Category: Shag Bag (page 2 of 5)

Turning Scraps into Ground Something

From the shady part of the fairway of the 4th hole at Little Bennett. I like shade.

From the shady part of the fairway of the 4th hole at Little Bennett. I like shade.

I can’t say I’m surprised that Tiger Woods isn’t playing in the US PGA Championship.  The only thing that is surprising is that he still waits until the last minute to withdraw from majors (when nobody was surprised that he withdrew), as if somehow he’s going to turn up and play.  I don’t have any inside knowledge, but I do question if he really wants to play.  He seems to care quite a bit about his kids (which is a good thing).  It can’t be a money thing; by all accounts Woods has held onto his money.  He will go down as the greatest golfer of his generation, and his 2000 season should be considered the high mark (barely edging out 2005) for a season in the modern professional era.

From the fairway on the 9th hole at Little Bennett. It's a hot heat.

From the fairway on the 9th hole at Little Bennett. It’s a hot heat.

We’re having one of those heat waves; I played yesterday (7/21) at Little Bennett; course was in solid shape (especially fairways).   If you live in Western Howard County it’s pretty easy to get to but even from Columbia/Elkridge it’s not that bad.  Don’t think I’m playing this weekend (I’m still not close to 100% and I’m still running out of steam at the end of my rounds).  If you do play, stay hydrated!  My trick- take two water bottles and stick them in the freezer overnight.  Take ’em with you, and as they melt you’ll have icy cold water.

Not for anything, but I paid $39.99 (with a 50% off coupon for a replay that same day)  to play at Little Bennett yesterday (Thursday), compared to weekday rates at Waverly Woods ($64.00) and Timbers at Troy ($57.00).   Which means 36 holes at Little Bennett would have been less than 18 at Waverly Woods and only $3.00 more than 18 at Timbers.  A recent visit to Timbers at Troy didn’t reveal it being in particularly great shape, which is disconcerting.  I know that our weather this year has been particularly difficult, but why is it that the MoCo courses are in such better shape compared to Timbers at Troy and Hobbits Glen (which is in dire condition)?

I’m no expert but if I were running Hobbits and Fairway Hills I’d worry less about FootGolf and more about why more and more “core” golfers are taking their money to Montgomery and Anne Arundel county courses?

For me, summer wouldn’t be summer without some good books.  I used to be all about wanting physical books, but since She Who Is Really in Charge bought me a tablet a few years ago, I’m a convert.  I’m looking forward to finishing up Uber Chronicles by Jessie Newburn.  I’ll admit to being conflicted about Uber (along with Lyft and other so-called “sharing” economy applications).   Jessie Newburn runs our local HoCoBlogs group (of which I’m proud to say I’m part of their community).  She’s asking some interesting questions from her perspective and I hope others find her work as engaging as I have.

While we’re on the subject of books, if you haven’t read it, John Feinstein (who is local) has churned out some truly great golf books.  His Good Walk Spoiled remains a standard-bearer about life on the Tour.  His book Tales From Q School should be required reading for anyone who ever thought they could be on Tour.  His book Open chronicles the 2002 US Open at Bethpage, and is half of my annual “re-read” list (the other is Ken Dryden’s classic “The Game” which remains the standard for sports books which I always read prior to the start of the NHL season).

While I’m veering off of the subject of golf, if you live in Howard County (or you work here), a good read is this which is from the HoCo Blogging community.  I won’t say I agree with every word, but given the lack of coverage our county gets (the DC and Baltimore local stations seem to take delight in ignoring what goes on here), it’s nice to see someone asking good questions about current issues in the county.  His work during April’s school board elections was particularly compelling.

Here’s some happy music. Enjoy and stay cool out there.

2016 can go to hell

At the risk of being repetitive, 2016 has, to put it politely, sucked.

And to put a shit panini on top of the turd sandwich that has represented the year, this morning I found out that Gord Downie, lead singer of The Tragically Hip, has terminal brain cancer.  He’s 52, which puts him slightly older than me, but not much.  Unless you’re from Canada, the odds are you’ve never heard of them, and that’s okay.

The outpouring of love from the number of Canadian journalists who, like me, love their music has been a tonic of sorts.

What David Bowie and Prince did (write and perform some truly breathtaking music and were deserved legends), this band that’s been together for 30+ years did as well but on their own scale.  The ownership that Minnesotans had for Prince (and I’ve always respected that he stayed in Minnesota) translates, on some level, to The Tragically Hip.  They were ours.  You could say they were odd, quirky or any number of other things.  They don’t have anywhere near the number of fans as Bowie and Prince do, but that’s okay.  They spoke to us because they were one of us.

They never achieved any success of note in the US, because their music didn’t translate to American audiences (WTMD will “occasionally” play one of their songs but otherwise they don’t exist on American radio).  Explaining David Milgaard or Bill Barilko, and how these subjects became the impetus for songs, is hard to explain.  And yet, the songs that deal with these subjects aren’t unapproachable.  They’re quite good.  I still remember the first game I attended at the new Air Canada Centre in 1999, fearful that Maple Leaf Gardens had been replaced by some soulless thing.  Hearing a slew of Tragically Hip songs during warm-ups combined with the kind of loud support I remembered (the Leafs were coming off of a Conference Final appearance that spring).

I saw them in 1987 for the first time; an 18-year old university student who thought they had an interesting name so I went with some class mates to see them perform in one of the local clubs.  They were different; they were still doing a lot of covers back then but they had their own songs as well.

They appeared on Saturday Night Live in 1995 and were introduced by fellow Canadian Dan Akroyd.  That was a big deal; they never had that top-10 U.S. radio friendly hit that might get attention (to this day, if I hear one of their songs on American radio I have to double-check to make sure it’s not my MP3 player).  They had their own unique sound, and were unchanged for 30+ years.  They were from Kingston, Ontario and proudly so.  It’s funny reading about people who remember seeing Downie or some of the other guys in the band walking around town and would talk to him as if it were no big deal, which sounds like something he’d do.

I’ve seen them live upwards of 30 times; they have such a heavy catalogue of songs that no two shows are going to sound alike.  Here’s them performing at Woodstock 1999 (which was a complete gong show of an event).

All the best, Gord and thanks for all the wonderful concerts and all that you’ve done.

 

On Not Playing and Other Frustrating Things

So far, it has to be said that 2016 has, to put it politely, sucked.  For a variety of reasons I’d prefer not to discuss I’ve yet to swing a club this year (my last trip to the range was just before New Year’s back when we were enjoying that oddly warm weather around Christmas), which has left me taking advantage of my gym membership to retain something resembling fitness.

So rather than enjoy the sodden fairways that we’re looking at (with all of this rain it’s understandable), I’ve been trapped in the bubble of going to the gym 1-2 times a week armed with the flurry of fitness tips and information that the various golf publications churn out.  Most of it, for what it’s worth, seems to contradict the articles from 1-2 years ago (and wow is that ever helpful).

While we’re on that subject, when did Golf Digest turn into BuzzFeed golf?  Their website is little more than a series of badly-written and not-at-all-mobile friendly listicles (which shouldn’t be a thing but somehow…they are) combined with pin-up photos of LPGA players (what next- their spin on the ESPN bodies issue) wearing anything but golf clothing.  I have nothing against the female body (I happen to quite like it if we’re being honest) but I don’t need Golf Digest trying to be Maxim or FHM.  Yes- there are some very talented women on the LPGA Tour who don’t get 1/20th of the media attention that their counterparts on the PGA Tour get.  It would be nice to see their talent the principal focus, and not how well they look wearing a bikini.

I do enjoy the Undercover Tour Pro articles in Golf Digest; it falls under the request I make of magazines….it’s called Tell Me Something I Don’t Know.  If you’re not following @secrettourpro on Twitter, you should.  I have a pretty good idea of who he is, but there’s no reason to out him.  His candor has been enjoyable.  Jack Nicklaus’ one-pagers are a good reminder that he still knows more than anyone else out there (and at some point, the tours are going to heed his 30-year plea to roll the ball back and we won’t need 8,000 yard courses).

Oh, and if you have auto-play videos on your website, I hope a giant bear comes into your house and eats your arm off (looking at you, Golf.com).

So with my gym visits being the only interaction, I’ve begun to notice that there are some rather distinct and rather odd people at the gym.  While I’m hardly a paragon of physical fitness, I do make an effort to work out (scotch does count as a suitable post-workout drink, right?).  With a bad knee I can’t do a lot of running, but I try to do the best I can.  However, the people at the gym make for, well, strange and inappropriate behavior that has run amok.  Shall we point these people out?

1) The double-park.  Parking spots aren’t the biggest, but that doesn’t mean you can, or should, park in 2 spots.  It’s almost always a giant SUV that is roughly the size of my first apartment, and 70% of the time it’s a woman with a yoga mat.  I mean, you could do a yoga routine in the damn car, so why double-park?

Sure looks like a compact car to me- maybe take 3 spots!

Sure looks like a compact car to me- maybe take 3 spots!

2) The fashionista.  Mostly guys who are head-to-toe in matching stuff.  One guy I see far too often is head-to-toe in Atlanta Falcons stuff (hat, tshirt, sweatshirt, shorts, socks).  I keep meaning to ask him if he’s aware that this isn’t Atlanta.   You’d think it would be women that would be the equivalent of what Men in Blazers call “Full Kit Wankers”, and you’d be wrong.  It’s the dude-bro types who are wearing Under Armour (or Nike) from head-to-toe, and my guess is that they aren’t being sponsored by Under Armour (the golf equivalent is the 25-handicapper who has a tour staff bag but couldn’t break 100 playing Fairway Hills from the First Tee set of tees).  A sub-set of this are men who wear compression shorts (or bike shorts) and that’s it.  Great- we all wanted to see that.  I wear compression shorts UNDER actual loose fitting gym shorts, because nobody wants to see me in a pair of those things.

3) Inappropriate nudity. I’ve about given up on using the locker rooms unless it’s to answer nature’s call, because inevitably, there will be a group of men hanging around, fully nude, talking as if they’re re-creating a Dockers commercial but without the triple-pleated comfort of Dockers pants.  Just picture these nit-wits hanging brain in a locker room, and you get it.  Don’t turn away…look at it.  LOOK AT IT!  Don’t worry because odds are they’ll talk to you.  Shouldn’t this sort of thing be illegal?

4) The cross-fit bros.  My gym is not a cross-fit gym, and yet these cross-fit bros hang out (always in groups), and by hanging out, I mean they spend more time shooting the breeze than actually working out.  I don’t really get this (which is why I’m not a cross-fit bro), and it’s annoying as all get out because it’s how you get one machine taken up for the better part of 30 minutes (while the machine is being used for maybe 1/4 of the time because nobody knows where Kyle, or Todd, or Hunter, or Logan is).  They work out for 4 hours but spend 3 1/2 of those hours talking among each other.  But they’re very good at giving each other high fives and what someone described to me as “bro-hugs” so that’s been fun to watch.  They also like to encourage each other…loudly.  Luckily our gym has a ban on using chalk; otherwise I’d have to dust myself off before leaving.

All using one machine because they have nothing else to do.

All using one machine because they have nothing else to do.

5) The drink carriers.  I don’t get this.  Our gym has drinking fountains that work and even have a water station where you can get a cup of ice water.  Plus, the gym is indoor and climate controlled, so we’re not out in the middle of the desert in July.  And yet, you have at least half of these people carrying around something to drink.  The water bottle people are bad enough, mostly because they end up leaving their crap all over or will forget their water bottle because their brains have shriveled up like a raisin.  There’s also the people who drink…stuff.  I’m not talking about Gatorade or Powerade; I’m talking about the people (and you know who you are) who drink…stuff they made up that is made from powders you buy at GNC or some bizarro website.  In these containers that look like they are used for storing bodily fluids.  These liquids are in colors that aren’t natural.  The smell is a medley of vomit, asparagus pee, flop sweat, flatulence from Guy Fieri, and just a hint of Thunder Muscle (look it up).  I like to think I work out pretty hard, and I’m able to handle driving back home and having something to drink at home or on the way to work without grossing people out.  I even see people with Starbucks (my gym is next to a Starbucks) coffee.  How can that possibly be refreshing?

Dear god, why?  Don't. Just. Don't.

Dear god, why? Don’t. Just. Don’t.

6) The mobile phone users.  At my gym there are numerous signs about not using mobile phones, and yet- you see people (of all ages) on their phones.  Is it really that difficult to say to whoever called them ‘let me step away’ and then walk somewhere out of earshot of everyone?  I had someone run into me (physically run into me) because they were so engrossed in their phone that they didn’t see me (and given I’m not anorexic and not exactly inconspicuous).  It wouldn’t have been so bad except it was some old man, and not some clueless hipster.

7) The space-challenged.  Our gym has open space which is great for doing exercises on a Swiss ball or lunges.  Inevitably, there’s this one older jack-hole who insists on getting as close as he can to people while doing whatever it is that he does.  If there’s 8 urinals in a row, and only 1 is being used, he’s the guy who will get right next to the one urinal being used.  And then pass gas.  If you’re in your mid-50’s like this dill-weed, trying to grow a hipster beard doesn’t make you look like the Trivago guy.  It makes you look even more disturbing.

8) The TV watchers.  Our gym has two rows of televisions in the main gym area, which is great while you’re on the recumbent bike or on a treadmill.  If you’re using equipment, and you stop to watch while people are waiting for you to finish so they can use the equipment, you’re a wart on the ass of society.  The TV’s are on the local networks, CNN, ESPN (if they’re showing scores and highlights it’s not unbearable, but their army of talking heads makes me want to take a hammer to random things), HGTV (never know when the inspiration to remodel your kitchen is going to happen) and Fox News Channel (it’s mid-May so their “War on Christmas” coverage should start any day now).

So yes, I’m the quiet guy who does his routine, doesn’t talk to anyone, and tries to finish as quickly as possible.

Lastly, a relic.  If you’ve watched AMC’s “Halt and Catch Fire” it’s a fantastic series, mostly because of the music.  Here’s an example:

 

Hopefully I’ll see you out on the links fairly soon.  In the meantime, hit ’em straight.

My Solstice Survival Experiences (and why you should consider playing)

Now that winter seems like it’s behind us for good, we start getting into the meat of golf season.  Like you, I love watching the West Coast swing, and even the Florida swing can give us that good-vibes feeling of what’s to come (before the Masters tells us it’s time to tee it up).

Part of what I love about golf is that every time you tee it up, you’re testing yourself.  Today might be that worst round possible (which is why I suggest keeping airplane bottles in your golf bag), or it might be that rare day when it all comes together.  Or, if you’re like most of us, it’s somewhere in between.  But for the most part, standing on that first tee is still a thing of wonderment because we don’t know what will lies ahead for us over the next 3 1/2-4 hours (hopefully).

In that vein, if you really want to test yourself and you’re up for it, the Solstice Survival is something you should consider doing at least once.  It’s put on by Golfstyles which is one of those magazines you see in the grill rooms and pro shops at some golf courses (I subscribe so I don’t have to “borrow” a copy).  For the uninitiated, the Solstice Survival is 54 holes (3 full rounds) of continuous play golf (these events are always during the week- the only people on the course are your fellow competitors); you start at sunrise and finish after you putt out after your 54th hole of the day which is usually close to sunset, and it’s a competition so there’s no gimmes or mulligans.  You play the same course for all 3 rounds, with the same group (hopefully you get a decent group of guys- unless you have your own foursome in which case good for you!).  For what it’s worth, I have no association with Golfstyles, and while they’re welcome to share this article, they weren’t consulted on this and anything I write is my own opinion (and if you’ve met me you know I’m stubborn as a mule and not prone to be easily swayed).

I played two years (both times at Musket Ridge), and once things (body parts, limbs) start to work normally again, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.  So you’re sitting there, reading this (and my, what great taste you have in golf blogs), and you’re wondering what sane person would do this (you’d be surprised), and what the hell am I getting myself into?  The day isn’t cheap (you’re looking at anywhere from $240-$300 for the day depending on where you play at, but that does include food and drink and a decent gift bag), and you’ll be out of pocket until late evening (well past sunset), but isn’t that the idea?  Maybe you’ve played 36 holes before, but have you ever played 54 holes in one day?  Sure- this sounds like a great idea when it’s winter and you’re weeks from even thinking about seeing courses open, but what about the actual day?  Read on.

Both times, the day starts around 3:00 a.m., which allows me time to get up, get myself put together, get dressed, take care of the dogs, and try to be on the road by 4:00 a.m. and allow me an hour to make the trek to Musket Ridge, which Google Maps says will take 49 minutes without traffic (you’ll want to have directions and driving times figured out the night before).  This will allow time to stop for a coffee and still get to the course and loosen up.  Despite the DMV having terrible traffic, at this hour it’s manageable.  It’s also dark which means you’re likely sharing the highway with truckers and other early-risers along with your fellow die-hard golfers.

Pulling into the parking lot while it’s still dark can be a bit off-putting if you’re not used to it, but being someone who prefers to play early it’s old hat.  However, the parking lot is quickly filling up, which is not usually the case (the event does a shotgun start so everyone starts at the same time).  If you’re smart, you brought plenty of balls (more on this later), and you’ve got plenty of sunscreen, bug spray, and hopefully and extra glove or two.  The event provides refreshments on the course so no worries on that front but I do have a bottle of swing juice to get me going in the morning.

After a quick stop at the registration desk to pick up my goody bag (2 dozen balls of a brand I don’t play but I’ll end up re-gifting, a couple highball glasses and a too-small golf shirt), I then carry my bag over and find the cart I’ll be in.  Everyone’s doing the same thing- carrying their bag around looking to see where your assigned cart is.  Many will then hit the range to warm up; some will seemingly try to hit a full bucket (keep in mind it’s still dark), while others will hit a couple balls and work on their chipping and putting.

Looking at my watch, it’s time to make a quick stop in the washroom, pop a couple ibuprofen, and put some analgesic cream on my back and shoulders (it’ll help loosen them up for now- I know that by sunset I’ll be in a world of pain again but it’s worth it).  It’s also time to take one last look at my smart phone; part of playing 54 holes of continuous golf is that there’s no time to check e-mail or take calls.  It’ll all get handled later tonight or tomorrow morning.  I’m sure that 20 years ago, this didn’t seem like a big deal but try going a day of being off the grid, unreachable, and out of pocket.  I can see many folks freaking out at the idea, but that’s the point.  Worry about work tomorrow.  Today, it’s all about golf and lots of it.

After getting a quick speech from the Golfstyles folks and the home pro, just as the sun starts coming up and there’s enough light (or close enough) for play,  everyone gets into their carts and heads out to their assigned starting hole.  It may be cool at the time, but both times it’s been warm by mid-day (the first year it got up into the low 90’s, the next year it was in the low 80’s).

On the first hole, there’s the usual introductions and hope of a good day out for everyone before we tee off.  At this point, I’m just hoping to make decent contact.  The first year I played the nerves got to me in a big way, as I hit a worm-burner that went dead left and put me on my way to a nice triple bogey to start the round.  Few things stir the soul quite like “just made a snowman on a par 5, and I’ve got another 53 holes to go”.

Hopefully, you start to rectify things if you got off to a bad start, or even better- if you got off to a good start you’re having your share of birdies and pars.  Since this is a “count ’em all, play by the book” event, there’s no gimmes, so that 18 inch putt to save bogey has to be holed (and I swear it looks like that hole is about 1/2 the size it should be).  Seems simple until you’re putting on greens that have quickened up since the sun has come out and you’re not exactly Brad Faxon with the flat-stick.  It’s starting to warm up so that windshirt or sweater vest you started the day with has surely come off.  There’s no free drops if you hit one in the woods or in a hazard; if you can’t find it you use the lost ball rule, if it’s a hazard  you proceed based on the USGA rule book (should probably have a copy in your bag).

By this time, you’re putting out on your 18th hole of the day; normally you’d be shaking hands but you’ve got another 36 holes to go!  So now it’s time to play that hole you started your day on…again.  But now you know where everything is so this time will be that much better (or so you think).  The way that the Solstice Survival works is that when you play the 18th hole (of the golf course) during your second round is when you stop for lunch.  If you’ve ever seen a NASCAR or Formula 1 pit stop, then you get the idea of the process.  You pull up in your golf cart and go through a buffet line (it’s burgers, hot dogs and sandwiches) and then you eat it in the cart and then tee off on the 1st hole.  Ideally at this point you’re at the half-way point of your day.  I usually take this brief break to pop a couple more ibuprofen.

They do have beverage stations and beverage carts (and a couple washrooms that are nicer than a port-o-let) going around the course so staying hydrated isn’t an issue (nor is having to pee), however there’s no beer until you’re done for the day so if you were wanting the revival that can only come from shotgunning some terrible American piss-water lager, you’ll have to wait until you finish for the day unless you have any airplane bottles stashed in your bag.

Of the three rounds, I’ve always felt that the last 9 holes of the second round is the hardest.  It’s in the heat of the day, and you’re starting to get fatigued and you’ve still got 19-27 holes left to play.  Both times I’ve played I’ve carded some scary numbers.  It’s also where you can struggle in terms of mental concentration; the first round might feel like a regular round, but most people who play 36 will stop for lunch before going back out.  Now you’re 28-36 holes into the day, and fatigue can be a factor.

The third round is hopefully when your second (or third) wind kicks in.  They do move the tees up for the third round so that long par 4 you’ve seen twice previously becomes a bit shorter.  You’ve got the hole locations down (hopefully) and hopefully by now you’ve got a good feel for the break of the greens.  Hopefully your muscles aren’t sore at this point, because while the tee boxes are moved up (the equivalent of going from the blue tees to the white tees at most courses), by now it’s afternoon and the shadows are starting to get a bit longer.

This is where I’d pop a couple more Ibuprofen and try to maintain focus and maybe have one of those energy shot drinks if I was feeling a bit sluggish.  When you hear touring pros talk about the mental concentration factor, this is what they mean.  You’ve held it together for 36 holes, and you’ve got one more round to go.  Sure- you know the course but you’ve got to focus amid some possible physical fatigue to keep making good swings for one more round.  At a minimum, you’ve got to keep from having a blow-up hole (and being someone who has turned the blow-up hole into an art form I speak from experience) which means no 3 putts and trying to keep it somewhat straight off the tee.

At some point late in the day, as the sun is setting you’re going to putt out on that 54th hole of the day, and you’re going to feel an odd mix of excitement, fatigue, and maybe (just maybe) accomplishment.  That you pushed yourself to the limit on one of the longest days of the year and played 14-15 hours of non-stop golf.

After that, it’s a cart ride back to the club house to sign your scorecards, and enjoy some well-deserved 55th hole refreshments.  At some point you’re probably changing shoes (and hopefully socks) which is going to feel oddly refreshing.  You’ll have a buffet dinner, and while you’re eating the Golfstyles staff will have tabulated things up, award prizes for low gross and low net scores, and after (hopefully) a bit of regaling one another with stories about the day, you’ll load your clubs back in the car (likely in the dark by now), and head home, where the rest of the world will surely be waiting.

If you’re a little bit sore the next morning (or a lot), it’s okay, because you’re sore from doing something we all love, and that’s the best kind of soreness there is.

WHAT TO BRING WITH YOU (this list is hardly complete but it’s a few things that will make that longest day of golf a bit more bearable:

-Plenty of balls.  Think about your typical usage during a round.  Triple it and add an extra sleeve just in case.

-Sunscreen. Apply before you start and re-apply mid-day.  Trust me.

-Bug spray. See above.

-Extra socks, extra pair of shoes, extra hat, extra golf shirt (if it’s supposed to be dry you probably don’t need the extra pair of shoes or shirt but a lot of people like to change socks and/or shirt after a round or two).

-A comfortable golf shirt.  For me this means something that’s a bit looser since the fitted look on me means something resembling a sausage casing.

-Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen, or your OTC pain reliever of choice.   Don’t overdo it but a couple ibuprofen can help.

-Extra glove or two (and if rain is in the forecast rain gloves, umbrella, and rain jacket).

-Sharpie pen (to mark your balls if you haven’t already done so).

-Ziploc bag (in case of wet weather it protects the scorecard).

-First aid kit (hopefully you don’t need it but it’s better to be safe than sorry).

-Your sense of humor.  It’s going to be a long day.  I played with a dour, humorless dolt one year.  Don’t be that guy.  We’re not playing for a million bucks and we’re paying to be here.  It beats working.  Enjoy the day.

-A rangefinder (if they’re permissible- ask them).  Many golfers have the GPS watches.  If they’re allowed and you have one, by all means wear it.

-Patience.  The course will be full with your fellow competitors and it’s a shotgun start.  Since it’s a count-everything event pace of play isn’t going to be lightning fast.  Where possible try to play ready golf (within the rules); i.e. if you need to pee either tee off first or last.

-A USGA rulebook.  If you’re not sure about an issue, play two balls, record both scores and have the Golfstyles folks settle it.

 

Non-golf item.

The Bay Area’s own…Wire Train.  Doing their one hit.  I think I wore the cassette tape (kids- go ask your parents) out my freshman year at the University of Toronto while pulling all-nighters (I wish I was as thin as I was back then!).

If you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go have a listen.

The Major For The Rest of Us

See- even Judge Smails wants you to sign up for the Myrtle Beach World Am!

See- even Judge Smails wants you to sign up for the Myrtle Beach World Am!

The Myrtle Beach World Amateur, formerly known as the Dupont World Am, Golf.com World Amateur, Sandbagger Open (among other names) is once again slated for August 29-September 2nd (it’s almost always held the week (Mon-Thu) going into Labor Day weekend).  I’ve played it, and if you haven’t, I’d recommend it at least once in your life.  If you’ve played it, then you probably get it.  If not, here’s why you should strongly consider playing.

1) Competition.  If you’re like me you don’t belong to a private club so the opportunity to play competitive golf is limited.  Sure, there’s the Golf Channel Amateur Tour and the Golfweek Amateur Tour, but these are 1-day events on weekends (fine, well-run events though).  The Myrtle Beach event is four rounds over four days…just like a major that the pros have.  It’s easy to have a great first round, but try coming back on that second, third, or fourth day when you’re tired (or if you were out enjoying yourself the night before) and maybe you’ll gain some appreciation for what the pros go through week in, week out.  Or, you have a bad first day and you have 3 days to make up the ground.  Maybe you’re in the lead after one round (they post the scores at night at the Convention Center where they have a nightly 19th hole party).  Have you ever had to sleep on a lead before?

2) Handicapped flights.  Look, I could feed you a line of bullshit and tell you that they have eliminated sandbaggers (or bandits, or cheating, lying assholes).  They haven’t, but they’re doing a decent (could be better but they’ve made improvements) job of policing it.  You don’t see that many guys throwing up net 59’s anymore at least and then claiming to have a hot putter.  To play you have to have a valid USGA handicap index (the “I’m about a 12″ won’t cut it) and they will give you a tournament index based on the rating and slope of the course each day (so your index will vary from day to day).  You’ll be playing with golfers who have roughly the same index as you do.  It’s not perfect but they’ve made improvements.  If you do post two net 59’s on consecutive days, expect that you’ll get to meet with the handicap committee and they’ll want to have a chat.

3) Cost.  It’s $525 for four rounds including cart.  In my experience, you’ll get one of the top-tier courses in Myrtle Beach, two average courses, and one less-than-average course.  With several courses having gone under in the last few years, the odds are you won’t be playing too many dog tracks.  Split that, and it’s just over $100 per round which isn’t bad for a once-a-year “major” event.  Yes, travel costs are extra but it’s Myrtle Beach in August (not exactly prime season).  From DC it’s an 8-9 hour drive (Myrtle Beach Airport’s pretty easy to fly into but you’re going to need a car as they don’t provide transportation to the courses).  When I’ve played I drive down, mostly because it’s easier to decide when to head back rather than waiting for your flight.  The cost includes a decent gift bag (a decent golf shirt and some other stuff) and their nightly 19th hole party every night that I would call watch the seniors get their groove on (if that’s you, then by all means shake what your momma gave ya!).  The party is typically slammed on Mondays and attendance backs off Tue-Thu nights.  If you’re looking for a younger rave party…definitely not the scene but if you want to have a couple cold ones and chat with some of your fellow competitors, you can’t beat it.  They say they have food, but trying to make dinner out of it isn’t that hot of an idea.  The good news is that there’s cheap eats up and down the area so you don’t need to spend an arm and a leg on meals.  The courses will provide bagels and donuts for that morning, but Gatorade is on you.

4) Fun.  Look, odds are you’re not going to win (and if you do, expect some scrutiny from your fellow competitors).  There are approximately 3,400 competitors (it was up to 4,500 years ago) so the odds are pretty small.  Accept this, and focus on playing the best you can.  However, you’re going to meet some salt-of-the-earth folks who love the game as much as you do (and are as nuts as  you are) and who know some of the same bad jokes as you do.  Odds are, someone in your group (you’ll be flighted and your group of 48-50 players will play the same courses on each day) will have a skins game (typically birdie skins) of some kind going.  If that’s your thing, throw some cash into the pot (if not, do NOT pull the “gambling at Bushwood is illegal” crap- let people have their fun because it’s not “harming the integrity of the event”).  I managed to pull down $350 from a skins pot by birdieing a hole on a day where I shot a gross 102.  That, and a cold beer, can take the steam off.  I still smile and chuckle at some of the stories I heard (one started with “so there I was, laying 2 and I noticed I still had glitter all over me…”).  If you have a group you go out with, have a designated driver (more tips below) or agree in advance to pay for an Uber.

5) Something to prepare for.  Playing every weekend is fantastic, and I wouldn’t trade my weekend morning rounds away.  But the reality is that other than playing against yourself and the course, there’s not that big event to plan around.  Putting an event on the calendar months in advance means you’re preparing for it.  Maybe you practice more, or focus on your short game more.  But it’s that “circle it on the calendar” event that you now have.  It’s not just another weekend round, it’s a 4-day, 72-hole, count-everything, playing-them-down, no-gimmes tournament.  You’ll learn about yourself and you’ll be a better golfer for testing yourself.  Put it this way- the first time I played there, I used to never thing of those 18-24 inch putts until I missed one.  And another one.  And another one.  See there?  Made you think.  It’ll make you a better player.

Having said that, it’s an undertaking and by Thursday night, you’ll be tired.  So here’s a few tips on what to do, and what not to do:

-Myrtle Beach in late August is hot and humid.  And I mean really hot, and really humid.  Staying hydrated isn’t a joke.  My trick is this- freeze a few bottles of water the night before and take them with you.  They’ll thaw, and you’ll have icy cold water.  Pick up a case of bottled water and go to town.  Gatorade is another great option especially if you’re sweating a lot.  Save the beer for the 19th hole.

-Courses have pro shops, but you’re better off having it with you and not hoping that the pro shop has whatever item you need.  Bring four days (5 if you manage to win your flight and make the finals) worth of stuff.  Think socks, shirts, shorts, shoes (bring two pair and rotate) along with balls (the tournament uses USGA tournament rules which includes the “one ball” rule; in short, you can’t mix brands- pick one and stick with it), tees, gloves, caps (and sunglasses) and the like.   Most courses have ranges and will include practice balls.  There are retail golf stores in Myrtle Beach should you need additional whatever.  I’d also make sure my grips were in good shape before heading down.

-Sunscreen and bug spray are pretty much mandatory.  I’m not kidding.  Something sweat-proof (I like the Coppertone Sport spray- it’s easy to apply and does the job).  Bug spray…look for something with deet that keeps mosquitoes away.  Try playing with a sunburn and a bunch of mosquito bites and you’ll learn a whole new level of pain.  Use sunscreen and bug spray.

-Get a USGA rulebook, and read up on it (they cost a dollar; they’ll give you one if you sign up to be a member).  At a minimum, understand rules on hazards, out-of-bounds, playing a provisional, maximum number of clubs (14).  I hope you don’t get someone who sees themselves as an expert (by your 9th hole of the day you’ll be actively plotting their death).  If you’re not sure about what to do if you hit in a hazard, ask someone.  Understand that if your ball ends up in a divot, that’s tough shit for you.  You probably roll it over back home, but you can’t do that here.

-Keep accurate track  of your score and your competitor.  You’ll be marking a competitor’s card and they will mark yours (like the pros do).  If you’re unsure of their score, speak up and say something.  Keep accurate track of yours as well.  Better to take an extra minute and make sure you have the correct score than mis-mark a card.  Tell your competitor your score after each hole.  Before you turn them in you’ll review them (just like the pros do).  If you see an issue, speak up because if you sign for a 5 and you made a 4, then tough shit.  It’s a 5.  To that point, you’ll get paired with different people each day within your flight, so if you end up with a guy who’s a total jackass, odds are you won’t have to play with him again.   There’s 1 or 2 in each flight…95% of the guys you’ll meet are good, decent, salt-of-the-earth types just like you.

-Expect pace of play to be slow.  You can’t just say “I’ll hit another” or “just drop one here” like you’d do in a casual round.  You have to drop according to the rulebook, and if you go out of bounds off the tee, the only option is to re-tee with a 1-stroke penalty (when you’re hitting your 5th shot from the tee box after hitting 2 balls O. B. it’s not much fun but it is the rules).  Rounds of 5 hours are about what you should expect.  Hopefully you don’t end up having your last day take 6 1/2 hours because of torrential rain the night before and the course being cart path only (this happened to me and it wasn’t much fun).

-If the heat and humidity aren’t enough, thunderstorms aren’t unusual.  Courses will typically have some kind of alarm/warning system with respect to storms.  Bring some Ziploc bags with you (the quart size) to protect your scorecard (that you turn in).  I use them for my golf gloves as well.  Don’t leave your clubs in the car when you’re done.  Bring them inside.

-By all means, go out and enjoy yourself at night, but don’t be an idiot.  Have a designated driver, hire an Uber, call a cab, or go out and party somewhere close to where you’re staying.  Hangovers in the heat aren’t fun.  Plan accordingly.  Bring Advil, Tylenol, or whatever painkiller/NSAID you prefer.

-You’ll get your course assignments a couple weeks before the tournament.  Definitely worth doing some research on the courses.  The committee will set tee boxes so if you’re a 15-handicapper you won’t have to play from the tips.  I’ve only seen one course setup being unfair (we were in the 18-20 handicap range and they thought it was 8-10 indexes); we had a ton of forced carries that few of us could clear.  It also made for a long day.

-People fly in from all over the country (and outside the U.S.) to compete.  It’s a great chance to meet people you otherwise wouldn’t meet.

-Kids go back to school the week of the tournament so traffic can be an issue.  Give yourself plenty of time to get where you need to go.  I’d recommend having drive times checked on Google Maps or something similar.  Allow time to stretch and warm up properly or take care of anything you need to take care of prior to teeing off.

-Tournament rounds are shotgun start; in other words, you won’t start on the 1st hole in all likelihood.  You might start on 3, 8, 11 or whatever.  The home pro will give you a quick speech to everyone before they head off.  If there’s a local rule, they’ll tell you (one day we played “lift, clean and place” and they told us this- if they don’t tell you this, you can’t touch your ball until you’re on the green).

-MUTE YOUR MOBILE PHONE.  This should be obvious but sure enough I’ve played with a guy who had his going off.  After the second time it went off the three of us playing with him had a word.  If you need to check messages do so while you’re waiting for a group to clear off the green (after you’ve ascertained your yardage and club selection for your approach shot).

-If you need a ride on a specific day you can Uber or request a ride-share, but you’re on your own to get to the courses.  To that, not a bad idea to stay somewhere central (close to as many of your courses as possible).  Condos, AirBnB, hotels, and motels are all viable options.  Go with what’s going to be easiest for you.  If you look around deals can be found.  Keep in mind that the 19th hole and the registration center (where you pick up your stuff on Sunday) are located at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.

-From the tournament website, there’s this on range finders:The World Am does allow range finders, but they must be USGA approved. Any device that is used may only have the function of measuring distance, even if the device has other options that can be turned off, it is not permitted. Any device measuring slope or wind is not allowed.  Not sure?  Check your range-finder and make sure it’s legal for tournament play.

-Women play in their own separate flights, so if you’re a woman and considering playing…by all means sign up!  You’ll be playing with other women (all from the same tee box) and you’ll have the same chance to play tournament golf (unlike this week’s ANA Inspiration there’s not an equivalent of Poppy’s Pond on 18 (if there was I wouldn’t jump in because God only knows what else is in there).

-Others I’ve played with have brought snacks with them to eat during the round (apple slices, orange slices, PB&J sandwiches seem to be the most common).  A deck of cards in a Ziploc bag isn’t a bad idea (especially if there’s a weather delay).  Not bad ideas all around.

-While I’ve always traveled solo, many people play and bring their families with them.  Not a bad idea, and certainly there’s plenty of family-friendly stuff in Myrtle Beach.  For time budgeting, expect that you’ll be gone most of the day (5 hour round plus warm-up time, plus going to/from the course).  They can go to the beach, hit the malls, and they probably won’t miss you all that much.

-For those in search of night-life, things have changed and a couple of the standard-bearer options are no more (farewell, Thee Doll House).  If that’s your thing, research it prior but expect that the local constabulary might be waiting for you should you decide to drive while under the influence.  Just remember that if you are looking for…well, you know…then be smart (and remember to use the “safe search” on your computer).

-South Carolina has weird laws on purchasing liquor (among other things).  If you drive down and are the type to enjoy making a pitcher of margaritas after a round of golf, maybe stash a couple bottles of tequila (or whatever) in your suitcase.   Don’t try to re-sell it, but for your own consumption…do what you need to do.  It’ll be our little secret.

You could do a hell of a lot worse than spend a week in Myrtle Beach playing golf.  To test yourself against golfers of your same ability over 72 holes is well worth taking time off.  Hope you make it to Myrtle Beach!

An Honest Man’s Guide to Golf for Beginners

If you’re anything like me (I’m really, really sorry), you love golf, and it would be nice if other people loved the game too.  We want the game to grow, and if I had a dollar for every poorly written work of fiction on how the game is dying, I could probably afford to go buy a new box of Pro V1X’s (mostly because I don’t read this garbage, and neither should you).

They look happy but inside they're emotionally dead and wondering where the beverage cart is.

They look happy but inside they’re emotionally dead and wondering where the beverage cart is.

However, if you’ve ever stumbled upon a golf course and seen the looks of sorrow, frustration and agony (and that’s just using the port-o-let…rim shot!), maybe you’ve thought “these people need help” and you wouldn’t be wrong.  Or, you thought “you know, I could use something that will take my money and my time, and leave me a complete disaster of a human being” but didn’t feel like heroin was addictive enough for your taste.  Worse, you stumbled upon a couple drunks swearing like sailors and mocking each other (otherwise known as the 19th hole) and thought “they look normal…this could be fun!”

Maybe, just maybe, you watched golf on television (remember that brutal weekend when everyone was snowed in a few weeks ago) and thought “wow, they’re outside in the sunshine and they look happy…and that looks like fun” and wondered about taking up the game.  That’s lovely what you’re thinking.  I can understand it.

Most golf publications have written articles geared towards beginners (yes, there are magazines devoted to golf!), except they’re written by people very much part of the golf industry.  The analogy of drug companies peddling drugs isn’t completely off base (they need people to buy their magazines, support their advertisers, and buy golf equipment).  These folks are well meaning but honestly, they have long forgot what it’s like to take up the game, and how to speak to someone who wants to join our fraternity of insanity.

Okay, so you’re still reading and aren’t in a coma…so you’ve got that going for you.  You want to learn the game.  So now what?  I’ve tried to spell out my version of a guide to the game for beginners, written for someone who doesn’t care (because I’m not vested if or where you spend your dollars) how you get into the game.  I hope you find the game enjoyable, and if this helps, then all the better.

I could joke about having someone come hit you in the head with a tire iron, but frankly that seems cruel.

You’re going to need equipment, lessons, and patience (and alcohol).

Equipment:

If you watch golf on television and don’t fall asleep, you’re what’s known as a captive audience.  If you’re watching the commercials during golf telecasts, you’ve noticed that it’s equal parts alcohol, cars, boner pills, and golf equipment (this is not what they mean by Golf’s Grand Slam, if you’re wondering) and ads for whatever company is sponsoring the tournament (if you don’t know, it’s okay- they’ll bring the CEO of the sponsor into the booth where Jim Nantz (Nantz’s safe word may or may not be “Hello Friends”) or Dan Hicks will verbally fellate them).  You already have at least one of these things (a car), to play golf you’ll need equipment (and possibly alcohol).  I’ll let you fill in your own answer about the boner pills.

Despite what you hear, you do not need the latest and greatest driver technology, and honestly, what kind of idiot spends $500 on a new driver?  Clearly, dropping $400 is a much more reasonable and rational decision.  Really.  I mean, that’s a smart investment!  Actually not really.  Let’s not judge what someone spends on a new driver…even if that new driver has 12 adjustments (12!) and increased my…I mean someone’s driving distance by 20 yards.  You don’t need this.  Not right now at least.

You, on the other hand, can buy an entire set of clubs for far less than $500.  If i were starting out, I’d look at used equipment.  Even the stuff that is 3-4 years old is still relevant in terms of technology for the most part.

Some brands (Wilson, Spalding/Top Flite) even make starter sets that include clubs and a bag.  Worth a look.

A limited starter set will include a driver (that club with the giant head), a hybrid club, a few irons, a wedge or two, and a putter which will get you started.  They sell mens, womens, and left handed clubs.  Left handed women?  Clubs are out there but in all honesty it’s not the easiest to find.

There are golf sections in most large sporting goods stores (Sports Authority, Dick’s), golf-specific stores (Golf Galaxy, Golfdom are your options here in the DMV).  You can look online, but I’d be careful about e-bay, as a good chunk of the stuff they have are fakes.  There is a site (Second Swing) that sells used clubs.  There are numerous online shops for golf equipment, but make sure they’re licensed to sell the brands they’re selling (selling cheap, knockoff equipment is more common than you’d think, and like other counterfeiters, the money you give them isn’t exactly supporting the Girl Scouts).

In addition to clubs, you’ll need golf balls.  Initially go cheap.  There’s no reason to pay $30-$45+ for a dozen balls.  Shop around and you can find good quality balls for less than $20 per dozen.  A golf glove isn’t a bad thing, but you should buy something synthetic (they will last longer and they’re cheaper).

You’ll need some accessories.  Sunscreen, bug spray are absolute must-haves.  For sunscreen I’d recommend something that can be sprayed on- I like the Coppertone Sport.  Bug spray?  Think a spray that has some deet in it.  I’d also carry a mosquito bite stick (you can rub it on bites).  You’re going to be outside, so don’t be dumb.  Protect yourself.  A hat isn’t a bad thing, and some people like to wear sunglasses to protect their eyes.  You’ll also need some golf tees (cheap), a divot repair tool (a few bucks will get you taken care of), and ball markers.  Golf shops sell ball markers, but in all honesty what you probably have on you right now will work just fine (you can put this stuff in a ziploc bag- they can be sealed to keep moisture and other things out; you can buy small ditty bags or, if you’re like me, the Crown Royal pouches are a great and free option).  A small coin (penny, nickel, dime, quarter) will suffice (keep a couple just in case).  A ziploc bag with a couple band-aids and some antibiotic ointment isn’t a bad thing to have

Golf shoes are a nice thing to have, but a decent pair of running shoes will work in the short run (trail running shoes work great if you have those- I wore a pair several years ago playing a late-day round while walking and carrying my bag and they worked fine even though it was a bit damp and dewy).  They should be comfortable above all else.  Golf shoes have rubber spikes or are what’s called spikeless (with little rubber nubs).  They look more and more like athletic shoes.

You’ll need a golf bag to put all this in.  You can buy what’s called a staff bag (the pros use these), a cart bag (best if you’re going to be playing full time in a cart and/or need a lot of storage), or a stand bag (if you’re going to walk and carry your bag this is the way to go).  I have a big bag for cart golf that I use, when I travel I have a lighter stand bag that I use because of airline restrictions on bag weight.  Go with a stand bag to start.  You want light, ideally with dual shoulder straps (then you can carry it like a backpack).

Example of a stand bag with shoulder straps.  Wear it just like a backpack.

Example of a stand bag with shoulder straps. Wear it just like a backpack.

 

Lessons:

If nothing else in this blog resonates, let this be that one thing- when it comes to learning the game, seek professional help!  By that, take lessons from someone who knows what they are doing.  Your local golf course has a teaching professional.  There are community colleges that offer beginner golf lessons (not the worst option), and the PGA of America has been running a Get Golf Ready program geared at adults (5 lessons for a nominal fee).  They will teach you grip, stance and swing fundamentals.  I will say this- there’s a basic athletic stance (feet shoulder with, knees slightly bent) that, if you’ve ever played other sports you’ll be familiar with.  Same goes here, but let a professional work with you on this.

Any option other than the person you’re intimate with is the way to go.  Seriously.  I don’t care if you’re going out with a touring professional.  Go elsewhere for learning how to play the game.

Be reasonable with your goals.  None of us are turning professional.  I love this game, and I’m content with being a mid-handicapper (my index will fluctuate between an 8 and a 12; if I break 80 it’s a fantastic round).  Even if your goal is to make solid contact on every swing, that’s a great goal.  And remember- joking aside the goal should be to have fun.  If you take this game up, at some point, you’re going to have that perfect swing (at least once) and that ball is going to fly high, far, and straight.  It’s going to feel AWESOME.  And you’ll wonder why you can’t do that every time.  Welcome to the club.

Want to read/watch?  Jack Nicklaus’ Golf My Way remains one of the best options you can find.  Ben Hogan’s Five Fundamentals is another gold standard option.  I can’t recommend any of the newer books that are out because I haven’t read them (or seen the DVD’s).

Any golf professional will tell you what I’m about to tell you…when you practice on your own, start with your putting and work out to hitting shots with your driver.  Work on chipping and shots around the green.  From experience, I’ve seen plenty of golfers that are 30-50 yards shorter than me off the tee, and yet these players almost always have great short games.  They hit their chips, pitch shots and wedge shots close to the hole and usually make the putt.

You can work on your putting in a lot of places.  If you have an office with typical office carpeting, that makes a great surface to putt on.   You’ll need a putter, a ball, and a target.  An empty can of pop works fine; it’s the same size as a hole give or take.

One important thing to learn before going out on the course is to gauge how far you hit each club.  I’m going to go off of what I learned over 20 years ago…pick a mid-iron (a 7 or 5 iron will work), and hit it about 15-20 times.  See how far you hit it on average.  If you hit your 7-iron 130 yards, figure the 8 will go 120, the 9 will go 110…the 6 iron will go 140, 5 iron will go 150, and so on.  If you need to write this down to help you remember, write it down and keep it with you.

After your initial set of lessons, take more if you need it, but try to have an idea of what you want help with (maybe it’s the driver and your woods, maybe it’s the short game).  There are more people teaching golf than there needs to be (mostly these people who have “systems”).  Remember, the person you’re taking a lesson from is there to help YOU (not the other way around).  If they’re not helping, go elsewhere.   In the end, swinging a golf club (athletically speaking) isn’t significantly different from swinging a baseball bat or a hockey stick.  Same idea…solid contact using your body to generate power.  Swing thoughts, hand position, path…there’s a million swings.

Look at Jim Furyk’s swing (you can watch it here), then watch Jack Nicklaus here.  Two guys who have both been very successful with wildly different swings.  Remember- golf isn’t a game of how…it’s a game of how many.  It’s not a beauty pageant (thank god).

Patience:

You’re not going to go out and break 80 for an 18-hole round the first time out.  Suggestion would be to start with 9-hole rounds on shorter courses, and work your way up.  Sligo Creek, Northwest Park, Needwood all have 9-hole courses that are great for a novice.  In Virginia Hilltop is a decent 9-hole track.

As someone who’s played the game for close to 25 years, I say this with all sincerity- I’ve never met someone new who I haven’t gone out of my way to be helpful.  One big ask- nobody is asking you to play speed golf, but let’s keep things moving along.  How do you do this?

  1. Take one practice swing before your actual swing.
  2. Note where the ball went (if it didn’t go dead straight).  Watch your ball (it’ll make finding it that much easier).
  3. If you’re at more than double par on a hole, pick up.  It’s okay.
  4. If your ball is in a divot in the fairway, move it to where you can make a swing at it (later you’ll learn this shot but for now, make it easy on yourself).
  5. Play from the forward tees.  Even if the other golfers in your group are playing from the back tees, move up and make it easy on yourself.  When you get better you can move further back.
  6. Practice good etiquette.

Etiquette:

More than any sport, golf can be flat out confusing to a beginner.  It’s okay.  There’s a few basic ideas we’re dealing with.

  1. Don’t do anything to disrupt golfers in your group when they’re hitting.  This includes standing far back from them, making sure your shadow doesn’t interfere with them (if they can see your shadow, move to where they can’t), not talking or moving when they’re hitting, and not standing on their line when you’re on the green.
  2. Leave the course as you’d hope to find it.  If you take a divot, replace it.  If your ball goes into a bunker, rake it (there will be a rake provided) when you’re done.  If your ball makes a pitch mark or divot on the green, repair it.  Learn how here.
  3. If your ball mark is in the line (meaning someone’s putt would roll over it), offer to move it.  Learn how here.
  4. If you’re in the fairway, typically whoever is furthest out will hit first.  HOWEVER, if you’re closer and not ready to hit and someone is on the other side and ready, then let them go.  It’s called playing ready golf.  Same thing on the tee (normally, whoever had the lowest score on the previous hole would go first, but if you’re all playing from the same set of tees and you’re ready, have at it), but make sure everyone is good with playing ready golf.
  5. If your putt is holed, walk over and pick it up out of the hole, being careful to not walk on anyone’s line.  Then stand back so you’re not interfering or casting a shadow on your fellow golfers.
  6. If your putt is close to the hole (say 3-12 inches) your competitors may say “that’s good” or “pick it up” in which case, you can do just that.  It’s called a concession.  They’re saying “we know you’d make that tap-in so go ahead, add a stroke, and pick it up so we can move along”).

Alcohol:

First off, if you don’t drink or have no desire to drink alcohol, then don’t feel compelled to imbibe.  You shouldn’t be drinking during a round to the point of intoxication, but a cold beer during a summer time round can be awfully tasty.  The key word being moderation, if you’re one to enjoy a cold one.

Many a round of golf has been saved or killed with this bad boy.

Many a round of golf has been saved or killed with this bad boy.

You have two ways of going about this.  One is to buy beer at the snack bar/restaurant/halfway hut at the course, the other is if the course has a beverage cart.  The cart is almost always driven by a young lady (you’ll find an interview I did with a beverage cart driver on my blog- it’s pretty good if I don’t mind saying so), and the over/under on how many times she’s been hit on is about eleven billionty.  Don’t do it.  The beverage cart is like a pit stop in auto racing.  Designed to be quick, helpful and get  you moving.  Most beverage carts will have beer, sodas, gatorade/powerade, and snacks.  You’re paying a premium for convenience, so accept it, pay up, and move on.  And tip- minimum a buck per drink.

So that’s it…have a great time and welcome to the game!

 

Short Subjects

It’s always weird writing about golf in the dead of winter, but the snow from Snowmageddon has melted, and a groundhog says we’ll have an early spring, so if that’s not optimism I don’t know what is.

While watching the West Coast swing on the PGA Tour (I’ve had the pleasure of playing the TPC Stadium Course back in 2013; I was happy to see it return to the rota of courses they use for the Palm Springs/Palm Desert event), the European Tour announced that players could wear shorts during practice rounds.

To that, I say this- why not let them wear shorts whenever they want to?

Phil Mickelson wearing shorts. Hopefully this doesn't qualify as being NSFW.

Phil Mickelson wearing shorts. Hopefully this doesn’t qualify as being NSFW.

I wear shorts whenever I play (even when it’s cold, and that’s down to the fact that I’m an idiot) because it’s my choice.  Why not let the players make the choice for themselves?  Seems to me we had this discussion years ago with caddies (who until the late 1990’s had to wear long pants) before the USGA, and finally the PGA Tour relented and allowed caddies to wear shorts.  So why not extend players the same courtesy?

This might be the least garish thing Ian Poulter has worn.  And look how happy he is.

This might be the least garish thing Ian Poulter has worn. And look how happy he is.

There’s no practical reason for the PGA Tour (or the European Tour) to have these outdated rules about long pants v. shorts.  Players aren’t under contract to the tours (they’re independent contractors), and no player is going to embarrass their sponsors by looking ridiculous at a tournament.  During the summer they routinely play in 90F temperatures or higher.  Let them wear shorts. If you look at Mickelson, Poulter, and Els (below), you’ll notice they’re wearing shorts that you’d see at just about every golf course on a summer weekend.  Limit the length to X inches above the knee, and we’re fine.

Think of yourself…especially here in the DMV during the summer.  Do you know anyone who wears long pants in June or July (much less August)?  Unfortunately I see these people, and universally they look miserable (they usually walk and think 6 hour rounds are acceptable).  Don’t be that guy!  Wear shorts?

Admittedly, my legs are hideously ugly tree stump looking things, pockmarked with various scars that tell of various poor decisions I’ve made.  But I wear shorts, because I’m more comfortable playing in shorts.

Ernie Els in shorts.  Oh the humanity!  Where's my faintin' sofa?

Ernie Els in shorts. Oh the humanity! Where’s my faintin’ sofa?

If you took a confidential poll of players I’m sure a majority would want to wear shorts.  If you want a comparative, the LPGA already permits their players to wear shorts.  When it’s warm they wear shorts (some players choose to wear long pants) if they want.  If it’s cold like yesterday at their stop in Florida, most will opt for long pants.  So if we’re being equal, then the men should be able to choose long pants or shorts.

And if the IOC hasn’t done so, please let players in the Olympics wear shorts if they choose (although the Outbreak suits may be more appropriate).

Just leaked- the alternate uniforms that Team USA will be wearing for the golf competition at the Rio Olympics.

Just leaked- the alternate uniforms that Team USA will be wearing for the golf competition at the Rio Olympics.

So let them wear shorts I say!

 

 

 

 

The 2016 Predictions You Didn’t Ask For

As we say adieu to 2015 and hello to 2016, I thought I’d whip out my crystal ball and see what my magic crystal ball has in store for golf this coming year.

Only slightly more accurate than most.

Only slightly more accurate than most.

PGA Tour: With the season starting on Thursday of this coming week (in Hawaii so get ready for lots of pictures that will make you want to get on the first thing smoking to Hawaii), it’ll be interesting to see who gets off to a hot start and generates much of the early ink.  For the life of me, I’ll never understand why someone wouldn’t play in the Kapalua event (no cut, limited field, plenty of FedEx Cup points).

I know that everyone has a hot nut all over Jordan Spieth, but he’s coming off of a 12-month stretch where he was the dominant player in the world.  I see him struggling early on and don’t see him repeating at Augusta.  The schedule is brutal especially from June onward with three of the four majors being played from mid-June through the end of July.

I'm sure this will look fantastic with a green jacket.

I’m sure this will look fantastic with a green jacket.

What’s interesting (and worth keeping in mind) that the last PGA Tour event to make the top 60 for the Olympic tournament is the Greenbrier Classic (the cutoff date is July 11th), so players will go into the Open Championship the following week already knowing who is or isn’t qualified for the Olympics (and will also play the PGA Championship after the cutoff date for Olympic qualifying, which means that half the majors this year won’t count towards Olympic qualifying.

I’m also curious as to what the attitudes will be toward the Olympic tournament.  It’s a 72-hole stroke play event (same as the week-in, week-out tournaments on the PGA Tour).  Remember- this is a course that was built for the Olympics, so it’s really a case of nobody really knowing what to expect.

Predictions: I think we’ll see a dark horse/first timer win at Augusta; my crystal ball thinks one of Jason Day (has played well there), Patrick Reed or Ian Poulter will be the last man standing.  It would be great for golf to see Rory McIlroy win the Masters and complete the career grand slam, but I don’t see it happening this year.

Poulter is ready for the PGA Tour's "Disco Appreciation Day"

Poulter is ready for the PGA Tour’s “Disco Appreciation Day”

At the US Open, thankfully they go back to Oakmont.  Hopefully the USGA will manage to not f*** the course up that much (they don’t need to, and they should resist any attempts at trying to gin something up).  I don’t know why, but I have a wild hunch that this will be the year Phil Mickelson finally gets over at the US Open.  I like Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka to contend.  I’d scratch anyone who changed brands in the off season; historically that rarely ends well.

At the Open Championship, the last three times that the Open Championship has been held at Royal Troon (this year’s venue), it was all won by first-time Americans who had not won majors previously.  Rickie Fowler and Patrick Reed are, for me, the guys this year (your previous winners at Troon were Todd Hamilton, Justin Leonard, and Mark Calcavecchia).  The last time a non-American won at Royal Troon.  Bobby Locke in 1950.

The PGA Championship is held in late July (two weeks after the Open Championship and the week after the Canadian Open) at Baltusrol in New Jersey.  The last time it was held there (2005) Phil Mickelson won.  I think this will be the major that Spieth wins this year, which will put him an Open Championship shy of the career grand slam.

Ryder Cup: When last heard from, the Europeans won (again) and the US team spent several months trying to figure out what the hell happened (Europe played better).  So this time we go to Hazeltine National in Minnesota.  Seriously?  This is the best we can do?  Is it beyond the PGA of America to play the event on the West Coast or somewhere in the Rockies?  Your US captain is Davis Love III, the European captain is Darren Clarke.  Barring injuries, I think the Europeans will win yet again.

Locally:

I think at least one fairly well-known public course doesn’t survive 2016 barring a sea change in the economy.  It could be in Maryland or Virginia, but I really have a bad feeling (and I hope I’m wrong).

I think at least one private course either goes public or goes to some kind of a public-private relationship where they allow more non-member play.  I’d like to see the gong show that is Turf Valley open themselves up to public play during shoulder months or at least release tee times within 72-96 hours to the public.

To that, with private courses struggling to attract new members, they could do worse than start to try to attract new members by selling tee times inside 48-72 hours that would otherwise go empty.

Four Wishes for the local area:

1) With the PGA Tour’s annual stop moving around (it’s at Congressional this year and 2018…2017 is up in the air), I’d like to see the LPGA return to the DMV.  I’m not counting their event in Williamsburg; I’m talking something within an our of DC or Baltimore.  The LPGA Tour has done so many things right in the last few years that I’d like to see locals get to see what a fantastic tour they have.  Ideally, you’d shoehorn an area event before the tour stop in Atlantic City which would be an easy trek for the players to make.

2) I’d like to see public courses step up their game in terms of playing conditions (talking to you, Renditions and Timbers at Troy) and start to enforce pace of play and time par (pointing at you, Waverly Woods).  Yes- you might make a few golfers upset, but you’re going to make dozens more happy.

3) On a personal level Howard County needs an additional public course.  Ideally you’d look to Western Howard County where you have cheaper land than you would in the Columbia/Elkridge/Ellicott City area.  I’d also like to see a MCG-type situation in the county, where you’d bring several courses under one jurisdiction and one umbrella.  MCG isn’t perfect but there’s no doubt they’ve improved playing conditions at their courses.  Even if you went in with some kind of partnership with Baltimore County, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if it meant better course conditions and improved pace of play.

4) To see Golfdom or some form of competition come into the Maryland suburbs and compete with the Golf Galaxy/Dick’s Sporting Goods duopoly.  I remember the old Washington Golf Centers and mourned the demise of Mammoth Golf.  It’s not that Golf Galaxy and Dick’s Sporting Goods are bad, it’s that I’d like to see competition and more options.

Two Wishes for me:

1) I know that the schedule makes it hard, but I’d like to see the PGA Tour do a better job of giving the Canadian Open a better spot on the schedule.  What they’re doing this year is particularly offensive.  The event always does great attendance, and their National Open deserves better.

2) To play more, and improve course reviews.  The first one is simple, the second part isn’t.  I want to have course reviews that you, as a reader, would find useful.  I’m not sure how this will look, but I’m looking at changing how I review courses to make it relevant to ordinary golfers and ask the kind of questions an average golfer might have.  I’ve long argued that Golfweek and Golf Magazine’s course reviewers aren’t bad at their job, but 99% of their course reviews are destination tracks, and some of their ratings sound a bit jaded.  When it’s your job it’s one thing, but when you’re paying out of pocket to play somewhere, you want to know you’re seeing something worth your dollars.  Nobody reimburses me for my green fees and my guess is if you’re reading this you’re in the same boat I am.

My sincerest wishes to all of you for your best year ever in 2016.  Hit ’em straight, and make lots of pars and birdies.

Song of the day:

Before they became huge, U2 did one of their first US tours in 1983 to support the War album.  They did a concert at Red Rocks Ampitheatre and filmed it.  Below is my favourite track of theirs.  Hard to believe this is 30+ years old.  Still sounds great.

A Farewell to 2015

All of the rain we’ve had over the last few days meant any hope of getting out to play yesterday was unlikely.  I guess I could have played but my knees have been bothering me lately.  I opted for a trip to Olney Golf Park to get a few final swings in for the year, since I won’t have a chance to go to the range or hit balls until 2016 (and while this warm spell has been great I can’t see it continuing) since work typically keeps me busy during the week.

I like Olney Golf Park because the range has covered bays (the ranges at Fairway Hills, Timbers at Troy, Waverly Woods and Hobbits Glen do not), and because the mats are in better shape than you find (they were pretty wet yesterday, which isn’t a surprise given the rains we’ve had).  Unfortunately that means going to Olney and dealing with the army of photo radar that they have (or “speed traps” as they should be known as).

My view from my hitting bay at Olney Golf Park.

My view from my hitting bay at Olney Golf Park.

Unfortunately I couldn’t get loose, my hand kept bothering me (I fear that I may be developing some kind of arthritis in my hands- make your own jokes), and I never felt comfortable bringing the club back (I’m not overly mechanical).  The bays that are covered are heated (kind of needed yesterday due to fairly constant breeze- the photo above shows the flags all blowing pretty good) but the one I was at wasn’t working.  I hit far too many bad shots.  Hopefully I can get back out there sooner than later.

I was hoping to start earlier, but their hours on Google weren’t correct (their website and their signage at the range is correct- currently they open at 10am).  So with some time to kill, I thought I’d venture down Georgia Avenue and see how one of my old haunts was getting on- the mystery golf course that was Trotters Glen.  I spent many a happy evening after work there, hitting balls and using their short game area.  I never knew what happened, but a few clues made the answers fairly apparent.

Driving past the two large churches and a few McMansions, it was clear the area had seen some development.  And then, there it was.

Trotters Glen.  Brought to you by Toll Brothers homes.

Trotters Glen. Brought to you by Toll Brothers homes.

I’m not against development, and I’m not against progress, but I am concerned about how the average person gets into the game (Trotters Glen was a shorter course).  The course’s website is now this, and if you look carefully, you’ll note that these are going for $1.1mm plus.  So for an average family, that’s so far beyond attainable it’s ridiculous.

This made me wonder two things- who’s paying into seven figures for a home, and where does someone new to the game go?  The First Tee does great work for kids, but what of adults?  Are we to assume they binge-watch old Golf Channel infomercials?

If you’re scoring at home, Virginia is losing Goose Creek at the end of the year, Trotters Glen is gone, Sligo Creek has long been rumored to be going away, and I’d argue that Old Gunpowder may not survive this decade.  Montgomery Country Club went under for a housing development.  I’m almost certain I’ve missed at least one course going away.  And yet, interest isn’t waning.  The number of rounds is typically impacted by weather (notice how much rounds went up in November/December since the weather was spring-like?).

And what of that lack of interest by millennials?  Looking at my Instagram feed and suggestions (and if you haven’t done so, follow me on Instagram- I post other stuff besides golf photos), it’s a lot of golf stuff being largely produced by the younger set (some of it really good and some of it terrible).  They’re playing the game (I played several rounds with millennials this year; they’re just like most golfers- by and large a decent lot, they love the game, and they want to improve).

Where one of the holes used to be.  Have to wonder how many people got bit by the game here?

Where one of the holes used to be. Have to wonder how many people got bit by the game here?

So when I hear people talking about growing the game, I point out that you’re losing courses that weren’t as intimidating to novice players as some other tracks…how does the game grow again (you don’t grow any business by reducing supply)?  There’s no new courses coming to the area that are public and/or daily fee.  We keep adding houses.  Where are the golfers going to play who want to take the game up who aren’t quite ready for a full size course?  Northwest Park has the “inside 9″ which is a pretty stern test.  Needwood has an executive nine hole course, and Sligo Creek is a nine-hole course.  Hilltop in Alexandria is a 9-hole course but is no pushover.  See where I’m going?

There are rumors floating around East Potomac Golf Course in Washington.  I fear what may happen, because frankly, this rarely ends well for golf courses.  Look at what almost happened to the golf course at University of Maryland.

Meanwhile, tell me again how to grow the game when you eliminate courses.  Take as much time as you’d like.

Unrelated, if you have a chance, go see the film The Big Short.  I can’t recommend it enough.

 

Enjoy your New Years’ celebrations and all the best in 2016.

 

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