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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!"
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.
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."
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.
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."
puffs and pouts from his home base in Newark, Del.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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 golfand 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.
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!
[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.
[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.
[4/25/2010 5:00:29 PM]
Nobody looks good in cargo pants.
[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
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,
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
-Course Maintenance and Set
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
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
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.
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 JasnaPolana 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
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
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
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 millioncheesesteaks
per year. A 25cents 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
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
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.
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.
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.
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 regularneedles, 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
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.
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.
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 –
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
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
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.
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."
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.
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.
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."
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 golfbooks, including The Greatest
Golf Stories Ever Told and Bernard
Darwin on Golf.He lives in Chadds Ford. Pa.
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
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.
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.
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.
I envied him Aberdovey.
What golfer doesn’t yearn for a course to call home?
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
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
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
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."
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.
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.
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.
and for worse, Aberdovey
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, Bernardowas 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.
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.
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.