matts or sitting on a golf club at home. But a good number showed a dog actually on a golf course – just over 100. A dozen or so posts that were not geotagged, I DMed the post to ask which course they were on. Only 2 people got back to me (and they clarified that dogs were no actually allowed on the course for one of the reasons below).

Nearly 90 were actually geotagged with the name of the course so I simply contacted all of those courses. About a quarter (22) of the courses got back to me. 6 confirmed that they were dog friendly (so I added them to the Worldwide Dog Golfing Map). The other 18 told me that they did not allow dogs. Which did beg the follow-up reply of “Why does this Instagram post have a picture of a dog on your course?”

These false alarms tend to fall into the following groups:

  • Staff – Especially grounds keepers bringing their dogs to work.
  • Working – Scaring birds and some assistance dogs
  • Dog Walkers – Photos taken “by” the course.
  • Unauthorised – A few snuck rounds
  • Poseurs – Just there for the photo

Let me know by email or in the comments if you know any other courses in the world that welcome dogs.

Feldon Valley

Feldon Valley dog golf 1

Water – “Water” first on this write-up. If there is one place to find plenty of water, it is in a valley. And on this particular autumn day, the heavens bestowed all the more of it. We had booked an afternoon slot (with a very reasonable twilight rate) which was about the only break in the weather that week. And even then, the dark clouds decided to shake the last few drops from their loins onto us. Still, the late afternoon scattered showers meant one thing that we have come to appreciate and enjoy in the UK more than any other place we have visited…rainbows. On the way, passing through the rolling hills of the upper Cotswolds, we actually enjoyed a double rainbow (see bottom photo).

On the course itself, there were only a half dozen pure water hazards are sprinkled around the course, but slicing right down the middle is a significant flowing steam. Not just a little drainage ditch often found on courses, but an actually geographical feature properly named (Sutton Brook) and everything. It crosses the approaches of several holes that traverse it. The good news is that the stream is a free drop zone. The bad news is that when we were playing in rainy October, it was flowing so swiftly that by the time we got there to retrieve our stray ball, it had been washed away (and even if it wasn’t, the water was so turgid from the flow that there would be no finding it).

WalkFeldon Valley not only sits in a valley (good for views), but somehow has managed to incorporate the traversing of this trough with nearly a third of its holes. Another crossing the chasm course with 5 holes bisected with plummeting crevasses. At least, they had the foresight to construct staircases (yes, “staircases”) on several of these to make navigating them easier.

Welcome – We actually encountered another dog golfer during our round, Otter (see photo above). We had a very quick photo op greeting and Otter’s person waxed appreciative of how great it was to have a course where he could bring Otter.

Wildlife – Maybe the autumnal inclement weather has scared them into cover, but didn’t encounter much at all during our round.

Wind Down – The club looked like it had a quite impressive restaurant which it turns out is dog-friendly as well. In fact, the course is part of a hotel and the hotel welcomes dogs too! However, we had booked a recommended doggie pub down the road for dinner. The Red Lion was one of the most “gastro” of the gastro-pub we have visited recently. Truly tasty and superbly prepared food was just what we needed to take the chill off of our wet outing. Grace felt right at home with other dogs settled on the floor at every other table in our room.

Feldon Valley dog golf 2

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Feldn Valley dog golf 5

Alton

Alton dog golf 1

WelcomeAlton golf club is not only one of the most welcoming of dogs, but it is certainly the most welcoming club overall that we have ever played (having played over 70 different courses). On arrival, we met Millie, the resident dog who greeted us warmly (photo below). The members who welcomed us so kindly all knew the many members and their dogs who frequented the course. Mike “Hobbo” was especially kind enough to offer to take our picture which is the first shot we have of all 3 of us on a course (see above)! We stopped at the 9th hole (well, the course is a duplex setup with the “back 9” being variations on the 9 holes of the course) and could have just spent the rest of the day enjoying the affable camaraderie.

Walk – There is good news and bad news. The good news is that the course is a more modest length of 5627 yards. The bad news is that a good chunk of those yards are precipitous ascents. The course is bit like the final throes of a storm at sea being tossed up and down at the outset and eventually settling down to more flattened waters (with a bit of rocking back and forth at the ample number of dog-legs on the course). The silver lining to these high-altitude climbs is that you are treated to some amazing views of the Hampshire countryside at the summits (see below).

Water – Being on such a hilly terrain, it is no surprise that there were no water features (water spots tend to be at the bottom of hills, not the top), but there were water spigots at several places around the grounds. And the course obviously returns to the clubhouse at the 9th where there are dog bowls for Grace’s refreshment.

Wildlife – Not much on the course really, but a (fenced) field of sheep next to the 5th/14th hole (who took great interest in Grace as she passed by).

Wind Down – The “community-owned” White Hart was similarly welcoming to doggie patrons. Even before we had submitted our drink orders, the server had brought a bowl of water to our table for Grace. In fact, at one point in the evening, every single occupied table had a dog companion (and a water bowl on the floor). Unfortunately, the food didn’t quite live up to its trendy gastro-descriptions on the menu. The fancy names of the dishes on the menu didn’t match the pretty ordinary pub grub that came out of the kitchen (eg. the “triple cooked chips” are pretty much standard chips). The best part was the onion rings that had big pieces of onion with not too heavy batter.

Alton dog golf 2

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Good Dog Policy

Good dog policy golf

The primary motivation for created DogGolfUK was the inability for Google to identify which clubs allowed dogs and which didn’t. Most clubs simply don’t have dog protocols noted on their websites.

Actually, many courses don’t have a policy at all! A few times, my enquiries have led to questions being tabled at the subsequent course/club Board meetings in which they decided to allow dogs (often aided by the information on the website).

One club which did post their policy prominently is Niddry Castle (see above).I thought I would share it in the post as a model for any other clubs considering adopting similar dog-friendly stances.

[ADDENDUM] Here is another policy published by the Montecchia golf course in Italy which is quite comprehensive.

Best in Tow

Vintage dog golf

Who’s a good golf dog?

A common reaction we get to Grace on the golf course is, “I would love to take my own dog out on the course, but I know that he/she just wouldn’t behave.” After our last round, as we noted, we went to go see our son’s new pup, a retired greyhound named Bonbon. She was so calm and quiet, but obviously enjoys a bit of exercise, so we thought that she would make an exemplary golfing dog (and we hope to get her on the course some day). It made us a reflect on the question of “what are the key qualities to being a ‘good dog’ on the golf course?”

Many people ask about Grace’s breed thinking since she is such a fine golf partner that others of her type will be the same. Temperaments vary hugely even among dogs of the same breed. And temperament is paramount for being on your best canine behaviour on the course.

That said, Vizslas are great – clean (short-hair), intelligent, affectionate (they will often leave their food to get affection). Their biggest downside is that they require LOTS of exercise. A minimum of an hour off-lead running around and sniffing every day. It is their gluttony for particular desire which led us to dog golfing in the first place. The 7k+ walk just about starts to tire a Vizsla out.

If you are looking for a dog that you might consider taking out on the fairways with you, consider these qualities:

  • Volubility: Quiet Please! Probably the most important aspect of good behaviour is quiet. Golf courses are second only to libraries for their sensitivity to auditory distraction. So dog barking is definitely bang out of order. A few good-natured woofs to great someone, for example, are fine. But a dog who does not control their barking will be as unwelcome as a chatterbox at the tee-off. Frustratingly, how vocal a particular dog is seems to be very intrinsic to their individual nature and is very hard to train (you can train a dog to bark on command, but much hard to get them to *not* bark on command).
  • Energy: The more docile ambler is going to be easier than someone who likes to tear around (Grace definitely channels her inner Labrador in her more placid demeanour, but Rusty was a bit of a speed demon who liked to tear around). But a quite older or heavier dog, might not be up to managing an entire 18 holes.
  • Gregariousness: Golf is a social sport and even outside your playing foursome, golfers are generally congenial and cross paths on the course as balls stray near (or even into) each other’s fairway. A dog that is generally comfortable with strangers will be a much more content companion and also make such serendipitous encounters more enjoyable.
  • Biddability: It’s hard enough to get humans to behave according to the exacting protocol of the golf course, especially around minimising distractions with noise and eye line. Dogs need to follow all of these human rules. Even on a lead, the dog needs to be able to control all barking which would be a real course faux paw. And if you intend going around the “under control” courses without lead, exacting biddability is an imperative.
  • Scent: Of course, bonus fun for you and your pup is finding the ball in the rough. This will require (a) a good scent dog (like a Hunt/Point/Retrieve breed), and (b) extra training to find the scent and to point to it (don’t pick it up!).

You can see why Grace is the “face” of Dog Golf. But Rusty was just as central to our outings (when she was still with us) as she loved the outdoor adventure much more than Grace so she exemplifies the very spirit of dog golf.