'Play Away Please', by John Peter Hagen

Simon Redfern
Sunday 30 May 2010 00:00 BST

"Icon" is a word much used, and abused, these days, but in this case the author has a point, because the object in question is the St Andrews Old Course Starter's Box.

When the Royal & Ancient Club redeveloped the links in 2001 they decided to auction it off, which in retrospect seems startling, given its history: everybody who was anybody in golf, plus not a few kings and presidents, had been instructed to "Play away please" by its occupants since the Twenties.

John Hagen, a US golf nut and businessman, bought it for £59,000 on behalf of a Californian property developer, who intended it to be the focal point of a new resort. The travails that ensued for eight years – locals objected to the sale, gale-force weather dogged its dismantling and the developer went to jail for fraud – until the box finally found a new home after total expenditure of around £500,000 is a good yarn, though by the end you can't help but feel the home of golf should never have sold it in the first place.

Published in hardback by Mainstream, £12.99

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