This weekend, 30 miles west of London, the Sunningdale Golf Club is hosting the Senior Open Championship. But when not welcoming top players for prestigious tournaments, Sunningdale goes to the dogs. Seriously.
Members can bring man’s best friend along for 18 holes. Dogs are free to sprint down fairways, cut across putting lines and spot balls in the rough. So, it’s a win-win for everyone.
Stephen Toon, the club secretary at dog-friendly Sunningdale, joined Only A Game guest host Shira Springer.
SS: So tell me, how did this all get started?
ST: Well, this started over 100 years ago. The members of Sunningdale were gentlemen-farmers who had working dogs. They hunted. And when they came to play golf, they brought their dogs for exercise. And the tradition has continued for over 100 years.
SS: Wow! Tell me then: what's a typical foursome like? With four golfers and four dogs?
"Dogs are free. They have the best deal in the world. They are a member of a very exclusive golf club and they pay no dues at all."Stephen Toon, Sunningdale Golf Club Secretary
ST: To be perfectly honest, sometimes it's four golfers and eight dogs. Because some members have more than one dog, and I've seen one member bring as many as four dogs to go out with them. Some of the dogs are very well behaved and they will sit quietly on the tee waiting for the ball to be hit. Sometimes they are a little bit excitable and they go hunting in the heather and amongst the trees in the forest, but they eventually come back.
SS: Stephen, tell us your favorite Sunningdale dog story.
ST: My favorite Sunningdale dog story concerns our halfway house [after the 9th hole], which has a special dog dish on the menu. We serve a dog sausage, which is served on a plate with a napkin specially for the dog. And I once had a member call me to say he'd lost his dog. He had to abandon his golf. And this is a terrible situation. And 10 minutes later, I had a call from the manager of the halfway house, who said, "I have the member's dog here. He's lost his owner and he's waiting for his sausage." The dog and owner were reunited over a sausage.
SS: Do dogs pay membership dues?
ST: Dogs are free. They have the best deal in the world. They are a member of a very exclusive golf club and they pay no dues at all. All they have to do is try to find their owner's ball once the ball has been hit into the woods, and many of the dogs are very good at that.
SS: Are some dogs, some breeds better ball-spotters than others?
ST: Yeah, in fact the working dogs — the gun dogs, the spaniels, the retrievers, and the Labradors — are very good at spotting the ball and immediately running to where it lands. And then they sit and wait for the owner to arrive, so they earn their sausages.
SS: Will the dogs be allowed to roam around during this weekend’s tournament?
ST: No. To be honest, we wouldn't want any of our guest players competing in the Senior Open — and we wouldn't like to think that their chances had been ruined by a dog running alongside them or a dog barking, so we asked that dogs stay at home during our big tournaments.
SS: Now it seem like dogs on regular golf days would be a bad combination with golf etiquette. And I'm wondering, what happens when a dog picks up a ball and runs away with it? Are there ever problems with dogs?
ST: It happens, but our members are very tolerant of dogs, and they're very forgiving of dogs.
SS: Are golfers required to clean up after their dogs?
ST: They are indeed. And equally we look after dogs. We have dog bowls by the water fountains. When the owner takes a drink, dogs also can take a drink, and we make sure they keep hydrated.
SS: Now are other pets welcome?
ST: I am not aware that members have any other pets other than dogs. They're exclusively dog people, the members here.
SS: Do you have a dog that you golf with?
ST: Personally, I don't because I don't have time to play very much golf; far too busy looking after the members and their dogs.
This segment aired on July 25, 2015.