As the son of an avid golfer, I’ve had golf clubs in my hands since the age of three. That never made me a Tiger Woods. But I can play the game respectably.
These days the technology in golf clubs actually makes it a bit easier to hit good shots. This past weekend while playing golf with my wife at Southern Hills Plantation Club in Florida, I hit all nine fairways with the rented Callaway driver. There were also metal three and five irons in the bag. Those made it simpler to hit out of the rough. I wound up with five pars and four bogeys in nine holes.
Like I said, that’s respectable golf, but not great. The previous day I played eighteen holes with my brother-in-law and my wife’s sister’s significant other. It was hot as heck outside, but the sweat wicked away as we drove around the hilly course on golf carts. I had a couple snowmen along the way, but overall my touch was decent and putting was solid. I probably shot 85 or so.
The putter in the bag was a Star Wars looking thing with two wings sticking off the back. It was extremely balanced and delivered a true feel of confidence. I was making consistent putts under four to six feet. That’s always a good feeling.
The interesting part of the game on the greens is that rules have changed due in part to the game of golf looking to increase playing pace. So it is no longer required to take the pin out of the cup while putting. At first that’s a funny feeling for a guy who did a bit of caddying as a kid. The ritual of yanking the stick out while tending the pin is ingrained quite deeply. But the time it takes to do all that holds everyone up.
These days the stick stays in the cup if you want it there. Studies have shown that the practice actually improves the odds of making a putt. It must stop the faster putts from sailing over the hole. But then again, there’s the ricochet effect. There’s always a price to pay for too much aggression on the golf course.
The other reason the stick stays in the cup these days is to reduce the risk of spreading Coronavirus. Course instructions also encouraged less high-fives and other potentially risky sporting rituals. But as I was playing golf with my wife, those worries were greatly reduced. We both just got tested for Covid-19 and turned up negative.
After four holes with the crew the second day, the Birthday Boy among us needed to return to the clubhouse. His buddies had plied him with drinks and shots before we departed, and he’d already played eighteen holes in a morning round. That left Sue and I to play alone for five holes.
It was quiet and serene on the course that afternoon. The storms that delayed our round initially had produced a ton of rain, but the course absorbed it for the most part. Still, we drove our carts in the rough most of the holes.
Sue loves to golf. We don’t get to do much of it. Most of our leisure time is consumed with running, cycling and swimming. Yet one of our first weekend trips together included a round of golf at a sweet little club near Dixon, Illinois. She was cute in her white golf skirt and black shirt. This past weekend she wore a blue top that made me want to hug her after every shot.
My father would have appreciated my wife’s enjoyment of the game. He adored playing golf and encouraged all his boys to develop a good swing. My mother and father played golf together on a regular basis. Late in life my mother scored a hole-in-one at the fourth hole on Pottawatomie Golf Club in St. Charles. That was their home turf, and I’ve played that course many times. The hole on which she scored the hole-in-one is a snug par three along the Fox River. From the women’s tee it is probably 130 yards. The club pro gave her a mini-trophy with a golf ball perched in the cup. She prized that little award, and loved to tease my father that she was the only one between them that ever scored a hole-in-one. The next year she passed away from cancer at the age of eighty years old.
There were years during college when I seldom played golf at all. But that didn’t mean I never set foot on a golf course. Back then, many cross country races were held on golf courses. It seems that practice has largely vanished. Probably the members these days frown on the idea of anyone tearing up the prized fairways. I get that. But it was thrilling to put on spikes and race down smooth turf in the company of other good runners.
I also trained quite a bit on golf courses. Again, that is frowned upon in this day and age. Too much liability, or so the saying goes. Running on a golf course will get you booted off in most places.
That doesn’t mean I’ll never do it. Once in a while I’ll skirt the edge of some local course and think back on both the golfing and running I’ve done in those places over the years. In the past ten years however, some of those golf courses have closed up shop. Even before the Bush-era recession caused economic contraction, the golf industry recognized that there was a surplus of courses. The sport was overbuilt, and golf courses and even some country clubs were closing. When the overall participation in golf dropped by some 5 million players after the recession, even more courses closed.
State of Golf in America
There are still about 1.5M acres of land used as golf courses in America. That’s equivalent to the State of Rhode Island. So there is a State of Golf in this country. About 10% of the population, or 25M people typically play golf in a given year.
I know these statistics because I’ve written a book titled Nature Is My Country Club. It examines the land-use practices of golf courses, and how organizations like Audubon International are encouraging the golf industry to naturalize their landscapes with native plantings, wetland conservation and use of less pesticides. That makes me feel better about playing golf. Because whether nature purists (like me) care to admit it or not, a considerable amount of wildlife likes to hang out on golf courses. During our round last weekend, we saw wild turkey, sandhill cranes, black-bellied tree ducks, gallinules, grebes, little blue heron, great blue heron, common egret, black vulture, bluebirds and many other species. There were alligators in the ponds too, and turtles.
I used to point that stuff out when I was a caddy, but it was seldom appreciated by the golfers I accompanied while carrying their bag. Most people on the golf course, it seems, are there for one reason, to play the game. The course itself is a piece of fiction, a place to be conquered. And golf courses are indeed a manufactured landscape. There is nothing essentially natural about acres of closely mowed turf grass, and it used to be sustained with tons of toxic pesticides and herbicides. Some of those practices are changing, but not completely.
But it sure is beautiful in its homogenous way, a shadescaped glory fantasyland where golf carts sail like ships on a green sea.
Sailing there with my honey was a lot of fun. She started hitting great shots as the round went by, landing some on the green from some distance. She even picked one out of the fairway trap with what I called the “magic” club in her bag.
It was magic. Like a dream.