GUEST COMMENTARY
Reid Champagne 
Bogeys and stogeys
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
By Alan Shipnuck

Bogeys and stogeys

That Florida happens to be both the golf capital and the cigar capital of the United States is a happy coincidence. A coincidence because cigar making came to the state when a few enterprising Cubans figured out that making handmade Havana cigars in Florida was a better marketing ploy than selling handmade Florida cigars in Havana.  And then golf came to Florida when a few enterprising land developers realized submerged swampland could be sold as "forced carries" and "natural settings" to a nation with plenty of money and a limited understanding of drainage.

 

But the coincidence of golf and cigars here is a happy one, because nothing seems to say "recreational activity" quite like the sight of a deeply tanned, almost manatee-like endomorph, occupying slightly more than half of a golf cart, decked out in colors never before seen in a rainbow, with two-toned shoes and a panama hat straight out of an action adventure set in pre-Castro Cuba, flanked by a pair of Bloody Mary’s and puffing on an Arturo Fuentes the size of a SCUD missile.

 

Florida’s first Cohiba was rolled in Tampa’s historic Ybor City district sometime in the 1880’s. Florida’s first golf course was built in Palm Beach in 1896. The first golf victory cigar was no doubt lit on that course when two railroad chiselers won a $5 Nassau from two land development swindlers, which produced yet another happy coincidence: Connecting resort hotels and railways in a way to get Florida vacationers to their destinations without the subtle risk of slipping away into quicksand en route.

 

While chomping a Don Capitano hasn’t seemed to have caught on with golf’s professional tours (try to imagine Steve Williams handing Tiger his putter and a smoldering Monte Cristo at the same time), most of today’s well-stocked pro shops now include at least a counter humidor filled with a variety of Churchills, Presidentes and Robustos, and all, incidentally, robustly marked up to make that $120 logoed golf shirt seem like a bargain by comparison.

 

But our typical hacker needs a jolt of confidence to polish the rough edges of a $2,000 set of clubs. And nothing says confidence like a fine hand rolled cigar lit at that precise moment when a preposterously improbable series of swing flaws converge with the frequency of a Transit of Venus to produce a striped, 250-yard drive down the middle of that first fairway. And soon, it will be those puffs of signal smoke from that Cuesta-Rey that will help the other members of the foursome locate their lost lamb amidst the thick woods where his shanked second shot has now sent him.

 

It seems that a blunt wedged between the blunt digits of our average weekend warrior imparts a lasting swagger that neither titanium, cavity backs, offset hosels or graphite can sustain. Lighting up after a series of caroms off trees, skips through ponds, fortuitous plinks off decorative stone or railroad ties that produced our beloved chop’s first ever 89 suggests the very epitome of success and triumph. Stoking that victory stogey is a well-deserved act of celebration to a round that could otherwise be described as a poorly-coordinated train wreck. Instead, that Torpedo says, "I win!" for a round that more truthfully shrieks, "You suck!"

 

The ritual of cigar smoking quite compatibly follows the ritual of shotmaking. There is that whole pre-smoke routine: unwrapping the cellophane, moistening the cigar’s outer wrapper by rolling it around in your mouth, borrowing and then clipping the end with a cigar cutter based on an 18th century French death penalty solution, firing up with a specially crafted (and priced) butane lighter possessing the thrust of a Shuttle launch and then, at long last, puffing to get a good glow that turns out to cover about a third of the end, and burns out by the time you find your tee shot in the woods a few minutes later. It all consumes about the same amount of time it takes Big Al to ponder, select a club, ponder some more, waggle, take three practice swings and then address before ultimately hitting a 50-yard topper into the creek he had (much) earlier played safely short of.

 

And choosing the right cigar for golf can be as important as choosing the right club, especially for those players who - to slightly paraphrase Peter Aliss - are "great sprayers of the ball."

 

The bigger the cigar the easier it is to find, especially when placed amidst a thick patch of sawgrass, coleus and poison oak, after your ambitious recovery shot from deep within the woods, failed to negotiate either the stand of sabal palms, mangrove swamp, waste bunker, pond and bulkhead, all of which stood between your ball and the green - a shot you just knew you had the game for, even after the more typical 165-yard banana slice that got you into this predicament in the first place.

 

And, finally, what better way to judiciously interrupt the windbag telling how his 104 could just as easily have been an 82 if he just could have made a few putts and caught a few breaks like the one off the cart shed roof that saved a bogey, by suddenly saying, "Dang, I think I left my tee-gar on that hole."

  

Reid Champagne puffs and pouts from his home base in Newark, Del.


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Reid Champagne 
A few loose screws
Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I have a driver designed by some of the leading minds in golf club engineering that is made to produce a draw

I have a driver that has allowed me to hit the ball farther than I have ever hit it before. I can hit it farther into the woods, farther out of bounds and deeper into a lake sitting on another hole way off to the right that nobody in my foursome would have thought was in play until they saw the splash.

 

My driver has been designed by some of the leading minds in golf club engineering to help me produce a draw. Inserts called "launch cartridges," are positioned to weight the club face in such a way that no matter how much my flying elbow, outside-in, reverse pivot, off-balanced, laid-off and blocked swing flaws combine to produce a banana slice so severe that the ball almost seems to have been a satellite launched by a boomerang, the club will turn that ball flight into a draw. That’s the way the engineers designed it. With this club my ball flight is a controlled, but pronounced fade. Imagine what it looked like before.

 

I guess the ability to draw the ball is some God-given gift, or at least the result of training and practice that I refuse to devote to a game that is supposed to be a recreational diversion. All I know is that as long as I continue to set up dead left, I have a reasonable chance of delivering a tee ball somewhere toward the center- right of the fairway. Most of the time.

 

For there are those times when all my swing flaws combine in some mystically inexplicable way to cancel each other out and produce a finely-tuned, beautiful-to-watch, gentle draw that disappears into the woods on the left where I had set up (remember?) to hit that pronounced fade. No golf club engineer can make a club to deal with that.

 

That’s because they’re putting the "launch cartridges" – or screws – in the wrong place. Instead of screwing them into the club face, they should be providing a standard driver, but with a surgical kit that would allow you to screw the cartridges into the precise positions of your wrists, elbows, shoulders and back to produce the draw bias they’ve been mistakenly designing into the club. Include a couple of those screws for your head and I believe you’ve delivered a complete package.

 

No sport has made broader use of the entire spectrum of mechanical, aeronautical and cosmological engineering to design a golf club that – under the appropriate launch conditions – could put a golf ball into orbit, land it on the moon and return it safely to earth (okay, I’m making up the last part). But just as na•ve it would be to think we could have launched Apollo 11 using a kid a with a sling shot, we insist on placing this precisely designed, engineered and manufactured instrument into the hands of an average golfer who insists the golf swing should be no more difficult to execute than making a left turn – or in most of their cases, a right one- against traffic. Giving a 460cc, titanium headed, offset, draw-biased driver, with a frequency matched, low torque, high kick point graphite shaft and Winn grips, is like giving an iPod to a Druid.

We’ve long since learned in the world at large that technology will not and can not solve all of man’s problems. But for some reason, out on a golf course, we stubbornly cling to the notion that the solution to keeping our golf ball in the fairway and off the roofs of the adjoining golf course community requires a technological, rather than a human, or even, a divine intervention.

It’s not the screws in the club head that have to be moved and adjusted, so much as the loose ones in our head that have to be tightened.

 

Reid Champagne, a freelance columnist for more than 25 years, is currently the contributing humorist for Delaware Today magazine. His golf humor has appeared in several editions of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.     

 


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Larry Hirsh 
Want to grow the game? Here are a few ideas.
Friday, April 23, 2010

By Laurence Hirsh

 

If we want to grow the game of golf, I’ve got a couple of ideas: If a Mom or Dad shows up at a golf course with their kid in tow, let the kid play for free.  I’m betting they’d have fun and come back again, and again.

 

Also, during slow times at courses when tee times go unfilled, why not let kids play for free?  Let them fall in love with the game.

 

I offer these suggestions because, as a golf industry consultant, I spend a lot of time around golf courses.  I see what’s going on.  Just recently, during visits to five courses, a client wondered whether golf discourages new recruits in a variety of ways?  Yes, I think it does.

 

And just last week, I attended a golf industry conference where the issue of developing new golfers and increasing rounds were the primary topics.  For years, industry leaders have talked about growing the game by appealing to women and kids, but only last month an article in the Wall Street Journal explored why many women are turned off by golf.

 

I believe a more "integrated approach" for growing the game is called for.

 

Golf’s core participant, according to the National Golf Foundation (NGF) is the adult male. Given modern lifestyles – i.e. more family activities -- golf might be well served by not only finding ways to encourage women and juniors but also by promoting golf as a family activity.

 

As a lifelong, avid golfer who grew up playing with my father and now plays with my two sons, I know that in addition to being a wonderful bonding experience, "father-son" golf makes it much easier for me to play more often.  Mom gets freed from the constant responsibility for the kids, I get to play more golf and spend more quality time with my kids.  We can even stop and do the shopping on the way home.  What could be better?

 

Between my travels to client clubs and facilities around the country and my quest to play as many courses as I can, I haven’t seen much family golf.  I probably shouldn’t be surprised.  Most families can’t afford to come up with three or four green fees on a regular basis.

 

That brings me to my idea about kids playing free with a parent or during slow times at courses. If kids were able to play free (or for a substantial discount) with a parent, I believe that revenues ultimately would be enhanced, because Dad (and maybe Mom) would play more often and kids will be exposed to the game.

 

Obviously, each course would have to come up with a plan that worked for them, but the idea is to get youngsters hooked on golf when they are young and broke for later in life, when they are working parents with kids of their own.

 

One area that can be explored is how to attract today’s younger generation.  While these are presented only as food for thought, and not relevant to all clubs, ideas for discussion can include the following questions:  Are collared shirts essential?  Must the bills of caps face forward? Are jeans, cargo pants and baggy pants that offensive?   And what about the common ban on cell phones?  For many of us, cell phones are now an essential work tool and lifeline to family and office?  Times and lifestyles have changed.

 

As the father of a 19-year-old (college golfer) who dresses much like his peers, I appreciate it that he takes "acceptable" clothes to wear on the golf course.  I can’t help but wonder if plenty of kids who don’t grow up in golfing households never give golf a try because of the dress codes and rules.

 

Let’s face it, to many people, golf is perceived as an expensive, elitist’s game.  Country clubs in particular are often regarded as stuffy places with too many intrusive rules.  I know of a club that has a sign at its swimming pool with 8 pool rules, each beginning with the word "NO" in bright red letters. That same club has 219 golf rules, as opposed to the 34 rules deemed sufficient by the United States Golf Association (USGA).

 

Change is always received with some degree of trepidation, but golf needs to reconsider some of its traditions and rules, if it’s ever hopes to revitalize its own economic health.

 

Laurence A. Hirsh, CRE, MAI, SGA is the president of Golf Property Analysts, a leading golf  and club property consulting, appraisal and brokerage firm. He is based in Conshohocken, PA.  He has performed consulting and appraisal assignments on more than 2,500 golf & club properties in 45 US states, Canada and the Caribbean.  Hirsh is a frequent author and lecturer.  A founder and first president of the Society of Golf Appraisers (SGA), Hirsh has also developed a golf course and brokered more than $100 million in golf course & club properties.  He is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and an active golfer with a handicap of 1.

 


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Keith Haslam[9/12/2013 11:47:16 AM]
There are probably a multitude of reasons why the game is not growing, but I really think one of them is that golf is just not seen as a game people want to play and the "traditions" are becoming a little old fashioned and I am not sure by changing it is being disrespectful to the game of golf. I have seen people adhering to the dress codes be the worst dressed people in the clubhouse, I see golfers adhering to the dress codes not rake bunkers, not repair pitch marks and I have seen some very smartly dressed golfers cheat as well - I think the general assumption that changing the dress codes will invite cheats and people to be disrespectful is a bit of a generalisation. Plus, in new emerging golf markets such as Russia, Bulgaria etc, their culture is different and wearing a very smart pair of denims with a shirt and jacket is what everyone expects and not allowing this means golf will never take off. Things change, we don’t wear tweed jackets like Tom Morris did, we all use equipment that 20 years ago would have been unheard of! And recently I heard a very good statement from the GM of the Savoy in London - "traditions are just new innovations that we liked and kept" - maybe we need to keep innovating to have future traditions!
Kevin Shaw[9/12/2013 10:50:24 AM]
Growth of the game is essential, we do need to make a few changes. However we must also adhere to the traditions that make this game great. Especially the tradition of respect. Respect your surroundings. by appearing in dress that is appropriate.If you want to wear a rally cap go to a Eagles game , not to my course, if you want to wear jeans, ( and I do off course) wear them but not at my course. cargo shorts are OK but there are some course that do not think so . So be it. Respect is the foundation this game is built on. How can we expect our young players to call a penalty on themselves if they don’t respect the game, the course they are playing or the rules they are playing by. If you need your phone, excuse yourself, go to a place designated by the course to answer it and meet me on the next hole (emergencies excluded, of course) I can’t wait for the opportunity to turn mine off.I also don’t want to hear yours start ringing or listen to your conversation Enjoy the game as we all should, without the distractions of our modern life and pass THIS change onto our younger players to enjoy and stop thinking about how technology can interfere with it, how a dress code can enhance the experience rather than deter from it and enjoy the game for all it’s worth.
Steve[4/28/2010 5:55:52 PM]
Golf is a difficult game to learn. Golf takes too long to play 18 holes. Weekend play at most public courses is tedious at best. People give up on golf for those reasons IMO. It takes a lot of time to become reasonably proficient on the golf course. Not everyone can learn the game quickly and they become frustrated and quit. It takes a lot of dedication and time to break 100 and then 90 and then 80. I have a friend who started the game at age 50 or so a few years. He went to a golf school. Now he plays and shoots in the low 100s. I suggested that he take more lessons and try to improve. My suggestion fell on deaf ears. He just likes the thril of hitting an occasional good shot. All of your suggestions are good but in the end it takes someone who really wants to learn the game. There’s a difference between a golfer and one who plays golf.
Will[4/25/2010 5:00:29 PM]
Nobody looks good in cargo pants.
Russ[4/24/2010 3:07:07 PM]
Given how much time a round of golf takes these days, I think courses ought to offer 6-hole and 12-hole green fees. You could squeeze in a round over 2 or 3 days.

S-l-o-w play dragging down the game
Friday, November 6, 2009

Yet another article on “Slow Play”

By Steve Shaffer

 

A few weeks ago a friend called me to complain about another five-hour round on a hot, hazy, humid day at one of Philadelphia’s public courses. When he told me it was on a Tuesday morning, not a weekend morning, I was shocked to say the least.

 

Past experience has taught me to avoid public courses on weekend mornings, because the golfers are usually packed onto the course, and five-hour rounds are commonplace; I play most of my golf on weekdays or weekend afternoons.

 

The problem that day, my friend told me, was that the golfers ahead of his group—at least two or three groups—seemed to be struggling and they were all over the course. When my friend asked a ranger to speed them up, the ranger said he’d already tried, to no avail.

 

To get to the heart of the slow-play problem, I went to the “horse’s mouth” -- the head pro and the general manager of two of the area’s busier public courses.

 

At Warminster’s Five Ponds Golf Course, head pro Gary Deetscreek basically said that the golfing public has become resigned to the - to 5-hour rounds.

 

He made other points as well: Public courses are constrained by the quality of golf their patrons play as opposed to private clubs; when patrons complain, it often turns out there were off in their estimation of how long it took to play the round. At Five Ponds, they monitor a group’s starting time, when it make the turn and when it finished.  Rangers monitor play, said Deetscreek, but sometimes patrons tell them to “F… off.”  On rare occasions, patrons who were holding up play at Five Ponds have been asked to leave the course.

 

One recognized expert on slow play, Bill Yates, who consults clubs and courses on slow slow, has come up with what he believes are the 5 Major Factors in slow play.  They are:

 

-Management Practices and Policies

-Player Behavior

-Player Ability

-Course Maintenance and Set Up

-Course Design

 

When I told Deetscreek that some golfers refuse to play public courses on weekends because of slow play, he mentioned the famous line from Yogi Berra: “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.”

 

After our interview, Deetscreek sent me a follow-up email with more observations on slow play, based on his 22 years at five different facilities and another five years at private clubs.  He cited eight factors that influence slow play, most importantly player ability:

 

1. Difficulty of course

2. Player Ability

3. Player Ability

4. Player Ability

5. Player Behavior

6. Course condition

7. Course Set-up

8. Course management and procedures

 

At Limekiln Golf Club in Horsham, a 27-hole course, general manager Robin Roberts, Jr., put the onus for slow play on the PGA Tour and its failure to penalize slow play. If the pros don’t speed things up, why should the public?

 

Like Deetscreek, Roberts cited course difficulty and player ability as factors in slow play.  He also added another:  The attitude of the golfer, or what Yates’ calls “Player Behavior.” Do they care about the groups behind them?  Some really don’t, according to Roberts.

 

Limekiln has preferred weekend tee times and carts are mandatory before 2 p.m. on weekends. Since there are three nines, tee times are filled on weekend mornings at 7-8-minute intervals until 8:30 a.m. This causes a built in 4.5 to 5 hour round, because as groups tee off on each nine, they must wait until the last group clears their nine to start on a new nine.

 

Roberts described slow play as a “constant battle,” and said his rangers sometimes ask a slow group to skip a hole, if they’re more than about a hole behind. He’s been there since 1990 and has never asked a group to leave the course because of slow play. He went on to say that if he only had 18 holes he would use 10-minute tee time intervals.  As it is, he recommends continuous putting as one way to speed up play.

 

If you ask me, public golf course management can do a better job by encouraging speedy play of the early morning weekend groups. As they go, so goes the rest of the day. Perhaps some incentives would help – maybe a sleeve of balls for finishing in 4 hours or less, a free hot dog, a discount on their next round, etc.

 

Of course, there are days when speedy play is impossible-in the spring when the rough can’t be cut and is high or when the course is cart paths only after a heavy rain, as Roberts pointed out. And, it goes without saying that public golfers should really care more about pace of play. More effective rangers would help too.  Courses should post guidelines for faster play near the first tee.  Would this sign on golf carts help?

 

HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE PLAYING BEHIND YOUR GROUP?

 

Steve Shaffer is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and Temple University School of Law.  A semi-retired lawyer, he is a former member of Commonwealth National who now travels the region and the nation in search of new golf experiences.

 

 

 


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Steve Shaffer[11/9/2009 2:12:08 PM]
I played Limekiln Sunday, November 8. My tee time was 11:08 a.m. We started at about 11:15a.m. and finished at 4:00 p.m. so our round was 4:45 hours. Limekiln is not a difficult course. It was not cart paths only.I can attest that PLAYER ABILITY is the cause of our slow pace of play. We were behind 2 groups of players that did not seem to be anywhere near bogey golfers. This pace of play is the reason many golfers join private clubs. Slow play is just not tolerated at private clubs. When I was at Commonwealth,a much more difficult course than Limekiln, even bogey golfers finished under 4:10 hour rounds. Why? Because they cared.

Cheesesteak 
Cheesesteak Open
Thursday, October 8, 2009

By Tony Leodora

 

If Philadelphia is ever going to get a PGA Tour tournament, I’ve got an idea: The Cheesesteak Open.

 

No kidding.  I mean, the Chamber of Commerce will tell you Philadelphia has everything. It’s only a little more than an hour away from popular vacation spots, such as the Jersey Shore or the Pocono Mountains. It has the World Champion Phillies, the soft pretzel, the Mummers, Rocky, the Art Museum with the famous steps that Rocky climbed, the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the Franklin Institute and (in most years) the Army-Navy game.

 

But what it doesn’t have is a PGA Tour event. Or, for that matter, an LPGA event. Or a Champions Tour event.

 

We used to have all of those.  We had the IVB Classic at Whitemarsh Valley CC for almost 20 years, but that died an unceremonious death in 1981.   Then came the mass exodus of other tournaments. The Champions Tour event, The Bell Atlantic Classic, left Chester Valley in 1997, spent two years at Hartefeld National, two more years in exile at Jasna Polana in Princeton, then drifted into oblivion.

 

We lost a number of LPGA events in succession – the Hershey Classic at Hershey CC, the McDonald’s LPGA Championship in Wilmington, the Betsy King Classic at Berkleigh CC near Kutztown and the Shop Rite Classic at the Jersey Shore.

 

They tried to bring the PGA Tour back, in 2000 and 2002, in the form of the SEI Classic at Waynesborough CC, rotating years between here and Western Pennsylvania.  But that fizzled because of a lousy date and lousy fields.

 

Tiger Woods is bringing his tournament, the AT&T Championship, to Aronimink in 2010 and 2011, and that is good.  And the U.S. Open returns to Merion in 2013. But both of them are nothing more than a tease.

 

The problem, in a word, is sponsorship. Without a title sponsor, an event will never come to Philadelphia.

 

For its size, Philadelphia is strangely devoid of corporations – at least corporations willing to put up the $7 million a year it takes to land a tournament.

 

We do have Comcast, the communications giant, which owns the Golf Channel. However, Comcast is not interested. The company is accustomed to collecting sponsor dollars, not paying them out.

 

That leaves only one hope:  The Cheesesteak Open.

 

The people of the region need to rally around our favorite food to raise the sponsorship money.

The idea is simple. How many cheesesteaks are sold in Philadelphia in a year? Just take the top 500 cheesesteak joints. They each average about 150 cheesesteaks in a day. Using an average calendar of 350 days per year, that comes out to something like 26 million cheesesteaks per year. A 25 cents surcharge on each cheesesteak would bring in a total of $6.5 million.

 

Throw in some residual sponsorship money from Amoroso Bakery, the No. 1 baker of steak sandwich rolls in Philadelphia, and possibly a few bucks from heart surgeons who would benefit from a cheesesteak-boosted run of patients, and -- bada-bing -- you have the necessary $7 million for a PGA Tour event. Once the basic funding is set up, the rest gets easier.

 

There is a long list of courses that could host a PGA Tour event in the Philadelphia area. For starters, there are two previous tournament sites – Waynesborough and White Manor – that have undergone renovations to further address the issue of being Tour worthy. And Aroniminik will prove itself over the next two years. Or how about bombers tracks like the ACE Club or the Militia Hill course at Philadelphia Cricket Club?

 

Then, of course, there is the marketing of the event itself. For starters, every hole on the course would have its own cheesesteak stand, run by one of Philadelphia’s famous establishments. They would rotate in turn each year. No other sandwiches would be served on the course.

 

Instead of the usual trick shot clinic that one of the pros gives on a Tuesday or Wednesday before the start of the tournament, there would be a clinic in the proper way to order a cheesesteak. Wit or witout. What kind of cheese? Variations that have become popular, such as the mushroom cheesesteak, or a new variation, the pepperoni cheesesteak.

 

Of course, there also would be counseling on how to avoid a damning cheesesteak faux pas, as was committed by then-presidential candidate John Kerry during his campaign swing through Philadelphia. Visiting famous Pat’s Steaks, Kerry was asked what he wanted on his cheesesteak. After careful thought, he asked for mayonnaise and swiss cheese. He was lucky he was not ridden out of town on a rail.

 

In the pro-am event, each pro-am team would be carrying the name of a different cheesesteak establishment on the sign board. The winning pro-am team would not be paid in money, or gift certificates to the pro shop. Instead, the winning amateurs would get a year’s supply of cheesesteaks from the shop on their sign board. The winning pro would have cheesesteaks packaged and shipped to their house throughout the year.

 

Call it the ultimate grass roots movement.

 

 

Tony Leodora is the associate publisher and editor of GolfStyles Philadelphia magazine. He also hosts the GolfTalk Live radio show each Saturday, from 7 to 8 a.m.,  on WNTP-AM (990) and www.golftalklive.net.

                 


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Jeff Silverman 
Tee time for one, please
Thursday, September 17, 2009

George Dalgliesh

By Jeff Silverman

 

All devoted golfers dream golf dreams, so many of which take the nightly non-stop to St. Andrews that the fantasy air lanes are alarmingly overcrowded. There’s nothing surprising about that, really. Even non-golfers know St. Andrews’ place in the game: part cradle, part shrine. As for the rest of us, we hold the pocked and pitted landscape of the Old Course in reverence, and the town itself -- the ancient university rising above the cathedral ruins -- as the royal and ancient promised land. Should the time arrive to make the waking version of the journey, we don’t simply go to St. Andrews; we go on pilgrimage.

 

Most likely in hadjes of two, three, or four.

 

Those, of course, are the numbers that tidily order golf’s buddy system. A travelling twosome, threesome or foursome – all thrillingly focused on playing golf when the sun’s up, talking golf once it sets, then dreaming golf until it rises again -- can fit as neatly into one car or around one table as it can into a single tee time. It’s familiar and it’s comfortable, and there’s much to recommend in that. But there’s also a downside: it’s familiar and it’s comfortable, the same old same old masquerading as a moveable feast. The baggage it schleps weighs far more than any golf clubs.

 

Hence, from time to time, I plot a different course. I voyage solo.

 

No, I’m not golfingly anti-social, misanthropic, disagreeable or dyspeptic. I love the rituals and traditions of the buddy trip – across town or across the sea -- as much as the next guy, and I’ve made my share to some memorable destinations with some good golfing friends. But, every now and then, I just want to play golf for a few days, and I want those days blessedly free from recognizable faces, customary routines – the regular  needles, hierarchy and wagers – and the predictable nits that slip into our suitcases when travelling with others: Friend A’s complaints about the hotel, Friend B’s carps about the cuisine, and Friend C’s running commentaries on his wife’s divorce lawyer. Sometimes, my clubs and I just want to vanish, and, like the prestige of a magician’s best trick, reappear elsewhere with an entirely revived golfing persona (not to mention a -- devoutly wished for -- superior grasp of the game).

 

Truth is, travelling alone for golf isn’t all that different from travelling alone for business. Each has its acknowledged customs, and the ceremonies at the heart of golf, the structured formalities – from checking in at the pro shop to shaking hands on the 18th green -- that hold the game together and unite all dubs are the same from the dustiest goat track to Merion and Muirfield. Golf, like business, may have its own language, but that language, in any accent, is universal.

 

And so, I go, buoyed by the hopefulness at the heart of my solo wanderlust: the epiphany that one is not only not a lonely number on the links, it can actually be a wonderfully adventurous and fascinating one. Especially in, say, St. Andrews.

 

Not that I’m any great expert on the place, the sum total of my experience confined to chasing a ball for four days a few Octobers ago over the Old Course; the adjacent New Course (built in 1895, it is new only in relation to the old); Kingsbarns, the fabulous upscale entry that just up the road; and Crail, a 19th-century club, seventh oldest in the world, in fact, up the same road a little farther. But St. Andrews doesn’t require expertise, just the welcoming awareness of something that Bernard Darwin, the greatest of all golfing scribes called "that utter self-abandonment to golf" when describing the city and its atmosphere almost a century ago.

 

Not much has changed in the intervening decades, except the prices, but if we invaders pay about $240 for the privilege of playing the Old Course (and much higher if booked through a tour service), the tariff on the St. Andrews Links Trust’s other six – the New, Eden, Jubilee, Strathtyrum, Balgove, and Castle – is considerably less, and just a fraction of even that for the self-abandoning locals. So, imagine, then,  stepping up to the first tee at Pinehurst, Bandon Dunes, or Whistling Straits to find the town butcher, baker, and candlestick maker in wait, all happy to fill your desperate golfing mind with their local knowledge before treating you to a post-round pint at the pub. Hard, isn’t it? But that’s St. Andrews in a nutshell, and you can’t find that St. Andrews cocooning solely with friends from home. My various partners included a local teacher, a student from the university, a retired executive from just across the Firth of Tay, a Canadian golf pro, a German scientist, and a trio of investment analysts – one from Holland, one from Sweden, and the third from the Connecticut burbs. All had room for a single in their allotted tee times; I joined them merely by showing up with my USGA handicap card, checking in with the starter, and waiting for an opening.

 

"St. Andrews is like an Everyman’s Pebble Beach," stresses Gordon Dalgliesh, an expert on the place both by genetics and vocation. "Where else can you find yourself joined both the neighborhood bricklayer and the international financier?" A Scotsman by birth – from Glasgow – who now lives in North Carolina, Dalgliesh and his brother Colin, the captain of this year’s Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup team, have been helping Americans find their way around the Auld Grey Toon for more than two decades through their tour operation, Perry Golf. "If you can’t make friends there and you’re a golfer, you’re probably not very interesting."

 

Interesting or not, St. Andrews throws its share of hurdles at single golfers, none insurmountable if you’re willing to be flexible, which a single always must. The Old Course, with coveted tee times so few and demand so high, is never a gimme to get on; a single can’t even enter the daily ballot. But a single does have the best possible chance of being sent out to join an incomplete foursome, of which there are surprisingly many throughout the day. The New and other Trust courses are, thankfully, less in demand, though they won’t let singles book in advance either. As for Kingsbarns, the spectacular – and, at about $300 a round, expensive – contemporary links (think Bandon without bedrooms) up the road, a single can just call ahead.

 

Still, even as a single, you’ll never walk alone on these courses, or even on a less trafficked private club like nearby Crail, which allows visitor play at various times of the day; there’s always someone waiting for a game. Nor, in St. Andrews, will you ever have to eat or drink alone. After every round, my various partners invited me to join them for something liquid, which segued to dinner, which segued to solving most of the world’s problems, but only after we’d thoroughly dissected our rounds, shot by shot. I was certainly glad I’d opted for a hotel in the heart of town; even for teetotalers, driving unfamiliar, narrow streets on the left side of the road after dark is less inviting than a downhill, side hill four footer with the match on the line.

 

So, who makes up the majority of solo voyagers to places like St. Andrews. According to Bill Hogan, president of the high-end tour operator Wide World of Golf, it’s always a he (or at least he knows of no women), often someone travelling elsewhere in Europe on business who wants to add a few days after closing the deal, a traditionalist who’d like to play with the locals – "to soak up," he says, "the history and folklore you don’t get with your three buddies from Cleveland" -- and, more likely than not, someone devoted to the game, often a serious low-handicap who’s looking to cram in 36 holes a day.

 

I satisfy three of those categories: male, traditionalist, and devoted. (The low handicap, alas, eludes me.) I love the game’s rituals as much as I love the game, and those rituals hold wherever we play. "It’s a dance, and we all know the steps," says my friend and sometime golf partner, Vick Kelly, a Philadelphia psychiatrist. "You can dance with anybody if you know the steps."

 

It’s nice, sometimes, to change partners and dance to your own tune. And what dancer doesn’t want to boogie – or bogey – at least once in life on the most hallowed dance floor of them all?

 

Jeff Silverman, a former columnist for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, has written for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Sports Illustrated and Travel & Leisure Golf.  He is the editor of several golf  books, including The Greatest Golf Stories Ever Told and Bernard Darwin on Golf.  He lives in Chadds Ford. Pa.

 

 

 

 


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Bernard Darwin 
Bernard Darwin
Sunday, August 9, 2009

Aberdovey and Bernard Darwin for Golfer’s Journal

By Jeff Silverman

 

I envy Bernard Darwin, and I’ve envied him since the day we met in 1993, some 30 years after his death, when Herbert Warren Wind introduced us. I’d been assigned to write a profile of Fred Couples, and since I’d never written any golf before, I’d asked some golf-savvy cronies to point me towards the best writer I could steal from. To a man, they fingered Wind.

 

So I started reading...and fortuitously bumped into Bernardo via Wind’s long and lovely New Yorker encomium marking the 1976 centenary of Darwin’s birth. Its opening sentence – cited by heart – still thrills: "There is little disagreement that the best golf writer of all time was an Englishman named Bernard Richard Meirion Darwin." The best says someone’s better? Bring him on.

 

But in that pre-dot-com universe, I was more likely to eagle the next hole I played than score a volume of his essays. As the web wove its wonders, I managed to stockpile a pretty good stash of his work, and by the time I’d cobbled together the 2003 anthology "Bernard Darwin on Golf," my envy had stockpiled, too.

 

I envied his prose – elegant, personal, insightful, and so welcoming; who wouldn’t? (On its breadth and bravura, Darwin entered the World Golf Hall of Fame last November.) I envied his game; an original Walker Cupper at 46, he was twice a semi-finalist in the British Amateur. I envied his work ethic; only once in his half century as golf correspondent for The Times of London and Country Life magazine did he ever file late, and history blames the wireless system on the ship transporting him across a stormy Atlantic.

 

But mostly I envied him Aberdovey. What golfer doesn’t yearn for a course to call home?

 

As stunningly as Darwin wrote about golf’s heroes and heroics, he distanced the field in his knack for capturing golf’s places, and he captured no place better than the links in western Wales that he grew up with and returned to regularly -- in person and on the page. Through a long and distinguished golfing life, his excursions – always by rail, even if the rest of his family travelled by car from London or Kent – became rites he shared with readers: the day-dreaming, the packing, the train ride, the conductor calling stations along the way. Ian Woosnan, an Aberdovey aficionado, likes to think his golfing grandfather, a conductor on the Cambrian line, might have chatted up Darwin en route. In summer, the trip included wife and children; in winter, he’d go for a New Year’s week with friends. "It can be warm enough in January to play in just a T-shirt," Woosie told me, though removing his jacket was about as far as Darwin ever went.

 

More than just a place or destination, Aberdovey became for Bernardo, a fixed landscape against which he could mark time and measure himself and upon which he bestowed unwavering affection in embarrassingly delicious public displays. It was, he confessed, "the course that my soul loves best of all the courses in the world."

 

Having chased those words, I wanted to catch that soul. I had no doubt where I’d find it. What I didn’t suspect was the golfing truth it would reveal.

 

My epiphany arrived on an October morning soon after I arrived on Aberdovey’s first tee. No one else was on the course yet. The winds were up. Richard Darlington, author of the club’s centennial book, had warned me in the clubhouse that this had the makings of an unusual day; those winds were howling down off the Snowdonia foothills from the east, not the west, over the dunes beside Cardigan Bay. Darlington has history with Aberdovey’s unusual days; Bernardo chronicled his victory in a children’s championship in 1929, and later Darlington caddied for him. "Mr. Darwin swung like a monkey on a stick," he recalled. Given the winds, that had the sound of a sensible swing tip.

 

I took my time on the tee to survey so much of what seemed so familiar through Darwin’s descriptions – the railroad tracks on the inland edge of the course, the tumerous Cader bunker that must be traversed on the par-3 third, the marvelous vista that would more fully reveal itself when I climbed the pulpit tee box on No. 4, the sandhills I’d play through coming home. I began feeling a mark of my own measurement: If I could accept that, in the middle of my middle age, there was still time to improve my handicaps with keyboard, golf clubs, and, most assuredly, deadlines, what was spreading out before me -- the blush of a first love that would mature for Darwin into a complete and devoted romance -- was as gone with the wind for me as half my shots would be in the bluster. My envy was stabbing. Flings? I’ve had those with courses, sure. Who hasn’t? But Darwin drew something deeper from Aberdovey, something elusive and personal, and then generously shared it with the rest of us. As I walked his footsteps, the epiphany hit: what he found on this field was the gift he wished for golfers everywhere -- "blind and unreasoning affection" for a golf course. I wasn’t feeling the stab anymore.

 

For better and for worse, Aberdovey became Bernardo’s enduring partner. Oh, he might go off for a waltz around St. Andrews and St. George’s – he captained both – and pretty much every other loop from the North Sea to the Channel isles. Yet, Aberdovey burrowed into his skin and stayed there, secure. "About this one course in the world," he conceded gleefully, "I am a hopeless and shameful sentimentalist and I glory in my shame."

 

Of course, we’re all capable of turning into shameless sentimentalists the moment a golfing ground sets its seal on our imaginations. I surely consider myself blessed to have found my own – finally -- on the edge of the sea in Rhode Island. I relish us growing older together, and that’s as much, really, as any golfer deserves. To have been young and new together, too? Why ask for the moon when I had my par star?

 

True, Bernardo was present at its creation, and – how appropriate for Charles Darwin’s grandson – continued to be present as it, and the golfer in him, evolved. Though Darwin never wrote this, my inner Freud can’t avoid inferring that Aberdovey’s hold stemmed in part from a psychic survival mechanism he fittingly developed. His mother, Amy, died a few days after his birth. Yet, I suspect she lived, for him, through Aberdovey.

 

As a boy, he spent spent summers with Amy’s mother and brothers just inland from Aberdovey at Machynlleth. The house was called Pantlludw – the name’s still on the gate – and Amy’d loved it: "I believe," she wrote in her diary, "it is as much a paradise as is possible." So did her son -- through golf’s connection, with the course as its anchor. Uncles Arthur and Richard Ruck, both military men, were golf nuts with no place in the neighborhood to play. So they created one. And Bernardo helped.

 

The nine rudimentary holes they laid out en famille in 1886 on the linksland of Aberdovey’s commons officially became the Aberdovey Golf Club six years later when Uncle Dicky, again with Bernardo assisting, designed a full 18 – planting real cups this time. (Colt, Braid and Fowler would later tinker, not all to Darwin’s liking.) The Rucks bestowed full member status – not junior or son-of – on their nephew, just 15 then. He never gave it up.

 

Darwin deemed that anointment a significant "step in life," and it left a significant footprint. It’s visible on the silver in Aberdovey’s trophy case and in the photos and clips that line the walls of the club’s boardroom, dedicated in honor of his service – first club captain in 1897, and twice president, his final term from 1944 until his death in 1961 – and his stature. You don’t have to follow him to Aberdovey to find it, though. A bit lies in everything he wrote, because he carried Aberdovey and its memories and the happiness he found there and what that meant to him wherever he went.

 

I still envy much about Bernardo, but Aberdovey? No. Given what it gave him, and what he gave us golfers in return, there’s nothing to begrudge at all.

 


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