Every time I walk a golf course I learn more about my presence in the world. Through my decades in this game, I’ve come to have a thorough understanding of what my best and worst qualities are. They often emerge from me as different personas. My daily life can seem like a seesaw with those angels and demons sitting on each side. Golf is how I measure which one is more dominant. However, when I play, a sort of re-balancing happens. By looking inside I can find the levers which need to be adjusted in order to bring me closer to my better self. This is important work. In order to do it, I need quiet, calm, and peaceful surroundings. Focus matters too. A golf course is ideally suited for such reflection. The walk leads me back to my more admirable self. I’m still learning how to improve so I keep coming back to golf. It is a journey with no end in sight.
If you enjoy these daily stories, you might like my new book, The Nine Virtues of Golf. It debuted earlier this Summer as the #1 new release golf book on Amazon.
You can learn a lot about someone by playing golf with them. The ways in which a person conducts themselves on a golf course is a window into their character. Golf provides an ample display of one’s disposition and playing with others is an invitation to question our own comportment. Every so often, I have been graced with the chance to play golf with someone who challenges my assumptions and provides a model for how I might improve my own outlook on the game. Ran Morrissett is one such person.
Ran Morrissett is the founder and proprietor of Golf Club Atlas. CGA, as it is commonly called, is a website made for the study and discussion of golf course architecture. Instituted in the early days of the internet, GCA has become the go-to place for golfers to gain a deeper appreciation for the design of the best courses in the world. I have been a fan and message board member for a few years now and Ran’s writing and opinions on golf are among my favorite things to read. When the opportunity arose for me to travel to his home town near Pinehurst, North Carolina, I reached out to Ran to see if he may be available to talk some golf.
Ran is the kind of gentleman golfer with whom I find great delight in sharing a conversation. He is well-traveled and fluent in the language of the game. These attributes became apparent upon my arrival at his home for our afternoon appointment. Ran was kind enough to take me up on having a chat and he extended me a sincere and warm greeting. Ran suggested an itinerary for the evening that included a few holes of golf and some dinner. I was thrilled to join him for both and it turned out to be quite the learning experience.
After a tour of his home and a brief walkthrough of GCA world headquarters, Ran and I loaded into his car and headed for his favorite golf hang – the Southern Pines Golf Club. On the ride over, he gave me some backstory on Southern Pines and its current state. The club has a rich history. Donald Ross designed its first nine holes in 1906 and eventually expanded the golf there to include 36 holes. Only 18 remain in play today. The club is owned by the local Elks lodge which at one time made for steady traffic and a healthy level of revenues. Today, the club is dealing with the many effects of the ever-changing golf market.
When Ran and I pulled up to the club I could immediately sense the aging of the place. In many ways, it reminded me of my home club. Time had moved on, but the club stayed behind. The large hulking and empty Elks lodge casts a shadow on the first tee and serves as a monument to days gone by. Beyond the parking lot and the lodge, the property falls away into a pine forest that is populated with rolling hills. It is over those slopes that the routing of Donald Ross and the many charms of Southern Pines comes alive. It’s the perfect place for Ran to have a hit in the fading sunlight of the Sandhills each day
After checking in we were joined on the first tee by the delightful Chris Buie. Chris is one of the great resident writers and historians of the Pinehurst area. He also serves as Ran’s regular playing partner at Southern Pines. Between the two of them, they figure to have logged a few thousand holes played under the evening sun there.
The preferred game for Ran and Chris is a fast-paced walk around the course. The score is largely irrelevant. Some nights they may only play a handful of holes, but most times they aim for around twelve. It is just enough golf to get some exercise and have a well-rounded conversation between the swings. For me to join them in this ritual was a great treat.
To say that Ran and Chris play briskly is an understatement. Even as a seasoned walker, I found myself having to adjust my pace to keep up. I would classify their methods as “reactionary” golf. The process of each shot was short and decisions were made quickly. Approach the ball, pull a club, swing, then start walking. It’s that simple.
The way in which these gentlemen play is sporty and is in keeping with the traditions of the game in the United Kingdom. That can be attributed to the amount of time these gents have spent pursuing golf experiences around the globe. As Ran told me, “In other golfing nations the pace just isn’t an issue.” Playing quickly is just common courtesy. “Nobody wants to see folks take two minutes over a three-foot putt. Just hit it and keep moving.” During the course of our time together at Southern Pines, it occurred to me that this was a mindset worth emulating.
If I conjure an honest assessment of my game, I have to admit that my pace is often too slow. Perhaps it is due to the lingering effects of my junior golf career and all the crap I got fed about pre-shot routines and other manners of dragging on. Then again, it may just be that my inner demons won’t allow me to carry as quickly as I should. Either way, my pace has been and remains something I must work on.
My conversion back into a walking golfer these past few years has helped a great deal. If you are the lone walker in a group that reality necessitates you play fast enough to keep up. My pace has steadily improved, but it was my evening with Ran Morrissett that allowed me to see what I should be aiming for.
As we ventured around the course that evening I became intoxicated by the rhythm that we were enjoying together. This was a pace in which many of the game’s best aspects were made more readily enjoyable. For Ran and Chris, the golf being played was secondary to the pleasure of the walk with good company over a stunning layout.
There were times during my walk with Ran and Chris that I felt myself falling behind. Those guys really flew around the course. To tell the truth, It made me feel a bit inadequate. I can certainly see how newcomers to the game may feel completely lost in such a dizzying pace, but that was not an excuse that I had any room to enjoy. As a seasoned player, I needed to be better and as I watched my playing partners, I picked up on a number of customs that could easily be transferred to my own game.
The key to keeping up with Ran and Chris was to never stop moving. They showed me what is possible if you go to play with the intent of moving quickly around the course. For those of you wondering how this might play out in your own game, it means three things:
Be ready to hit as soon as it is your turn
Once you start putting don’t stop until you hole out
If you lose a ball, drop one and keep playing quickly
Thanks to Ran and Chris, I found a strategy to improve my pace of play while having more fun on the course. The pace of play in golf continues to be a hot topic in the game and with today’s ever-growing social media conversations, there seems to be real momentum for speeding play across the globe. That is a good thing. For many years I shrugged when my friends commented about my pace because I didn’t believe them. “Surely it isn’t me,” I thought. But guess what – it was. Like anything else in life, I had to want to change if I ever hoped to improve.
By the time I arranged my meetup with Ran and round of golf with him and Chris, I was already on the path to improvement. They helped further my education and ever since I have made serious headway in reducing my round times. With a hard-working wife and rambunctious toddler at home, I need to gain back all the time I can. It’s still a work in progress, but I like where things are headed.
When Ran, Chris, and I finished our round at Southern Pines we scurried over to a local pub for some beers and a meal. For a guy like me, I could sit there and listen to their tales of golf trips all night. However, much like the way they play golf, dinner was straight to the point. We enjoyed every second together, but we all had other things to get to. That’s the kind of golf I try to play more of these days. Fun, faster, freewheeling, and far from caring about too much about the score.
I’m not sure we will ever see that kind of pace catch on across the entirety of the American golf landscape, but it is an idea worth spreading. The concept of playing quickly is something golf and the folks who play it all need to embrace. I’m still working on it, but it feels good to play faster. For those who may need a lesson in picking up the pace, I suggest stopping into Southern Pines some evening and see if you can keep up with Ran and Chris.
The hangover was a serious problem. I felt it as soon as the alarm went off and it hit me right between the eyes. Reaching for a glass of water by my bed, I climbed out of another hazed awakening in the rental condo that was ground zero for my golf vacation. Our annual guys trip always makes for a few tough mornings, but that day was the worst yet. We had a high noon tee time on the hardest course in America and my head felt like I had been kicked by a mule.
The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort has one hell of a reputation. It hosted and roasted the best players in the world during both the 1991 Ryder Cup and the 2012 PGA Championship. From the tips, it boasts the highest course and slope rating combination in all of America. Architect Pete Dye carved the course out of the South Carolina coast, creating a Molotov cocktail of sand, water, and wind. From its debut in the Ryder Cup matches to everyday resort guest play, the Ocean Course has been dismantling golfers for nearly three decades. Trust me when I say that trying to tackle such a place while battling the demons of the night before is ill-advised.
The steady decline of my alcohol tolerance had been brought on by my rapid acceleration into marriage, fatherhood, and life in my early thirties. I am reminded of this each time I travel with our gang. As I shuffled my way through a muddled morning routine it became increasingly evident that I may be trading birdie putts for blowing chunks on the Ocean Course. It was a terrible feeling.
The first time I played the Ocean Course was on my honeymoon. It was a glorious day with my new bride and I loved the golf course, but my game was not up for the test. I’ll never forget how much the wind blew my shots around while inflating my score that afternoon. I spent four years dreaming of a redemption round and as that tee time finally approached I was laid up on a couch watching the ceiling spin.
The heat index was creeping up on triple digits as we pulled up to the bag drop and the stiff wind made it feel like we were under a hairdryer. I was headed for sweaty mess territory, but I had to press on. If I bailed on our group of fifteen guys I’d never live down the shame. The only way through that black hole was straight on to the other side.
After consuming an anecdote of Gatorade, Aleve, and CBD oils, I managed to make it to the driving range for a warm-up session. That’s where I met Mike, my looper for the day. We made some small talk and he chuckled as guys were giving me hell for my obvious struggles. The ball was flying all over the place and the pounding headache made it hard to find any rhythm at all. The sun was straight above our heads and I was sinking low as we boarded the transport to the first tee.
Nausea did seem to displace the nerves at least. I remembered the first hole well and I asked Mike to hand me a hybrid to start the day. “I need to ease into this thing,” I told him. With a deep breath and a slow turn, I sent the ball on its way. Through my squinting stare I watched the shot sail out in front of our group and I found the first of many fairways that day. I grabbed another water and prayed that I could repeat that move a few more times. Luckily someone was listening.
The bogey-bogey start was less than impressive, but I felt like the ball was going where I wanted. On the third hole, I faced dire straits when my approach bounded over the buried boxcar green. I needed an up and down to get a par on the board but my wedge game was feeling less than great. “Let me see that putter Mike.” My caddie companion obliged and from twenty feet off the green I rolled the ball up to within a snuggly distance to the pin. It was just the spark I needed. Mike gave me a nudge of encouragement and we pressed on.
Somehow I was able to string together a series of par saves that included a wide variety of results. I putted from off the green a few more times to kick in range and even managed to clip the pin on an overcooked bunker shot. I knew that the scores were being authored by a shaky hand, but somehow they kept coming in at par. I was managing my game and my condition about as well as I could have hoped for. There was no way to know what would happen next.
The wind continued to intensify as we walked up to the ninth hole. It was blowing something fierce and through the clouds of my mental state, I recognized the prevailing winds from my first time on the course. As my playing partners sized up their challenges I stood on a hill facing the same shot I had four years prior. That’s when I heard a faint voice whisper “Ride the wind.” I’m not sure if it was Bagger Vance, Shivas Irons, James Earl Jones, or God, but something told me what to do and suddenly I was overcome with calmness. The peaceful feeling was unlike anything I’ve ever felt on a golf course.
I focused on the shot at hand and made a mighty swing of a six iron. The ball climbed high up against the gusting wind to form a towering draw. I could see the flight pattern illuminate before me and the ball nestled to within ten feet of the cup. I missed the putt, but when we climbed into the shuttle for the tenth tee I became convinced that I had just unlocked some new form of my highest potential.
If you have ever found this feeling before you will know what I mean, but if not you may think I’m nuts. My mind was entering into what felt like a trance. I had experienced this before, but it is rare and I never know how long it will last. On a day when my body was ready to give up on me, my mind found the extra gear I needed. Dare I say it, but I was in the zone.
The ensuing back nine was a bit of a blur. Facing 30 + mile per hour winds I was sliding into some sort of hypnotic state. There was chaos all around me as my playing partners were losing their balls and their patience, but I barely saw them. Mike was there with me for yardages, but in hindsight, I don’t remember a word he said along the way. While my friends were battling the course, I felt like I had found the cheat codes to a video game.
Then the putter got hot.
After a series of swings that set me up for scoring, I made birdie putts at 11 and 12 while nearly clipping a “turkey”- three in a row, at the 13th. The cup was starting to look like a basketball hoop and on each stroke I saw my immediate future. I could visualize my arms raised and a confident fist pump gesture following another holed putt. All I had to do was let it happen and I did.
In those moments my hands weren’t my hands. In my mind, I was Seve Ballesteros. There was new and radiant energy emitting from my body as I glided from shot to shot. The feeling was euphoric.
At the 14th hole, we turned our backs to the wind and began the home stretch march to the clubhouse. I could sense that the round still had much to give. There was more joy yet to come and it was predetermined to be my day. Despite a bogey, I rebounded by pouring in par putts at the 15th and 16th to keep the momentum alive. As I walked over the dune to the difficult 17th hole I found myself wandering in and out of consciousness. The everyday noise that stifles my thoughts had gone silent and at that moment I was one with the game.
From the tee box, I could see the ocean to my right. The waves were crashing up and down the beach and the timing of it all acted like a metronome in my mind. Perched on the horizon was the stately clubhouse with a series of flags waving at a frantic pace. This would be the site of another special moment. I unleashed the smoothest of swings and the ball carried dutifully towards the flag. It landed in the center green and careened off a slope towards the hole. I walked up to the green knowing I would make the putt.
In the pond between the dunes and the green, there was the largest alligator I’ve ever seen in my life. My confidence had reached such a level that I felt like I could ride him in the same fashion as the mechanical bull I vanquished the night before. Everything was in slow motion and once again the people playing with me disappeared. The putt slid slightly down the hill and found the center of the cup. I stuck my putter in the air and turned my attention to the finale.
Mike the caddie pointed to the left side of the clubhouse and said, “put her right there and let it ride.” I just nodded at him with a quiet affirmation. Like many swings that day, I made a pass at the ball that resulted in something magical. The cut spin on the shot was shaping the ball flight perfectly into the fairway and I looked back at my caddie as if the day would never end. Unfortunately, there was an end and as we walked up the 18th hole it was clearly in site.
We walked at a steady but slowing pace up the fairway of the final hole. The crowded clubhouse veranda was now populated by the late afternoon onlookers who watch golfers come off the course each day. Draped in summer attire with cocktails in hand they were the gallery who bore witness to the best round of my life. But like many stories, the ending was amiss.
When I arrived at my ball in the 18th fairway I looked up to take in the scene around me. For the first time in hours, I became cognizant of my friends. They were looking at me from forty yards away in the same manner that baseball teammates stay away from a pitcher with a perfect game on the line. Seeing them and the crowd of onlookers and the sea crashing nearby brought me back to where I was. I’ll never know why, but as I took a long gaze at my surroundings the cloud I was on seemed to lower back down to earth.
My approach the final green came up well short and I could feel myself returning to my body. I wasn’t watching from above anymore. I was on the ground and in my shoes again. Perhaps it was because I realized a birdie would yield an even-par round, but either way, the golf gods had determined that my time was up.
Instead of a perfect finish, I tapped in for a bogey. It didn’t matter though. I had just come through something that defied logic. It was supernatural. I had floated and glided and sailed gently around the hardest course in the country while battling a hangover and a two-club wind. Mike put on a big smile and congratulated me on a special round. My friends stood and stared at me like I had just performed some sort of miracle.
“Holy shit man.”
“That was really something.”
“I’ve never seen anything like that.”
We exited the green and the round came to an end. The sun was beginning to lay down over the dunes and happy hour was in full swing. I strolled up the gentle slope to the clubhouse veranda and finally paused to appreciate what I had just done. My score was 74. It wasn’t the lowest of my life, but that round was by far the best I ever had. By this time, my hangover had subsided and our larger group was anxious to know how our foursome had fared. After all there was money and pride on the line. I walked into the Ryder Cup bar and a smile climbed across my face. It was the happiest I’d ever been in golf.
What began as a dreadful morning had morphed into a day that I’ll never forget. I don’t know what happened out there on the Ocean Course, yet I’m confident that it was metaphysical in nature. People will call me crazy for suggesting that the game of golf left me with an out of body experience, but it happened and it was incredible. My round of golf that day was only possible because I allowed myself to go into something that I didn’t fully understand. I’ve got a feeling that the hangover from those feelings won’t be so easily shaken.
There is no way to know if I’ll ever find that state of mind again. The golf gods are cruel and fickle. They tease us all with a poor sense of humor, but on occasion they breathe some powerful wind into our sails and carry us to newfound places. Such magic is real, but fleeting. Just when we think we have harnessed its power, it disappears like a kite lost on the breeze. On my day at the Ocean Course, golf became a portal to another plain of existence. Perhaps, if I’m lucky and mix my spirits just right the night before, I can ride that wind again someday.
“Well boys, I managed to get away for a few hours. Glad to be with you again. Hopefully, Tom won’t stick me in damn a fivesome. I need to get home at a decent hour.”
That’s a variation of the regular lines I deliver to my friends upon arrival at my golf club. I utter these words or something similar while my group warms up for another round together. The routine rarely varies. The range is always packed as we prepare for our regular game on the old home course. I walk up just in time to hear our teams for the day.
“Ok guys, we’ve got fifteen players. Three teams today.”
I shake my head as Tom shouts out the names of the teams. We gather round to listen for our playing partners and snicker when we are dealt a bad hand. Tom has the unfortunate duty of arranging the squads each weekend, but for some reason he loves it. I guess everyone needs a shtick even if it’s the only job more thankless than being the club president. Each week the gang gathers near the first tee in anticipation of knowing who they’ll blame the loss of twenty dollars on later that afternoon. All eyes on Tom.
The group plays at 10:30am each Saturday and Sunday. The dew sweeping super-seniors go off early, but the middle of the day is reserved for us. We like to occupy the course during the hours set aside for guys whose wives detest their golfing habits the most. When you play from 10:30am to 2:30pm you wipe away the hopes your wife had for any kind of spousal productivity that day.
I’m in the camp that can’t get away with two days of golf in a weekend anymore, but many of these guys still pull it off somehow. These days I’m more of a once a month participant in our habitual outing. This is good for my marriage but my frequent absences further reduce the weight of my arguments against Tom’s proclivity for fivesomes.
Many of my weekends get filled with the honey-do lists and other matters of husbandry, but sometimes I still hit the marital lottery. When I get a free pass to play with the guys I try to make the most of it.
I’m a want-to-be golf purist, but I still like to wallow in the spoils of a Saturday at the country club. I’ll argue against five players in a group and I always walk, but I still like a few frothy beers, some first tee smack talk, and a generous gimmie or two on the greens. This gangsome offers those attributes in spades.
We indulge in a bit of gentle gambling as well. Our game is a twenty dollar buy-in and there are four bets in play. We have the best one ball from the team on the front and back nine, the best two balls from the team on all eighteen, and a simple skins game as well. These bets are just big enough to trigger some emotion on the course, but most outbursts are incited by pride. Chest thumping the real tender of exchange among friends.
Throughout the hours of our battle, the screams of both frustration and achievement echo across our fields of play.
“Son of a bitch!”
The sounds of joy and sorrow are born from moments like an unexpected putt being holed or perhaps a hurried chip being flubbed. These most human of reactions create shrieking hymns that ring through the hills of our club like the bells of Rome.
When we march around the grounds of the club it’s easy to sense how the teams are playing. There are always signs to indicate the mood. If things are progressing as planned there will be the talk of strategy and chuckles of amusement between fist bumps and high fives. However, when the scoring gets sideways it’s more like being on the Bataan Death March with men whose mounting disappointment is only offered a reprieve from an oncoming cart girl. If you play with us long enough, you’ll get plenty of time to sample this full range of impassioned reactions on display.
Every time I make it out to play it’s like seeing another installment of my favorite sitcom. Each game is a singular episode in a long-running syndication that features the various mixtures of our golfing personas. Some guys pair well and others don’t, but no matter the arrangement there is side-splitting comedy produced from this four-hour affair. Pick any name from our regular roster and you’ll find a reliable source for a post-round story.
Once we finish playing, the settling of our wagers makes for a separate and equally unique variety of theatre. The action occurs on a table of draft beer and chicken wings and on this stage, we hash out who owes what over a chorus of heckling voices.
“I told you that back nine was a winner!”
“Thank god you made that putt on four!”
“Y’all shot what!?”
Drama builds when each troupe arrives in the grill to discover the fate of their fortunes. Some teammates are all smiles while preparing to soak themselves in raining cash. Others who were dealt a losing hand by Tom’s team making sulk into the sofa while clinging to some fading hope that the elusive birdie they made will hold up for a skin.
A sad voice from the back of the room utters, “Anybody birdie eight?”
No one is getting rich from our game, but the braggadocios nature of the scorecard roundup can make us feel like kings if only for half an hour. The room fills up for a feast of fools and the mixture of laughter and bullshit makes for a soundtrack that only good friends can produce. The topics of conversation may differ but the voices around the table don’t change much. These are the rituals that keep us coming back.
After the bets are paid and small bills are exchanged I start looking at my watch while checking for “time to come home” texts from my wife. Our beloved bartender knows the batting order for who has to leave first. He can write up your ticket based on where the clock hands are positioned. He looks at his timepiece and then back at me signaling that I’ve hit my limit.
I polish off the last drops of golden draft beer and start patting my pockets in search of my wallet. The chicken wings have been reduced to a platter of bone and the conversation around me turns to who is playing tomorrow. I may be leaving, but the meeting can’t be adjourned until the next day’s roster is shaped. This is when Marcus starts his call for an emergency nine holes.
“Hey boy, you stick around for the birdie game. Just a quick nine holes. Maybe eleven.”
I’m rising from my chair and collecting my items, but he persists.
“Tell her you’ll be home soon. Just a birdie game. $2 per pop. You got this. Let’s hit it.”
The vagaries of the grill Room make for predictable conclusions to each week’s follies, but regardless of the happenings of the day, the final outcomes remain the same. Usually, I linger a bit too long and scratch my head as I fork over the rest of my cash. On the way out of the door, I tell the boys “I’ll hope to see them next month” before I make a final remark to Tom about the teams he made that day. Meanwhile, the die-hards who have long since achieved endless golf freedoms through sheer will or divorce buckle in their bags for one more turn around the course.
When I walk towards the parking lot, I hear Marcus shout to me, “Ain’t too late to join boy! You better get home and be good for your girls though!”
He knows I’d love to put my spikes back on, but my time is typically up. I climb into my car and when I pull away, I see draft beer spilling from a cup holder as his cart bounces down the path to playing more golf. Some things never change.
I take comfort in knowing that when I’m granted permission from home, I can find and participate in this golfing circus on any given weekend. This gangsome plays across every season. Birthdays, holidays, anniversaries or weather all be damned, there is always a group on the tee at 10:30 waiting for a playing assignment from Tom. The unmatched hilarity of it all makes for my favorite manner of amusement. Hopefully, I can make it out to play in the group again soon.
I am standing on the tee box of my new favorite golf hole. There is a club in my hand and hope in my heart. The crispness of the air wraps around me like a calming blanket as I watch the ball sail through the evening light. I observe the orb fall victim to gravity as it lands so close to the pin that my heart pauses to consider the possibilities.
There is glory at this moment and I am one with the game that I love. My connection to another plane of existence is only broken by the sound of a baby crying through the screen door behind me. Mentally, I am at a links course on the coast of the Scottish Highlands, but in reality, my feet are planted firmly in my backyard.
Suddenly the cliffs of the north coast turn back into boxwood hedges and I notice my wife is looking at me through the window. I can smell the pasta sauce wafting from the kitchen and hear my one-year-old daughter break into a series of baby sounds. I wiggle my toes to make sure this is real and I look back at the red flag waving in the gentle breeze some twenty paces away. For ten minutes each night, I come to this place to get lost in my golfing mind. Standing in my yard I search for some sliver of inner peace while sorting through the list of things I still have to do before the sun goes down.
A few swings of a golf club each day are good for my mental health. Golf is much more than recreation or leisure for me, it’s a form of meditation and a release of stress. I don’t need eighteen holes to find some stable ground in my mind, but I am a better man when I get some dosage of golf into my system. There is something euphoric about the moment when the club meets the ball and the chemicals released in my brain bring me to a place of balance and tranquillity. Being a father, husband, and full-time executive is not conducive to finding time for golf course therapy, but those duties make me need it more than ever. That’s why I built a golf hole in our backyard.
At a certain age life just starts to accelerate. Family happens, the office consumes you, and at some point, every part of your life feels like work. That is especially true for golf as now I have to make a serious effort just to play. I don’t have the luxury of playing whenever I want anymore, instead, I have to negotiate that time against all my other responsibilities. That means that golf gets put on the backburner, but because of my dependency, I have had to make other arrangements. A backyard golf hole allows me to find the mindfulness that only the ancient game can create for me.
I’ve always been a bit of a schemer and one night while scooping up some dog poop in the yard I devised a plan to bring golf closer to home. I drew my inspiration from some of my favorite accounts on social media that showcase unique golf holes only a few steps away from where folks live. Backyard golf holes are not a new phenomenon, but it seems as if the idea is having a renaissance in the age of Instagram. Like many who have come before me, I found myself drawing up ideas for a golf hole just off our back patio.
I had to have a golf hole that I could utilize during the moments in between changing diapers and doing dishes. Space is limited in the back yard, but after a few walks around with a beer in hand I was able to conger up an ideal layout. It had to be more than just grass though so I called up the superintendent at our golf club to gain some needed supplies. After explaining my plight to him, he gave me some proper tools to help create my architectural debut. I found some old tee markers and a flag in the cart barn and proceeded to put things in motion.
The hole I designed for myself is a short pitch shot playing downhill from East to West. I built the tee box in a patch of grass between a pathway of brick pavers and the dusty trail my dogs have created. The green site is pitched from left to right between a large pine tree and a small garden bed. The hole is framed by boxwoods and azaleas and if you squint a little at sundown you’ll swear that it resembles Augusta National. To create some added character I put up a cast iron bell that is to be rung only in the case of a hole in one.
The variety of grass is not ideal but it suffices for a playing surface at my low budget course. It actually has responded quite well considering that it receives natural fertilizers from the dogs and I cut it at the lowest setting possible with my Honda push lawnmower. There is nothing fancy here, but I have found that when I need some minutes to myself and time at the golf course isn’t in play, I can retreat to the yard for just enough swings to keep my mind sharp. It is in those brief interludes away from my daily stresses that I remember all that I am grateful for.
What I have created is a place where I can improvise my moments of Zen. Maybe its some form of escapism, but whatever you want to call it I have found it to be therapeutic. One small pitch shot for golf, one giant leap for Jay’s mind.
I visit my short hole at odd hours. Some mornings I wake up early, pour a tall cup of black coffee and venture out into the yard in my black robe and well-worn slippers for some peaceful swings before the baby wakes up. Other days I show up at home on my lunch break and hit pitch shots before having to return to the office. There are other times as well like after my wife and I have a debate in the kitchen or I just need to listen to some music and make swings to calm my nerves. In every instance I find myself standing on the tee box of lawn turf focussed on the hole and making a small turn to advance the ball toward the target. The simple rhythms of this are soothing to my soul.
A little bit of golf can go along way towards finding happiness in life, business, and relationships. For me to be effective in any of those realms I have to be able to be in a good place mentally. Golf gets me there. Despite not being able to run out to the course and play on a whim, I have found a convenient way to create a golf outlet in my very own yard.
My neighbors must wonder about me when they see me standing in my yard holding the finish on a pitch shot. They know I’m up to something related to golf because they see a flagstick waving and balls scattered across the lawn. I doubt they realize its just my version of yoga.
When I wrap my fingers around the grip of my old rusty wedge I can tune out my troubles and transport to places far away. Somedays I’m walking the fairways of Augusta and on other occasions, I’m standing on the cliffs of Scotland’s north coast. Maybe I’m listening to the birds chirp through Georgia pines or perhaps I’m smelling the salty air and gorse blooms near Dornoch. Either way, I’m at ease with the world around me and I can still make it back to help give the baby a bath.
Golf can be anywhere you want it to be. The benefits of the game, in particular, the mental side of it, are not reserved for 18 holes on a Saturday morning. Instead, golf can be unpacked quite easily just about anywhere you need it.
There are so many variations of the game and as my time for playing it increasingly disappears I have found new joy in chasing golf just outside our bedroom window. I think my wife likes this version of the game much better as I’m always within earshot and I’ve found a whole new motivation for keeping the grass cut. When she hears the bell ring she knows I’ve made another ace and perhaps that I’ve found some peaceful moment before dinner. Thanks to a backyard golf hole, I’ve got everything I love all within the confines of home.
There is no bond quite like that which exists between brothers. It is also true that there are few arguments as intense as those that involve siblings. Often times those disagreements can last for years if not decades and I’ve always been afraid of that happening in my family.
My brother and I could probably pass for strangers. Our parents insist that we are of the same blood but upon first glance, most folks might need some convincing. Sometimes I do too. We don’t look alike, act alike, or think alike, but we do have one great commonality…we both love golf.
Hilton and I live and often feel far apart from each other but golf remains our shared language. Even still I’m certain that we speak different dialects. However distant our worldviews and idiosyncrasies may be, we have found some ability to bridge our divide when golf serves as our translator.
Hilton and I tend to be the yin to each other’s yang and that is especially evident on the golf course. The game brings us together in a way that we both need. Despite our differences golf allows us to be close with each other even if it’s only in four-hour increments.
When my brother and I play golf, we are separated from the worldly matters that drive our holiday conversations into debates. Golf provides us the chance to be together in deliberate isolation and find our common ground again. Although our differences are as stark as day and night, golf tends to blur the lines a bit.
Hilton has long dark hair and he wears it regularly in a ponytail or man-bun. He prefers hiking sandals to shoes and enjoys living in the lax Colorado legal environment with his longtime girlfriend. He’s about my height, but skinny and a naturally gifted athlete and musician. His politics are left of Bernie Sanders and he regularly speaks about offbeat political matters and conspiracy theories. He is nearly my polar opposite in every way.
I work for a business interest group in Florida and have a bit of what I call “office weight”. I’m a married man with an infant daughter and I can’t get enough of my family. I’ve got a mortgage and a country club membership to match my master’s degree and generally conservative disposition. My brother often looks at me like I’m an asshole and sometimes I’m afraid he might be right.
We act as most brothers do. Competing for parental affection and approval is a constant. We still like to bicker and fight over trivial things as we did in the back of mom’s Ford Explorer on the way to junior golf tournaments. I know I’m right and so does he. We are four years apart in age and from what I can gather that’s just the right amount of time for the habits and traits of one brother to not rub off on the other. We don’t have much in common besides our ancestry, but thankfully we grew up on a golf course and the gravitational pull of that childhood love still brings us together on occasion.
Golf is a release for each of us in very different ways. Hilton sees golf as pure fun. He checks out from work, forgets about the ring he’ll need to buy someday and looks to catch a buzz while chasing birdies. Meanwhile, I see golf as a meditation. I find peace in the solitude of the game, hear poetry in the sound of a swing, and believe that golf is uniquely tethered to my soul. Hilton equates golf to a Grateful Dead concert and I treat it more like a day on Walden Pond. When we play it is the equivalent of a disk jockey teeing it up with a transcendentalist.
Hilton normally plays where he can find a good deal. He hates golf shoes and tucked in shirts and plays barefoot when allowed. He enjoys nice courses and loves the game but couldn’t care less about my passion for its history and architecture. Based on his attire he could probably be a good stand-in at any municipal course in America, but one look at his game would give away his pedigree.
Our grandfather taught us how to play when we were kids. Gramps was the head pro at our small-town club and he nurtured our games all the way through high school. Our uncle played on tour and we spent many summers watching him on the road. Golf was an everyday obsession in our family. Most nights after dinner were spent in chipping contests with Dad and many days we played until dark while walking our dog. Golf runs deep in all of us and it remains the strength of my relationship with Hilton.
When Hilton and I play together it is as if the golf gods are overseeing peace talks between regularly warring nations. The golf course is sacred ground and no battles are to be fought there. When we cross the threshold from the parking lot to the grass, we enter a sort of demilitarized zone. Golf becomes a buffer between us and the bullshit that we have a hard time letting go of in other settings.
There were many years in which we didn’t play so much. We both became lost in the journey to who we are as adults and our days on the golf course together were seldom. It was in those times in which the differences we had developed on the way to adulthood became a breeding ground for animosity. Playing golf together became a relic of our childhood and I was worried about whether or not we’d ever reconnect. Fortunately for both of us, the maturity of increasing age has resurrected our feelings for both golf and each other.
Golf makes us more capable of being civil. We will always have tense moments, but an invitation to play with each other is an olive branch that we both can recognize. That revelation has opened the door to a whole new chapter in our lives.
In my office, I keep a vast assortment of golf memorabilia, trophies, and other objects that denote my adventures in the game. Among those treasures, my most prized possessions are from memories made while playing with Hilton. I have our small-town newspaper framed above my desk which features a headline about how the Revell brothers once won the biggest two-man tournament in town. In addition to that glorious achievement, I have a photo on my bookshelf of the two of us standing on a dune ridge in the vast reaches of the Colorado chop hills at Ballyneal Golf & Hunt Club.
The newspaper clipping makes me smile because it was the first and only time, I won that tournament. Even more importantly it reminds me that in order to win, I had to partner with my oldest and best friend. That was the weekend where Hilton and I found out how to best overcome the barriers between us. Amazingly it resulted in a series of moments that I’ll never forget.
The photo on the shelf is another story entirely. Until we ventured to Ballyneal, the two of us had never traveled together on our own. We steered our way to a place that is as remote as you can imagine in America and the golf we found there washed away the layers of life that have made us seem so different.
Days like those enshrined on my wall are why I get excited to know when Hilton is coming home next. They are also the reason I stay up late and plot the potential places that we can visit for golf in the years ahead. The game will always be a part of who we are and it still binds us to our better angles. We have many more holes to play together in this life and there is still some room in my office for a few more memories to hang.
It is hard to pinpoint where my brother and I chose our different paths in life, but both of them lead back to a small-town country club and a home with our loving parents. I remember when our folks built that house for our growing family to live in. Hilton was just my baby brother and the golf course was just home. We likely would still be different no matter where we had laid our heads, but because of the game we learned there, we will always know how to find each other. Golf is at the root of our souls and because of that we really aren’t so different after all.
Maybe there is someone you are overdue for a walk on the course with too. Drop me a line and tell me how golf has helped you build a better relationship with either friends or family. Those stories are always my favorite.
I hope to hear from you…until then, swing, walk and repeat.
Special thanks to my good friend Dave Baysden for providing a wonderful sketch inspired by these words. Dave is one of the most talented artists I know and his work in golf is the best in the game today.
I’ll always remember 2018 as the year I became a father. It’s also the year I learned a whole new appreciation for golf. My daughter Winnie was born in January and this past year has been the best one of my life. When fatherhood found me, I discovered a whole new way of looking at the world. Becoming a dad has not only made me a better man, but it’s making me a better golf patron.
Being a dad is incredible, yet the duties of fatherhood tend to make long days on the golf course an increasingly rare occurrence. For those fathers of young children who are golf-obsessed like I am, you’ll know what I mean. Having kids creates endless hours of enjoyment, but also many hurdles to playing golf regularly.
Every golfing dad finds that the co-existence of a passion for golf and the love for one’s family can be frustrating at times. Hours of free time become scarce, being on the course for long stretches makes you feel guilty, and despite your desire to be out playing with friends most times you just can’t. As a golfing parent, the lack of playing time can make you cranky, cause you to cancel the country club membership, or even lead you to sell your clubs on eBay for diaper money. It’s tough to get out and play as a dad, but I’m here to tell you that this shift in perspective can actually work out to the betterment of your golfing soul.
When I found out that we were going to have a child, I was in the middle of the best competitive golf season of my adult life. My handicap got down to scratch for the first time since high school and I won five tournaments that year. I knew it was my last chance to perform at such a level until after my unborn kids get out of college so I gave it all I had and it paid off. After the ultrasounds started piling up and the nursery got painted I knew it was time to adopt a new strategy for how I would enjoy the game in the years ahead.
When my daughter was born I took to reading and writing about the game as much as possible. I found a great deal of inspiration and made it my new mission to discover the spirit of the game rather than constantly testing my skills in it. Through that process of self-discovery, I have found a winning formula for fathers who golf.
My first year as a father has yielded five revelations for finding more joy in the game of golf. They are as follows:
1) Play less tournament golf
I love competing in golf, but when Winnie arrived it closed the window on me spending hours practicing for tournaments. I was playing in at least 10-15 two day golf tournaments each season and since she was born I’ve cut that to about 3-5 events at most. Tournaments are expensive, time-consuming and unless you are playing well can be a real grind. I gave up almost all tournaments except a few at my home club and to be honest I’m happier as a golfer. I’d rather spend time and money on a unique golf experience than sweating over four-foot putts with a pro shop gift certificate on the line.
2) Forget about score
Once I put most tournament golf behind me I began to realize that score was much less important than I had always made it out to be. Golf isn’t really about what score you make. The game is much more about where you are playing and who you are with. Once I was able to let go of the scorecard, I was open to enjoying varying ways of playing golf. Most times when I play these days I only use seven clubs in my bag. Not only is the bag lighter on my shoulder, but I have less thinking to do and I play faster. I even started playing with vintage clubs including persimmon drivers and some hickory irons. I stopped playing for score and started playing for fun again and I that has made a huge difference for me enjoying the game as a golfing dad.
3) Make every trip a golf trip
I’m fortunate to be able to travel from time to time for golf trips, but those are also growing rarer. Since becoming a father I’ve looked for creative ways to make every trip I take one that involves golf. When golf time at home decreases you have to find ways to play on the road. Whether I’m traveling for business, to see family and friends, or even just to get away, I always bring my clubs. Every city has something unique to offer a golfer and I always plan carefully so that I can get a few holes in while away from home. Some basic internet research will usually reveal that no matter where you are there is an interesting golf course worthy of experiencing. Even the act of seeking them out is part of the fun.
4) Find the course within your course
When the time for golf gets cut by time for the family it can become difficult to play even nine holes much less eighteen. Fortunately, at my home course, the routing is such that I can play a wide array of loops that allow me to play in even the shortest of timeframes. My course has loops of 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, and 16 holes all available to me and ending up near the clubhouse. Many courses, particularly those built before 1950, have similar routing features. It is a blast to go out and play two holes on my lunch break or to walk five holes early on a Saturday morning before meeting the girls for breakfast at the club. I have even found ways to play cross-country through one corner of our course and creating new holes entirely. It takes a little imagination to find some routing options that can be played in less than an hour, but sharpening those creative tools will save you time and put you on the course more often.
5) Walk the dog
Multitasking is a great skill set for dads. I’ve learned to make the absolute best use of my time so that I can still enjoy the many facets of my golf infatuation. I listen to golf podcasts while washing baby bottles, I work on my putting while watching Winnie play on the floor, and most importantly I play golf while I walk the dog. I’m lucky to have a wonderful club that allows me to take my labradoodle Leon with me when I go out to play. I was unsure about trying this at first, but once I saw that Leon was great at tagging along I became hooked on having him with me. Playing golf with a dog is one of the great joys a golfer can experience. Dogs are man’s best friend and I have discovered they are also the perfect playing partner. Take the pup with you and consider yourself marking off an item from your ever-growing list of dad chores.
Being a golf dad isn’t easy, but if you are willing to suspend the habits that you have previously ingrained in your golf lifestyle you can find an even better appreciation for the game while still being a great dad. I encourage you to treat your shrinking windows for golf as an opportunity to explore the variety of the game. My methods may not be perfect for everyone, but if you are a busy dad looking to get back on the course these tips can serve as a great starting point for your own model. There is no easy way to quit a full blow golf addiction cold turkey so you will need to open your mind to trying something new as a means for getting on the course.
Becoming a father is the best thing to ever happen to me. It just so happens that being a dad is also making me love golf more than ever before. Maybe next year, I’ll show Winnie how to putt.