Golf World

Navigating Golf World

According to the R&A’s Golf Around the World 2017 there are a 33,161 golf courses in the world.  The R&A, or, Royal and Ancient, derives its name from the Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St Andrews, but as the R&A makes clear on its web site, it is “separate and distinct from”  the Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St Andrews. They don’t explain just how the R&A is separate and distinct; golf is full of arcane mysteries. In any event, the R&A governs the game everywhere except in the United States and Mexico, so if anyone knows exactly how many golf holes there are in the world (567,111) the R&A would.

On this side of the Atlantic

Golfers in the US and our southern boarder buddies follow the rules of, and get our handicaps through, the United States Golf Association. Known as the USGA , their offices are in Far Hills, New Jersey.

Where You Actually Go…

You don’t get your handicap directly from the USGA. You get it through your state golf association, which is affiliated with the USGA. But really the first place you go to get your own, personally golf handicap is the shop at a golf course that has a PGA professional on staff. PGA stands for Professional Golf Association, which is the organization that regulates golf professionals. Their offices are in Palm Beach Gardens in Florida. The PGA is not to be confuses with the PGA Tour which is what a lot of people sit around and watch on TV.  None of this really matters, but it may come up in conversation.

How Handicaps Work (ish)

To actually get a handicap you go to a golf course, pay $40 and give the guy behind the counter completed score cards from 5 rounds of golf that you’ve played. Your scores go into a black box and out pops a number – your very own handicap, hand crafted by the skilled artisans who dwell within the black box. (Okay, you want to know what’s inside the black box, don’t you? So….those guys – the R&A, USGA, the PGA and your state and local golf associations get together and they rate each hole on each golf course and give it a degree of difficulty. I kid you not. So the elves take your scores and match them up to how hard (or easy) each hole that you played and there you have it –  a numerical indication of how well (a low number) or poorly (a high number) you play. Every time you play you put your score into the black box, and your handicap goes down (or), as you play better (or worse).

The very best golfers have handicap of 0, or, as it’s call, scratch. Which lends itself to the clever quip I used when I was beginning to play “I’m a scratch golfer, because every time I play it’s like starting from scratch.” Ha ha.

Having a golf handicap goes a long way towards fulfilling the “plays well with others” rubric.

Why one bothers about all this is that with a golf handicap you can play against (or with) other players who are better (or worse) than you are in a more equal (fun) way. Fortunately, there are people (I’ve even met some!) who actually understand not only how the black box works but can explain how if your ball goes down a gopher hole it’s a two-shot penalty in match play, but a one-shot penalty in stoke play, yet if the hole was dug by a dog, well – that’s another matter entirely. The rule book is 225 pages long, and it’s single spaced. With no pictures.

Which Way the Grass Grows

I once played golf with a 12-year-old who talked about the direction that the grass on the greens grew in. The direction that grass grows in is no small matter in Golf World.

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More Beginnings

As For Me

Golf was always around. My maternal grandfather adored the game. An engineer who, when I knew him, was coming to the end of his long career with General Electric at the Knolls Atomic Power lab in Schenectady, New York. Granddad played at the Edison Club. We belonged to the Mohawk Club, so that was Dad’s course. And Great Uncle Newt belonged to a club over in Albany. The men usually played 18 holes on Saturdays. Somewhere there is a photo as a four-year-old wielding an big, red plastic toy driver on my grandparent’s lawn. Walking the course with Dad and Granddad when I was six, I was fascinated by the red ball and green washers, and the rain shelter among the pine trees on the back nine.

Mom didn’t take up golf in a big way until she and Dad moved to a small town on Connecticut’s gold coast. This was the summer before I left for college in Boston. The country club they joined had a nine-hole course that I saw from the train window when I cam home on holidays. Dad bought Mom a set of Sounder clubs and Mom played in the women’s league. When Dad bought Mom her next set of clubs (Pings) in the late ’80s, I asked for the Sounders and started to play. Part of the game’s appeal was wearing shoes with metal spikes and the sound I made walking across the parking lot.

Another appealing aspect of the game was hitting something repeatedly with a club.

Sophomore

Sophomore. From the Greek. Sophos = wise. Moros = stupid

Sophomore year of college, I met Carla. At first, I didn’t know what to make of her blond good looks, and cheerful disposition (I was in a dark and moody suffering artist phase at the time), but by mid-term had discovered she was a potent combination of badass funny and wicked smart. And she had a car. And liked to go places. Like ski houses in Vermont. And vacation houses on Cape Cod. And golf courses on Sea Island. And the Harvard football teams’ dorm after curfew. That was my wise/stupid year.

Around the time Mom was giving me her set of Sounder clubs, Carla was buying her house next to the cranberry bog on Cape Cod. In her backyard she hung a hammock between two trees. She also set up a net to hit golf balls into. One weekend I drove to Carla’s with my clubs, and she taught me what to do. Let the club do the work. Tempo. Keep your head still.  I hit balls into her net with my 7 iron, and then we went to play at Cranberry Valley. No one care how you play as long as keep moving, she told me. She showed me how to tend the pin and put the cart in reverse.

My wise/stupid year was forty years ago. Carla and I usually play at Cranberry Valley or Fresh Pond. About ten years ago we played Highland Links. Built in 1892 on bluffs overlooking the ocean, with deep, natural roughs of heather, and open fairways Highland Links is as close as you can get to a traditional Scottish style links course on this side of the Atlantic. Last week we played at a new course, Shaker Hills.  May we all find lifelong friends in our wise/stupid years.

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In the Beginning

Obsession

How to explain it? Ahab had his whale and I have my golf. Attempting to put into words the why of this game, to probe into the energy that fuels this frivolous quest is a lesser cousin to the mystery of why we pursue the divine. Why go to Canterbury or Mecca? Why bathe in the Ganges or burn incense before an alter? Why do we seek grace? This line of questioning has occupied philosophers, scholars, artists and priests since forever. It has also occupied housekeepers, cooks, farmers, miners, smiths and shepherds. And the shepherds bring us to golf.

Origins

The exact date and time when the game was first played – that moment when the first sphere-like object was hit by a club-like stick into a hole in the ground – is lost to us. But one can imagine the sphere-like object was a roundish rock, and the stick a shepherd’s staff. If one’s occupation was watching sheep (or goats or cows for that matter) one might pass the time hitting rocks into holes. And it’s easy to imagine saying to one of the other shepherds “You know that big elm tree over by Sully’s? Well, I hit a rock from there to the rabbit hole on the other side of the stream with 5 strokes of my staff.” And a couple of days later, your colleague comes around and says, “I got my rock from the elm into the rabbit hole in 4.” And with that,  we’re off and running.

Everything that comes after – the titanium clubheads, graphite shafts, stay-dry gripes, hand milled irons, lob wedges, Skycaddie range finders, three piece low compression balls with a patented dimple pattern, bunker rakes, little pencils, colorful scorecards, wooden tees, magnetic ball markers that clip to your visor, electric golf carts tricked out like real automobiles, monogrammed headcovers with pom poms, Kangol caps, plus-fours knickers, Proquip Tour Flex 350 rain pants, Ecco BIOM G2 yak leather shoes with SLIM-Lok spikes, mini-golf windmills, driving ranges, practice greens, Dave Leadbetter instructional videos, destination courses with 5 star accommodations and around the clock room service, claret jugs, green jackets, clubhouse grill rooms and birdie bottles – is mere embellishment.

The Gospel of Luke…

…tells us the shepherds were living in the fields, watching over their flock one night when they looked up and say an angel of the Lord. The Evangelist doesn’t mention what the shepherds looked up from when the angel appeared and announced his glad tidings. Perhaps they looked up from hitting roundish rocks with their staffs into rabbit holes.

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Coming Back to the Game

“Golf never forgets you and is always waiting for your return.” Tommy Barnes, quoted in The Range Bucket List, by James Dodson

I’ve walked away from golf several times. Once as part of adolescence rebellion. My parents played golf. I played tennis. And again as I raged against the constraints of middle age. It is difficult to tick off exactly what draws me back to the game, but it’s all there when I come back. And there have been times when the lay off just happens; the stuff of that is life outside the game crops up.

This summer I didn’t play in the Ladies Monday League as I’d hoped, or with the EWGA as I did last summer. In all, I played a total of 36 holes, hit half bucket of balls at the driving range and was soundly beaten on the miniature golf course. So now it’s September – a time of cooler weather, shorter days, and I’m…

Pressing the Reset Button

reset

How-To

Step One – Give Yourself a Break

Okay, so you didn’t play as much golf last month as you would have liked, but there was that parr on 15, and the ten foot downhill putt that went in the hole on 9 last week. And mini golf with the kids? Hey, that’s your contribution to growing the game.

Swing Time

Relax and take your favorite club (currently my 7 iron is my best friend) and a handful of practice balls and hit a few. No big deal, just hit ’em. Practice your routine – grip, aim, set up, swing, follow through. Hit through your clubs in sequence – drive, fairway wood, short iron, wedge. Repeat. Go to the driving range and hit a bucket of range balls. Yeah – see! You know how to do this – you do it all the time!

Watch and Learn

Relax, sit back, and follow the pros on Sunday. Did you see Stacy Lewis as she played the Portland Classic for Houston, her beleaguered hometown? How about Phil Mickelson playing in the pouring rain at TPC Boston? Talk about dedicated to the game…Later this season, Ai Miyazato will play her final round on the LPGA tour. Watching her walk towards the final hole of the Evian Master (Sept 14 to 17) – an event that she won twice – is a moment that I don’t want to miss.

Read and Remember

Relax, sit down with a good book – just look at the pictures in Annika Sorenstam’s Golf Annika’s Way and remember all the little things that go into a good golf shot.

Golf Annika

Thumb through Think Like a Caddie Play Like a Pro, and remember some of the details that improve the likelihood of the good golf shot happening – details like keeping your club faces and grips clean and dry, and making a yardage book for home course.

Golf think like

Bend and Stretch

Relax, there are apps for that. Tony Finau’s 2 Minute Hotel Stretch Routine is a brilliant pre-round quick fix for flexibility. For a deeper dive, the Down Dog app is like having an ever-ready yoga studio on your smart phone. It’s free, its’s fun and it’s real deal yoga that you can dial up or down, easy to hard.

Clear Your Head – Make Room for Your Swing Thought

Relax, there are apps for that too. Plug in and let go with the Simply Being app by Meditation Oasis.

Zen-Golf-square

Whistle a Happy Tune

Relax, celebrate September with Earth, Wind and Fire, just hit the ball!

September

 

After Long Silence

Q: What makes God laugh?

A: People making plans

I had planned to play golf in the Monday evening league at the home course over this summer. I moved long-standing appointments around. I filled out the form and paid the dues. And then…and then my father-in-law’s health began to decline, and then we stepped up our search for a vacation home (rough life, huh?), and then we bought the second house and then, my father-in-law died. Full stop.

So, right now, just walking the course, hitting the ball and watching the clouds roll across the crisp blue sky on an afternoon late in summer is a gift of grace. It was a good round yesterday. I came back with the same ball that I started with; the fellows I played with were amicable and there was a good sized doe hanging out by the 6th green – my tee shot landed not far from where she grazed. My plan is to play another 9 holes this afternoon. We’ll see how it goes.

 

Another tee time countdown – 1 day, 23 hours..

georgewright

…until teeing off at George Wright Golf Course with the EWGA

 I’m Sure Everything Will Be Okay, But..

…I’m about to play an away game after a most disastrous nine holes on Tuesday. The only good thing about the round was that it did finally came to an end & I could shake hands with the nice threesome who had witnessed my piteous lack of a game. To avert further calamity, I’m spending time on the practice green and at the range, and following And Mariah Stackhouse’s advice in the June issue of Golf Digest (Real Simple – 5 Fundamental to Better Golf). I even went to the extreme of starting to use the alignment sticks that I bought (but never used) last season.

And Then, There’s the Checklist

Clubs, bag, balls and tees – that’s the easy stuff. Then there’s clearing of the deck at home – yup – Saturday – gone most of the day – yup. The phone number for the pro shop is on the fridge – they’ll know where to find me if there’s an emergency.
What to wear – with showers and clouds forecast, I’ll layer up (polo shirt, sweater and windbreaker) and take an extra pair of socks.
Pack snacks – pimento cheese sandwich, trail mix and banana.
Trying not to panic. Re-reading Penick.  Wondering how to appease the golf gods.
Trying to find zen.

Zen-Golf-square

Dancing with Druids in the Glen

This trip to Ireland was dominated by the two very different, very beautiful and very beguiling courses at the Druids Glen Hotel and Golf Resort in Newtownmountkennedy Co Wicklow. With something for everyone – a full service spa, swimming pool and spill proof restaurant on-site, fishing, horseback riding, and hiking in the Wicklow hills near by, Druids Glen is well suited for those who enjoy the outdoors with a large helping of relaxed elegance.

My beloved brother and gracious host, Ted, discovered the Druids Glen when he and his family moved to near-by Greystones. With twin boys, Ted spends his days riding herd on two high energy three year olds. The swimming pool, on the Heath side of the resort, is one of Ted’s preferred play-time destinations. He was itching for the opportunity to play golf the iconic Druid Glen course.

Conor, the overseer of the fully stocked pro shop, collected our greens fees, sold us some extra balls and the course guide (essential – do not tee off without it) and sent us off to the first tee with a smile and suggestions on whiskeys to sample. He was particularly keen on two new releases by Jameson.

druid glen 2

The Course Guide – Don’t Leave the Pro Shop without It

Our outing started innocently enough. The first two holes were manageable, but the slippery green on 2, the road hole, foreshadowed what was to come. What followed was a series of challenges – blind tee shots, sinister bunkers, variegated greens – long, uphill shots; steep downhill drives, and, then, water. On the 8th hole water comes dramatically into play (“I say, is that a swan in the water hazard?”). Crossing the swinging bridge on 9, I half expected a troll to emerge and challenge our crossing.

At the turn we stopped for lunch. Woodstock House, built in 1770 by a son of the Earl of Aldborough, is now the clubhouse for the Glen course, so the grill room came by it’s gentlemen’s club vibe naturally. Sitting in our wing chairs at a table by the window, we could just make out the Irish Sea on the horizon. Sandwiches, burgers and a full dinners were on the menu and the bar offered abundant options. We opted for short Smithwicks Red Ale, club sandwiches and chicken wings. The wings were served with finger bowls – that’s how fancy this place is. Thus refreshed, we pushed on.

The mystery deepens on the back half. Here, the game not as much played upon the grounds of the Woodstock Estate, as it is absorbed landscaping dating to the 1600s. It is mesmerizing and diabolically difficult, (so much so that Druids Glen hosted the Irish Open from 1996 through 1999.) Designed by Pat Ruddy and Tom Craddock, this classic parkland course pushes boundaries.  A good bit of fantasy is very much in play in the hollows of Druids Glen.

A Not So Quick Round

Tuesday we hit a record high of 84 F in Boston, and, out on the fairway, (which I managed to land on with some frequency, thank you very much) it was blistering hot, full on summer day. Jack the starter paired me with a very nice young man and sent us out, sandwiched between a four some of Harvard men, and the Belmont Hills golf team.

For its students, Harvard provides golf, gratis, on our little hidden gem of an urban golf course. Every year the university buys a allotment of vouchers, and each spring a small flock of students play our course.

The John Harvards in front of us were in their mid 20s, were taking time out of their studies at law or business school to enjoy each others company and a round of the royal and ancient game. Beer was the beverage of choice. Each putt was thoroughly scrutinized. Pace of play slowed to a crawl.

Fortunately, the nice young man I was playing with was  quite charming. On the 3rd tee we discussed barbecuing techniques. By the sixth hole we were comfortable enough to discuss politics.  Two hours in, and with three holes left to play, we parted – he had guests coming for dinner. The Johns had just hit onto the green – or attempted to (8 is a par 3; the green is protected by a water hazard). The wait did not appeal so I pocketed my ball and walked to the club house. On the way in, I stopped to admire the turtles on log in the water on the 9th.

turtles

 

Countdown to Ireland

It’s another beautiful Spring day, and I’m on track to play nine again this afternoon.

Last week, between the weather and errands (getting kids to doctor appointments and glasses fitting, grocery shopping, my dental appointment and the seemingly unending cycle of laundry.) I only got out once last week. (Friday was my second loop around FPGC this season). Rain is forecast for tomorrow (so I’ll have a crack at completing mid-week errands without wasting good weather!) Thursday & Friday both look promising.

countdown to Ireland

All this golf leading up to our trip to Ireland and yes, I’m taking my clubs and yes, it’s going to be epic, and not necessarily because I’ll be playing legendary courses – although that may happen, who knows?

This trip – out on Saturday evening, arrive at 5 am Easter Sunday morning at Shannon Airport/back on Friday, five days later – a quick hop, with the primary objective of delivering a set of golf clubs to my brother, Ted. Growing up on the country club coast of Connecticut, Ted played a lot growing up, and played quite well. Somewhere between college in the mid-West, moving to Seattle and then Europe (Prague, Munich, Paris and now Greystones, Wicklow County, in the Republic of Ireland) he lost track of his clubs.

I shopped the clubs to within an inch of their lives and found a set of used Walter Hagen hybrids and irons for $25 on Craig’s List. I traded cash with Don beside his car across the street the L Street bathhouse in South Boston on a very cold Saturday morning in January. And yes, I was struck by how the exchange has the look and feel of a drug buy.

As Ted is a full on stay at home dad, supporting his C-level working for a Fortune 500 company wife, with two twin boys just north of toddler-hood, he faces the daily challenge of putting 20 consecutive minutes together to take a shower. A round of golf requires monumental planning; even a trip to the near-by driving range needs co-ordination and bit of luck. Should our luck fail, however, I do have a backup plan. And it is my backup plan that is epic – it is the stuff that legends (at least family legends) are made of. Trust me! If you’re a primary parent and trying to balance golf and life you’re going to want to know what I’m bringing to Ireland for Ted’s Epic Easter Morning surprise.

Upon Reconsideration – NO MORE TIGERS…

…NO MORE WOODS.
Message carved into the green at the Trump National Golf Club, Rancho Palos Verdes, CA, in response to the rolling back of EPA clean water regulations.

Clean water. What’s not to like? And it’s not as if golf courses can’t be managed in environmentally sustainable ways. On this, we golfers should be loud and proud. It’s the part about Tiger – a very clever play on words, but at Tiger Wood’s expense.

Tiger Woods. What remains to be said about a man who, at as a two year old, appeared on national television swinging a golf club? That was 39 years ago, and we’re still fascinated by Earl’s son hitting golf balls. This past fall, in his role as vice captain of the American Ryder Cup team, we saw the beginning of a man transforming from sole contributor to team leader. He has the potential to enrich the game that enriched him. To tar Tiger Woods with the brush meant for Donald Trump is unfair, misguided and counter productive.

Like it or not, golf is now caught in the white hot glare of the international political spotlight. We need the leaders of the game, people like Tiger, to make real the core values that groups like the First Tee instill in the future players of this ancient and royal game.

first tee values