P G Tait at the R&A Clubhouse

The Royal and Ancient (R&A) is the famous golf club in St Andrews, Scotland. It is situated behind the 1st tee and 18th green of the Old Course. P G Tait was a member of the R&A as was his son, the famous golfer Freddie Tait. P G Tait was proposed for membership by the Principal of the University of St Andrews. Cargill Gilston Knott wrote the book Life and Scientific Work of Peter Guthrie Tait (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1911). The book contains the article Tait at St Andrews by J L Low. We quote from this article:

Returning with the Professor to the clubhouse, we notice that the golfers freely greet him, as he quietly retires to his accustomed seat, or finds a companion for an afternoon game at billiards. In this community, full of cosmopolitan elements, the great man walked humbly and was accessible to everyone. On a doubtful morning no one started for a round without asking him if an umbrella should form part of the caddie's burden; and his opinion was always backed against the barometer.

The Professor seldom addressed anyone, but of all the notables he was the most easy of approach. No topic of conversation was foreign to his interest; and the more remote the subject from the beat of his scientific enquiries the more were we astonished by the intimate manner in which he threw himself into the discussion. On politics he held tremendous views; and his eye glistened as he read a slasher in the 'Saturday Review'.

In his Edinburgh home he was not a club man, and I believe he refused to join in any way in club life; but in his holiday time he loved to mingle with the golfers, and enjoyed greatly his billiards. Although not a great player, his intimate knowledge of angles gave him a fine field for amusement and experiment as he tried almost impossible cannons. To an opponent who had indulged in a very forceful game, I remember him remarking that the play had seemed to be a combination of bagatelle and racquets. But these hours in the billiard room were for him, especially in later days, sources of splendid recreation.

Many great men have been drawn to St Andrews, and have gone in and out of the Royal and Ancient Club; but probably no man so great has ever come so closely in touch with its members. We knew that he knew the mysteries which our minds could not grasp; but the man as he walked among us put himself, almost with diffidence, on our level and invited our opinion. We, who had not been his pupils, were thus able to guess the cause of that power and fascination which he had exercised over generations of Edinburgh students.

JOC/EFR January 2015

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