[Originally published in September 2014. Revived for The Open Championship of 2021, at Royal St George’s.]
The Ryder Cup, that international showcase for atrociously designed golf sweaters, is being played this week at Gleneagles, Perthshire. Naturally I had to come up with a golfing ghost story. Here is one from the hallowed links of St. Andrews.
Of the Bodach-Glas, or “dark grey man,” whose appearance is said to herald the approach of death to certain clans in Scotland, and of which Sir Walter Scott has made such effective use in Waverley when relating the end of his hero, Fergus Mac Ivor, we have the following well-authenticated instance of its having been seen in our own day. The late excellent and justly popular Earl of Eglinton, whose sudden death was truly felt as a national loss in Scotland, and who is famed for an attempt to revive an ancient custom of mediaeval times by the tournament held at Eglinton Castle in 1839, was engaged on the 4th of October, 1861, in playing, on the links of St. Andrew’s, at the national game of golf. Suddenly he stopped in the middle of a game, exclaiming,” I can play no longer, there is the Bodach-Glas. I have seen it for the third time; something fearful is going to befall me.” Within a few hours, Lord Eglinton was a corpse; he died the same night, and with such suddenness, that he was engaged in handing a candlestick to a lady who was retiring to her room when he expired. Henderson, in Folk Lore, mentions that he received this account of Lord Eglinton’s death from a Scotch clergyman, who endorses every particular as authentic and perfectly true.
Singularly enough this much-lamented nobleman had a warning only a few months previous, concerning his second wife’s sudden death, conveyed, however, on this occasion by a dream. He had married in November, 1858, the Lady Adela Capel, only daughter of the Earl of Essex. Shortly after her confinement in December, I860, he left home to attend a wedding, and during his absence dreamed that he read in the Times newspaper an announcement of Lady Eglinton’s death on a day not far distant. The dream affected him a good deal, and his dejection on the day following was apparent to everyone. He returned home at once, and found his wife progressing favourably, and his alarm subsided. Soon after, the countess caught cold from having removed to another room; illness came on, and her husband was aroused one night with tidings that she was in a dangerous state. It was the last day of the old year, and the very morning indicated in his dream. Lord Eglinton rose up, as he afterwards expressed it, with a yell of agony. Before nightfall his wife expired.
Apparitions: A Narrative of Facts, Bourchier Wrey Savile, 1880, pp. 146-9
Archibald William Montgomerie, 13th Earl of Eglinton [1812-1861] has been best remembered for his inspiration to host a re-enactment of a medieval jousting tournament in 1839. It was a sincere attempt—the “knights” actually seriously trained to joust and some wore real medieval armor, but the event has gone down in legend and song for its extravagances and misfortunes: horrifically bad weather, gridlock from the crush of visitors, and leaking/collapsed banqueting tents.
Lady Eglington was Lord Eglinton’s second wife. She died in December 1860, at age 32. He was 49 when he died in October 1861.
The Bodach-Glas is described as a spirit on horseback by Robert Chambers, commenting on Sir Walter Scott:
The original of the Bodach Glas, whose appearance proved so portentous to the family of the Mac-Ivors, may probably be traced to a legend current in the ancient family of Maclaine of Lochbuy, in the island of Mull, noticed by Sir Walter Scott in a note to his “Lady of the Lake.” * The popular tradition is, that whenever any person descended of that family is near death, the spirit of one of them, who was slain in battle, gives notice of the approaching event. There is this difference between the Bodach Glas and him, that the former appeared on these solemn occasions only to the chief of the house of Mac-Ivor, whereas the latter never misses an individual descended of the family of Lochbuy, however obscure, or in whatever part of the world he may be.
The manner of his showing himself is sometimes different, but he uniformly appears on horseback. Both the horse and himself seem to be of a very diminutive size, particularly the head of the rider, from which circumstance he goes under the appellation of “Eoghan a chinn bhig,” or ” Hugh of the little head.” Sometimes he is heard riding furiously round the house, where the person is about to die, with an extraordinary noise, like the rattling of iron chains. At other times he is discovered with his horse’s head nearly thrust in at a door or window; and, on such occasions, whenever observed, he gallops off in the manner already described, the hoofs of his steed striking fire from the flinty rocks….Like his brother spirits, he seems destined to perform his melancholy rounds amidst nocturnal darkness, the horrors of which have a natural tendency to increase the consternation of a scene in itself sufficiently appalling. Illustrations of the Author of Waverley, Robert Chambers, 1884
You’ll find the original Scott text here. Obviously there was a good deal of variation in the behavior and appearance of the Bodach-glas, not unlike the several varieties of banshee.
One wonders what, if any, statute in the R&A’s Rules of Golf covers a ghost in the fairway. “Outside Agency,” perhaps? Or more to the point:
“The course authorities may, under Rule 33-7, disqualify any player who acts in serious breach of etiquette, thereby violating the ‘spirit of the game’. Such serious breaches include actions made with intent to to injure other players or disturb/distract them while making their play.”
One couldn’t get much more disturbing/distracting than being a harbinger of death. Where was the rules official? The Bodach-Glas should have been ordered off the course immediately.
Other golfing ghost stories? Lay one dead at my feet: Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.