I am Tiger Woods…again

Finding new inspiration in an old champion. How Tiger Woods has once again inspired us all. 

Tiger Woods - Legend
Tiger Woods as depicted by Dave Baysden

Most folks don’t make it back from the brink, but Tiger Woods has done just that. After a tumultuous eleven years, Tiger Woods is a major champion again. He has won the Masters for the first time in fourteen years and his future looks brighter than anyone could have imagined when he hit the rock bottom reality of a DUI arrest just a few short years ago.

Somehow, after the affairs, the divorce, the spine, the drugs, and the yips, Tiger Woods has returned to win the biggest golf tournament in the world. Relishing in his victory, Woods, the 43-year-old aging champion, stood in front of an adoring crowd draped in a green jacket that he first put on at the age of 21. For the first time in over a decade the man we now know stepped back into the legend we used to love. This is the opening scene of his third act and perhaps the beginning of the most inspiring sports story ever.

When I was a boy, I wanted to be like Tiger Woods. I was one of the millions of young golfers who were part of the “I am Tiger Woods” generation. I’m referring to the famous Nike commercial in which multitudes of children repeat the line “I am Tiger Woods” as they carry clubs across varied existences to play golf. I spent hours and days and weeks and months and years chasing golf because he made me want to play like him. Like the vast majority of junior golfers, I never made it to that mantle, but I can’t forget the inspiration that Woods afforded me as a kid. Now, he is inspiring me and millions of others in a whole new way.

Woods’ excellence shaped my love for golf, but instead of playing for a living, I write about the game. It’s not my day job, but instead a new dream for how I can live a golfing life. Somedays I find it hard to balance the many elements of it all and on other days I wonder if I’ll ever make it to where I want to be. We all have our struggles and Tiger Woods has become a symbol of that. When Woods won the Masters for the fifth time, I felt the blossom of a long ago hope return to my heart. After the tournament ended I stood in my back yard with a wedge in my hand and suddenly wanted to be Tiger Woods again.

I’m not gunning for the tour this time though. What Tiger Woods makes me want to be this go-round is resilient. Seeing him plot his way around Augusta National and capture another major championship was remarkable. I can’t imagine anyone except Woods will ever be able to comprehend just how bad things got for him. How close did he come to reaching depths that cannot be returned from? We may never know in full, but when the big cat let out a primeval roar on the 72nd hole of the 2019 Masters anyone watching could feel the pride returning to his posture and the glory emitting from his gaze. Should I ever hit rock bottom, miss the mark, or even just have a bad week, I want to think of what it took for Tiger Woods to make it through his ocean of failure and arrive at that moment.

It would have been much easier for him to just quit. The audacity of Tiger Woods’ desire to return to the zenith of golf is startling. There were reports of him spending long days stowed away in dark rooms playing video games because the pain was too much to bear and even he made comments at the Champions dinner about never being able to play again. After his arrest, his mug shot was plastered around the globe and his ability to be a spokesperson evaporated. The road from those places to become a Masters champion again is slim and hardly navigable. To make it, he had to have an incredible sense of want to. For me, that is what I will strive to remember about this most improbable victory.

Maybe his kids have been his great motivation to return. It certainly seemed that way when he greeted his son after holing the winning putt. Woods has made mention of his desire to show his young son Charlie and elder daughter Sam that he was more than just a guy from youtube videos of the past. Everyone needs a spark. It makes me wonder if that was the moment he has been seeking when training each and every day. Perhaps the vision of hugging his children in the celebration of a grand achievement is what carried him out of the darkness. Watching Woods embrace his family was a sign that anything is possible if you dedicate yourself to achieving the outcome you most desire.

Just like we did when Woods won his first Masters in 1997, my entire family huddled around a living room television in order to witness the history of his latest achievement. I was ten years old then. Now, I’m 32, a husband, and a dad. The world has changed so incredibly much since then and Tiger Woods has transitioned through it to once again stand on top. He is living proof that anyone can, as his swoosh yielding sponsors say, “just do it.” My family cheered and applauded as the champ made his way through the crowd to a chorus of celebratory fans. This time, instead of being a wide-eyed ten year old, I held my daughter and thought about both her future and mine. I can do it. She can do it. Anyone can do it. That is a moment and a mantra I’ll always remember.

Shortly after the final putt dropped in Augusta, there was a new commercial running online portraying the latest chapter in the Tiger Woods saga. Nike has always had a way with words in these moments, but this one felt like the sequel to “I am Tiger Woods.” The company has made some of the most iconic ads in sports history and when Woods won his 15th major and 5th green jacket at the 2019 Masters they released another stunner. The new ad painted the entire picture of Woods’ career and brought things full circle with an image of his three-year-old self declaring “I want to beat Jack Nicklaus.”

This ad was depicting the resurrection of a childhood dream. The message was clear: what once was lost can indeed be found again. I’m not sure if Tiger Woods will catch and surpass Jack Nicklaus’ most unreachable of records, but after watching him win the Masters one more time it sure seems possible.

We have heard the old story many times before. When Tiger was a kid, he had a poster of Jack Nicklaus on his wall. Besting the golden bear has always been the intent for Woods, but after falling so far that idea just seemed out of reach. Back in his prime, it was clear that Woods was chasing the records for himself. In this reincarnation, Tiger has a new motivation. He wants to show his kids what he can do. If that means inspiring me and the rest of the world along the way then that’s what it will take.

Seeing my childhood hero chase down his last remaining dream while propelled by a love for his kids gives me a new perspective on my own goals. I don’t care so much about winning golf tournaments, but I  want my daughter to know that I’m capable of doing things that seem daunting. I’d like for her to see that I can reach my dreams too. Not as much for my achievement, but more so to prove that she can reach her own goals someday.

Tiger Woods has fallen short of the role model many saw in him, but today he has offered us all a different way to look at his story. It’s not about being the best. The Tiger Woods story is about fighting and climbing and clawing and never giving up.

In the heart and mind of the world’s greatest golfer there sits a new hope for what comes next. His fans feel the same way. Where there once was despair there now is joy. For Tiger Woods, he has answered the most pressing question and is now positioned to make the history he has always aimed for. His motivations are different, but his intent is the same. He is inspiring, yet in ways, he nor his fans could have ever imagined. A broken compass has been repaired and now points to a true North that can help guide us all. Woods has shown us that we can stand up again. He has proven that we can work our way back. He is showing us how to win for the right reasons. We all want to be Tiger Woods once again.

The Joys of Augusta – Why we all love a day at the Masters

Augusta National Golf Club – Watercolor by Dave Baysden

Today’s world moves fast and at times it seems as if there are no boundaries left in our society. We are expected to always be available and never make a false step. Somehow our species has managed to turn the human condition into a constant pressure cooker. Yet, in golf, there remains one place the world is yet to swallow up. The Augusta National Golf Club offers a select few of our global population the opportunity to remember what life is like when you put all of those worries to the side. Each Spring, when the Masters returns to our calendar, those who hold tickets to the club’s signature event are treated to an invitation to experience something that has been largely lost in our time: a full and complete retreat.

Augusta National may be the last bastion of civilization to hold out from the demands of modern life. The members there still hold tradition close to their hearts and expect patrons of their Masters tournament to abide by rules that may seem archaic but are actually a joy to participate in. The tournament and the club operate under the expectations set out by their founder, Bob Jones. Even in our modern times, they stand firm. No cell phones, no yelling, no running. Respect the property and space of others. Remember where you are and observe the world as we have prepared it for you to enjoy. Relish in your detachment.

That was the aim of Bob Jones when he set out to create what has become the world’s most famous golf club. In Jones’ retirement from golf, his celebrity often kept him from the quiet life he enjoyed. At Augusta National, he established a place where he and others like him could find the life they so desired. With the Masters, Jones opened his paradise to the world for a few days each year and thankfully it still serves as a chance for many of us to discover his original intent.

A day at the Masters is the best vacation on earth. It is the only experience imaginable where everyone you know will accept the idea that you are unreachable for a day. The phrase “out of pocket” comes to mind and in the case of Augusta requires a literal translation. There are no phones allowed on the property and somehow everyone survives. The world keeps turning even if at a slightly slower pace.

With no screen to block your view, the sites and sounds of the natural world return to caress your senses. If with friends, you notice little things about them that you had forgotten while buried in an email or lost in a twitter feed. It’s fun to have a conversation and see the ways in which people smile when forced to remove themselves from their worries for a day. The colors are brighter, the bird songs are more decipherable, and the details of the world around you come back into focus.

The joys of Augusta go beyond just a lack of devices and distraction as the refined simplicity of the place is always a treat to participate in. There is an appreciation for an old world there. It feels like going to your grandmother’s house where egg salad and pimento cheese are always in the fridge and the living room is without a television. Many a politician and salesmen has found success by harkening back to older and more golden days in their speeches and pitches, but only at Augusta National can you actually live in that mostly imaginary world for a time. The menu goes beyond simple sandwiches though as politeness, manners, and decency are all served daily. There is an order to it all that has largely gone the way of the dodo bird, but somehow at Augusta has been kept alive.

The club that hosts this simulation-like experience is not without its shortcomings, but even as they evolve over time their most treasured traditions still resonate. It is as Bob Jones declared it should be. His spirit still lives on in the event and at the club he founded. We can all still be ladies and gentlemen there and despite an unforgiving world around us we are allowed to find our better angles on those most desirable of grounds.

Standing in a sea of green, your blood pressure plummets.  A day spent at the greatest garden party on earth is a much-needed reprieve from the burdens we have placed upon ourselves. Spouses, children, jobs, bills, projects, bosses, parents, and problems all seem to fade away for a few hours. Perhaps we store them in our glovebox next to the phone before walking in. With each step closer to the gates of Augusta National the issues we confront each day slip further from view and more out of mind. When your feet hit the ryegrass carpet you are transported and transfixed.

At the Masters, the golf course will always be the star of the show, but the seclusion of the host club and its tranquil setting is one of the most attractive attributes of the event. That is not always apparent upon the first visit. Like many of life’s finest discoveries, the most impressive points of a day at Augusta National are only derived through multiple trips to the same familiar place. Once the initial glow of the grounds wears off, it is the remoteness in which you can find there that shines through.

The members of Augusta National are among the most successful and accomplished leaders in the world. They are no strangers to stress. Therein lies the beauty of their club and of their tournament. The rules set in place by Bob Jones are meant to offer both the members of his club and the patrons of his tournament a place to put their troubles away. There is no way Bob Jones could have ever predicted what the world would be like today, but somehow his rules for Augusta National and the Masters have found a way to grow in importance over time. He founded the club as a place to be with friends and to find the joys of isolation and although his tournament welcomes thousands of patrons each year, it still serves as the retreat he envisioned.

A ticket to the Masters is a coveted possession. There are many reasons for which they are hard to obtain, but the true demand goes far beyond the golf. To have your hands on a Masters badge is to hold a right of passage to an escape of the rarest variety. Like most of the items for sale at the Masters, the peacefulness of Augusta National is drastically underpriced. In that special place, we are permitted, even if just for the day, to retreat.

The Zen of Backyard Golf

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.

-J

 

 

 

Golf Needs Rules We Can Recite

A set of simple rules for the everyday player could change the trajectory of the game.

Golf is a fun and challenging game, but often times players find themselves frustrated with the complexity of the rules. Most players, I’ll call them the common men and women of golf, play the game on a daily basis within the spirit of the rules, but with a loose interpretation of the specifics. In practice, many players play to a more relaxed set of rules that make the game more simple and fun.

The game of golf was founded with the establishment of only 13 rules. In fact, those early rules could be written on one page of paper. Over a few hundred years and through the continuous evolution of the game, that rule count has grown to 34. This may seem like a small number, but those rules have mutated into something incredibly complex. So much so that the rules books are now voluminous. Unfortunately for our ancient game, the rules of golf can be confusing and hard to understand for both beginners and life-long players.

The United States Golf Association and it’s global partners at the R&A have recently come together to undertake an effort to simplify the rules of golf. Those governing bodies should be commended for their attempts, but still, the game needs a refinement and reduction of rules. Golf needs a new set of rules for the common player. The rules for everyday golf should be short and simple. In fact, golf should strive for rules that every player can recite.

As minimalism continues to rise as a trend in golf course architecture, it may be time to establish a minimalist version of the rules of golf. One model has stood out as a potential guiding light for such a set of rules. Sweetens Cove Golf Club in South Pittsburg, Tennessee has a small set of local rules that could be the beginning of something big for golf.

In short, those local rules are aimed at achieving a few key objectives for players on the golf course, play fast and have fun. Sweetens Cove, known for its unique and beautiful architecture, maybe the greatest nine-hole golf course in America. The team at King-Collins Golf Design that designed the course and now has an interest in the club set out to establish some brief and basic rules that allow players to simplify and better enjoy their experience at Sweetens Cove.

Their experiment is working. Every bunker plays as a waste area in which clubs can readily be grounded. There is no out of bounds. If you lose a ball anywhere, treat the lost ball like a lateral hazard. The penalties are not burdensome and the rules are easy to adhere to. The appreciation for Sweetens Cove has continued to be elevated among many golf enthusiasts. The reputation for Sweetens Cove, its architecture, and its simple rules, is now bordering on the occult.

That simple sheet of local rules is one of the reasons why the remote course in Tennessee is so popular. Much like the folks at Sweetens Cove, courses should consider taking the rules into their own hands. Providing rules that any player can easily remember is a meaningful way to create a friendly environment for the game to grow.

The USGA and the R&A convened committees of experts and panels of passionate golf enthusiasts to shape their new rules reforms. They could have just taken a trip to South Pittsburg, Tennessee and found the answers they were seeking. For that matter, they could have gone to any small club and just watched how people play the game.

When I was a junior player my grandfather used to quiz me on the rules of golf. He taught me the game when I was a young child and he worked to ingrain the rules in my memory. I know the rules of our ancient game much better than most and I still get them wrong almost every weekend. As much as I treasure the memory of our afternoons together studying the rules of golf, I wish I could have a set of rules that were memorable and easy for anyone to recite.

Rules are important in golf. Players believe in the rules and adhere to them in overwhelming numbers during competitions around the globe. That is a great thing for golf and a testament to those who play. An important reality though is that most players play for fun and not to compete. Most golfers are at the golf course to have a good time. The rules should never get in the way of that basic desire.

The Sweetens Cove rules are a great place to start restructuring the rules of golf. Let’s make penalties more easily administered and keep players focused on playing. There is much to be decided on the rules of golf in the years ahead, but fortunately, some good folks in Tennessee have given us a jump start.

Let’s look to Sweetens Cove and the many hundreds of courses and clubs where players are pursuing golf for fun. Those are the common folk of golf and they are the ones who have it figured out. They drop when they need to, hit it if they can find it, and they play with a big smile every day. The rules are never in the way and we should all strive to play our game like that.

A Strategic Plan for American Golf

How to reposition the game for the next generation of Americans.

Golf is, at its best, a game for the every-man. Unfortunately, the American version of golf is often the opposite. Somewhere in the last century, our nation’s golf industry decided it could “improve” upon the ancient traditions of the game by prioritizing things like exclusivity, lackluster courses, and golf carts. Those policies may have resulted in a temporary boom for the golf industry, but it was unsustainable and today there are more courses closing in America than opening.

Golf in America is not dead though. The game has found new life in a generation of players who are finding joy through the sport in a variety of non-traditional ways. Golf has a growing presence on social media, short courses and Topgolf are all the rage, and municipal facilities are suddenly cooler than country clubs. We live in a time which American golf is changing for the better and there is an opportunity at hand to increase the game’s popularity. Millennials are now the majority of the workforce and Gen Z is quickly coming of age offering golf a window to show both generations that the game can be appealing to them. In order for golf to capitalize on these changing demographics, there needs to be a plan for how to move the game forward in ways that are attractive to these generations.

I believe that can be accomplished by making the future of golf in America resemble the best attributes of the game in Scotland. In Scotland, golf is a resilient game because it is a community pastime. In America, the game was turned into a commodity, strapped on to a cart, and placed behind fences as the result of misguided policies that have been detrimental to the sport. The resulting state of the game is something that is too expensive, unnecessarily slow and needlessly detached from everyday life. It’s time to reexamine how golf in America is offered to the masses. I have great hope that the courses, clubs, companies, and organizations involved in golf can create a bright and thriving future and it starts by making the game more oriented to the common man.

There are numerous solutions to turning the tide for American golf, but I’d like to offer up a few that I think should be moved to the front of the list. In my belief, the key to creating a new surge in American golfers is to build a nationwide network of courses, facilities,  and clubs that are inviting places for passing time with friends and family. American golf should be affordable, walkable, and flexible. We must endeavor to make golf a game that people will choose to play. Golf should be a part of people’s lives, not some expensive escape from it. Let’s look to create a better golf culture in America and position the game to be a community pastime.

In order to achieve this lofty goal, American golf needs a strategic plan in place to shape how the next two decades should unfold. To begin, the stakeholders of the game need to understand the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats facing the game today.

Strengths

  • America has an immense amount of golf courses and millions of players
  • Golf is a unique way to discover the variety of American landscapes
  • There are more outlets for discovering good golf than ever before
  • Current new course construction is generally in good taste

Weaknesses

  • American golf is too dependent on golf carts
  • The vast majority of courses lack interesting design
  • Golf courses have become removed from everyday life
  • Too many clubs and courses hold a rigid interpretation of what golf is

Opportunities

  • Golf has many attributes that can appeal to millennials (exercise, travel, unique experiences)
  • There are thousands of golf courses that could become great community assets with some creative design changes
  • Golf can be offered in small doses all across the country (short courses, putting courses, top golf)
  • Golf has a fabulous and ever flourishing relationship with social media

Threats

  • Golf takes too long to enjoy for many patrons of the game
  • Exclusivity is not an appealing attribute to millennials
  • Failed developments, struggling clubs, and a right-sizing of the game have resulted in a sense that “golf is dying”
  •  The cost to enjoy interesting golf is generally too high.

Understanding these factors and their potential impacts on the realities of the sport is critical to completing a successful handoff of golf to new generations. American golf is at a crossroads and in order to create a thriving future, there must be clear and identifiable target outcomes that drive decision making among stakeholders. Golf’s critical stakeholder groups must create a set of imperative priorities to serve as a guiding light in the coming years.

Imperative Priorities

America’s golf stakeholders need a universally accepted set of Imperative Priorities that are widely regarded as the compass for which we all use to steer the game. Based on the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats outlined above, I offer the following four suggestions:

  • Create open and inviting environments for golf
  • Frame golf as a pastime instead of a privilege
  • Change the look of golf to better reflect millennial and Gen Z preferences
  • Invest in places that promote fun, walkable, and flexible varieties of golf

Strategic Initiatives

In order to achieve these desired outcomes, there need to be a set of initiatives that can appeal to golf’s strengths and opportunities while correcting weaknesses and neutralizing threats. American golf needs a combination of both simple policy level changes and more intensive overhauls that require large scale investments. When making a change of this magnitude, small victories are critical to building momentum for larger systematic shifts. The sum of those actions can lead to improved perceptions and newly activated markets for golf. In that spirit, I submit eight strategic initiatives for golf:

Walking must become the preferred way to play the game

As Shivas Irons said, “the game was meant for walking”, and it is high time that American golfers got back to this mindset.  One of the most important attributes of golf is the time spent walking between shots. It is in those moments where a player can find the unique peace of mind that only a walk on the golf course can offer. When you walk a golf course you can hear the sounds of nature, see the contours of the land, and better enjoy the company of your companions. The golf cart has ruled the courses of America for far too long. A golf cart is necessary for some who otherwise couldn’t play, but most American golfers wrongly see the cart as a must-have accessory. Golf carts make for long rounds and constantly do damage to the course. Meanwhile, walking is great for your health, highly enjoyable, and actually can help you focus and play better. Ameica needs to ditch the cart and encourage the carrying of clubs. To promote walking is to promote the best version of golf.

Private clubs should allow more access

Private golf clubs play an important role in the game. Clubs often serve as the guardians for the traditions and history of golf. Many clubs are also regular hosts to championships and other important tournaments in the sport. The difference between the great clubs of Scotland and the most prestigious clubs in America is how they view public access. In Scotland, clubs see sharing their courses with the public as part of their duty to the game and healthy for the bottom line. Many clubs open their doors a few days a week as a means of sharing the charms of their club and driving outside revenue. Imagine the possibilities if the most important clubs in America adopted such policies. More golfers would travel, fond memories would be created on special occasions, and players could reasonably aspire to someday play the great works of golf design. Now is the time for American clubs to open the gates and share the joys of golf. Golf cannot flourish with its best grounds locked behind gates and hidden from the masses.

Municipal golf must become more interesting

In the next twenty years, the greatest opportunity for golf course architects will be the re-imagining of municipal golf. Let’s face the facts, there just aren’t many new courses being built these days and that trend has no end in sight. Course architects must partner with municipal governments as a means for rethinking how golf is offered as a service to taxpayers. There is a growing list of projects across the country today that provide a blueprint worth following. Municipal golf should be interesting and diverse. There need to be more short courses and nine-hole offerings in urban areas where land is limited. The biggest opportunity is renovating existing courses that either under-perform or simply don’t deliver a compelling layout.  The future of municipal golf is directly tied to the prospects of the broader game. Architects need work, the game needs new players, and citizens need great options for recreation. If we can re-position how governments offer the game then we can reach millions of potential players. Municipal courses can become the breeding ground for the golf’s next generation and a godsend for architects.

Match play should be actively promoted

Golf is best played in a match against friends. Match play offers an ideal structure for enjoying competition over a golf course. The scorecard and pencil crowd will find this blasphemous, but golf is more of a sport when played head to head in a thrilling match. Match play also lends itself to a variety of formats that are best enjoyed when players are prioritizing the winning of holes versus the final score. Match play makes any course immediately more interesting and allows for a speedy pace of play. The great match play golfers are a dying breed and that is a real shame. Match play calls for daring shots and bold decision making at times while also rewarding the strategic and patient golfer in other moments. Momentum is a real thing in a match and to watch it swing only increases the intrigue. Every club and course should host regular matches across a variety of formats as a means for filling the tee sheet. It’s time to promote match play as the preferred method for playing the game. A regular round of golf is leisure, but a match is a sporting pursuit. That way of thinking is worth courting to our American game again.

Courses need to be dog-friendly

It is hard to imagine a better pairing than dogs and golf. One of the greatest joys that I have found in the game is playing with my dog at my side. In Scotland, a dog is a welcome companion on the golf course. American golf courses would be wise to embrace our four-legged friends as part of the culture of the game. If golf is to become a great pastime in our country then dogs must be allowed to walk at our side. Golf is the perfect opportunity to “take the dog for a walk” and courses could see added rounds by allowing such activities. Owners must keep their end of the bargain and make sure dogs are well behaved, but most courses have golfers that treat the grounds worse than a dog would. There aren’t many games that allow pets to tag along, but golf is well suited for the canine. What a fun notion to think that both a dog and an owner can find equal enjoyment in a sport like golf. Dogs make for great playing partners and inviting them to the course is a great way to make any round more enjoyable.

Kids under 15 should play for free

Children should always be allowed to play golf for free. No matter the course or club, kids need to be openly encouraged to become golfers. The potential loss of small amounts of revenue has a marginal impact on the bottom line, but the gain of new golfers is desperately needed and can be undoubtedly lucrative for all. Kids that learn the game early in life stand a strong chance of staying in the game for decades to come. An added bonus is that children who get hooked on the game while playing free will likely insist on playing with their paying parents more. If we are going to talk about growing the game then we must be serious about how we offer our courses to children. Like any budding relationship, the first impressions we make on children who are interested in golf will dictate how well they take to the game. I suggest the cut off for free golf be after age 15 because I believe that teens should get a job at the course to earn free golf and learn more about how courses work. It’s time to get serious about recruiting the next generation of golfers and offering kids free rounds is a great place to start.

Golf style should adopt a more casual appearance

Golf needs to loosen up a bit if we want to attract new and younger players. There is nothing wrong with playing in a t-shirt and not every top need to be tucked in. Forgive my intrusion into traditional clubs and courses that have strict dress codes, but it is time that we allow a bit more leeway in the attire of our game. The business world is continually changing what kinds of dress are allowed at the office and the golf courses of America need to do the same. Instead of promoting certain types of clothing, why not promote the idea of being stylish. Stylish attire should be the mark we aim for as we broaden the game’s appeal to millennials and members of Gen Z. Let’s not tell people what they can or can’t wear. A better path is to show people that golf is an opportunity to express your personal style while enjoying a great recreational and communal activity.

There should be new varieties of golf offered across the country

Golf can be played virtually everywhere. The game is played anytime there is a club, a ball, and a hole available. In today’s world where time constraints are a constant, we must strive to provide opportunities for golf on smaller scales and in more convenient places.  Golf should not be relegated to the open spaces on the edge of cities or on remote rural backroads. Why not create community putting courses in city parks or pitch-and-putts tucked into urban greenways? Playgrounds across the country offer basketball hoops and swing sets so there could also be a space for a small chipping green. Office parks could have three to five one-shot holes available for people on their lunch break and apartment buildings could offer a synthetic green on a pool deck or roof. If we want to bring more people to golf in the future we may just have to bring more golf to where they are. Let’s get creative and build small doses of golf all around us.

Golf in America has a promising future, but in order to arrive at the best possible outcomes, we must be willing to make a few needed course corrections. Golf needs to be promoted as a pastime and made open and affordable to the masses. The game should resemble the diverse tastes of new generations and we must prioritize having fun through the sport in varied ways. If America’s golf stakeholders are committed to growing the game then we must be strategic in how we advance the best attributes of it. American golf has had many years of growth in its past, but in order to grow again, the game has to evolve in ways that better reflect the true spirit of the game.

Bunker the Beloved Ballyneal Cat Passes Away

There is sad news to report out of Holyoke, Colorado as Ballyneal Golf & Hunt Club has announced the passing of Bunker, their longtime resident cat, and special friend of the club. Anyone who has visited Ballyneal can attest to the unique presence that Bunker had at the property. The affection shared for him by both members and guests of Ballyneal was readily apparent. The famed cat was often the first to greet anyone arriving at the club and he was an unforgettable part of the Ballyneal experience.

The club shared the news on social media with a heartfelt message on Instagram that has received over sixty comments and 400 likes from all over the golfing world. More than a mere mascot, Bunker may best be described as the spirit animal of Ballyneal. Bunker lived his days against the backdrop of the rugged beauty of Eastern Colorado where he was considered part of the club’s family. Bunker took in the world from his perch on the pro shop porch and proudly roamed the common areas of the club in search of members and guests to visit with.

Ballyneal is one of America’s great golf clubs and Bunker was one of the many reasons why. In addition to the charm of this fabled cat, the golf courses there are of a rare and spectacular variety. Recently, the club’s Tom Doak designed golf course was ranked #46 in Golf Digest’s top 100 courses in America. There is a unique quirkiness to the club that fits well with its otherworldly location and the presence of Bunker was a distinct part of that. Ballyneal is one of the most remote clubs in the country, but for many staying there Bunker made the club feel like home.

Bunker was a real-life legend in golf’s wild West. Ballyneal sits in the chop hills of Colorado and that distant setting was the perfect place for the adventures of a cat like Bunker. He was known to venture into the dunes to forage for smaller mammals and his expeditions on that frontier were often discussed on the course. Tall tales of his adventures on the property have been told by many a caddie and enjoyed by every player who frequents the club. During my visit there, I asked a looper who was friendly with Bunker how the cat had lost his tail and he told me, “It was a prize fight with a local coyote. The odds were stacked highly against him, but you should see how bad the other guy looks.” As they say in the West, when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

Bunker spent many years at Ballyneal, arriving there during the infancy of the club. His curious personality and comforting demeanor made members fond of the feline. A search of Instagram images taken at the club shows the vast popularity that Bunker enjoyed. His likeness appeared on t-shirts in the pro shop and the club’s signature craft beer was even named in his honor. Bunker enjoyed distinctions that were uncommon for golf club cats.

Kent Hiller, Director of Operations at Ballyneal reflected warmly on Bunker’s time at the club. Hiller said of his favorite cat,  “Bunker usually started his day by playfully stealing golf balls from our visitors on the Commons putting green and ended it by lounging in his favorite chair awaiting groups to approach the clubhouse after a day on the links. His presence will be missed, but he will live on forever through his dedicated clothing line and draft beer which is served daily in the Ballyneal Turtle Bar.”

Sunset over the Ballyneal Commons

They say cats get nine lives, but if any of them was ever deserving of nine more it would be Bunker. The club celebrated their courageous cat and proclaimed him to be an essential part of the experience there. I was proud to meet Bunker while exploring Ballyneal last year and I’m confident that he will be sorely missed by the members. We should all hope that heaven looks a lot like a Ballyneal sunset and that if we make it there a friendly feline like Bunker will be there to greet us.

So long Bunker, you will be missed by many.

Cheers to a fine feline… swing, walk, and repeat.

-J

 

 

One Last Walk – A Farewell to My Favorite Clubs

A good set of golf clubs can be hard to let go of. Replacing old clubs feels a lot like breaking up and I’ve never really been any good at that. I’ve got a new set of irons that just arrived in the mail and once again I have found myself wondering how to bid adieu to a beloved collection of hard used forged irons.

My old set has been with me for a few years now. They have a buttery feel that I can sense in my fingertips and their faces are worn brown in a spot the size of a quarter. They bare the marks and bruises of thousands of miles traveled and many hundreds of holes played. Each of those blemishes represents a swing or a memory from some of the best golfing years of my life, but it’s time to turn the page.

I’m quite excited about my new clubs. The steel has an untouched look to it and they almost have that new car smell. They don’t know it yet but they will see the shores of distant lands and soon strike the ground of foreign soil. I needed something new for the next chapter of my travels and I’m confident in my selection. Yet, my old clubs still arouse a feeling of trust and longing when I walk by them in the garage.

I like to keep my old clubs around in case I decide to take them for a spin again. As my wife can attest, I have an ever growing collection of clubs that occupy almost as much garage space as her Christmas decorations. Every club that I’ve ever hit a significant shot with still lives in one of my varied golf bags that lean against the wall between a water heater and a shelving unit. My latest addition to that space hasn’t quite gotten comfortable there yet. When I walked by them on New Years Eve they asked me in a whisper for one last walk.

The afternoon of the last day of the year was fading fast and I got permission from my wife to go out for a few final swings. I didn’t tell her that it was a walk aimed at giving my clubs a proper send off. She already thinks I’m crazy. No need to confirm it. The clouds of winter had parted and the sun was flirting with the horizon in a beautiful way. I loaded up my dog Leon and grabbed my clubs to head to the course.

The parking lot was emptying and the first tee was wide open. My dog led the way and my clubs got to clang their way down the hill one more time. My game has been as rusty as the faces of my irons, but after finding the first few greens in regulation I began to get the feel of it again. The old clubs were showing me they still had some magic.

Something was clicking and it wasn’t just the dog tags. My swing was in rhythm and my clubs were reminding me of all the places we had been together. In each approach I could recall the swings we made on the Monterey Peninsula and the steps we took around Kiawah Island. I was hearing the call of Colorado again and humming the song of Sweetens Cove. The sunset was lighting up the sky and I remembered all the ones these clubs and I had seen together.

I knocked it stiff on the fifth and remembered holing out for eagle there the day after my daughter was born. These clubs were with me through life as well as golf. There was the tournament I won with my brother and the nine holes I walked with dad when we found out my grandfather had his stroke. There were some good days and some difficult ones but we were together for them all.

Before I knew what was happening I had made three birdies in four holes. My trusted old friends were showing me what they were still capable of. Maybe they thought it was an audition for another year in the bag. Things just came easy that evening. Much like it did for the few seasons before fatherhood that saw me learn how to win again. It was these clubs that made that run happen.

When we walked up the ninth hole the sun was all but gone. The kids in the neighborhood were starting to lite firecrackers and my beloved dog was getting twitchy. My clubs and I had made some fireworks of our own for our last nine holes. When it was over I had managed to shoot one under par for the walk. It was a score that was not only unanticipated but one I likely would have forgot to keep had I not snapped out of my trance.

These clubs had put a spell on me again. They let me swing them once more in the way that I once knew how. I hit all but one green and smiled from start to finish. Had the sun not disappeared into a new year we would have probably stayed out all night. Unfortunately we were done with the round and done with our time together.

I gave the clubs a good wipe down before we headed home and Leon kept them company in the back of the car. When we got to the house I opened the garage and there in the corner my old clubs found their new home. The next time I walk they won’t be with me, but I’ll always have them close by just in case.

I’ve had a few fun nights on New Year’s Eve in my life, but I think the nine holes I played with these old sticks was my best. December 31st isn’t an ideal date for a breakup, but then again I’ve never really been good at that. You never know when I might need them again.

Cheers to a new year and new memories on the course. Keep it simple in 2019, just swing, walk, and repeat.

-J

Happy Trails Forrest Fezler

Forrest Fezler has passed away, but his impact on golf and on me will be felt for many years to come. I was fortunate to get to know Forrest in recent years and after a few meetings he agreed to let me tell his story. Forrest was a world class player, a risk taking entrepreneur, talented golf designer, and all around good guy. He lived a life in golf that was always played slightly out of bounds. Like his best friend and partner Mike Strantz, he was a maverick until the end.

I first met Forrest when I was President at Capital City Country Club in Tallahassee, Florida. Forrest had taken a liking to Capital City in his final years and we talked him into building a few bunkers for us. I had long known the highlights of his life story but I was curious to know more. We scheduled a lunch that turned into a long afternoon conversation about his career. That conversation led to another lunch and even more conversations about golf.

I asked Forrest if he would mind me writing his story and he agreed. Through a few months of chats and texts I got a great sense for who he was. The story became a narrative about his life, the life of Mike Strantz, and how the fates brought them together to build some of the most interesting new courses in golf. Together they made Maverick Golf Design one of the most cutting edge firms in the game.

I spent a couple of months building out their story and I couldn’t wait to share it with Forrest. The day I sent him the final draft was the day he told me about his tumor. I remember sinking in my chair when I read his message. I could tell it was a bad diagnosis from his tone.

Forrest was struggling to read the story due to the effects from the tumor, but he trusted me to go ahead and release it. I published the story and it quickly became the most read piece I had ever written. A few days later I got a text from Forrest. He had finally gotten through the story and he let me know what it meant to him.

This is what he sent me:

“It has brought tears in my eyes all night.

Especially reflecting on this new chapter in my life. Your kind words are more healing now than you will ever know or appreciate

That means the world to me.

Thanks for being there when I needed it so.

Forrest”

I’ll never forget that text and I’ll never forget my talks with Forrest.

I’m so glad that I got know his story. I found Forrest to be a humble man with many talents and someone who clearly loved everything about golf. He was a champion in the sport but he will likely be best remembered by friends as someone who championed them and the game many of us adore.

If you’d like to learn more about Forrest Fezler, his life, and career you can check out the story here.

The Maverick Lives On

Happy trails Fez. Golf will surely miss you.

-J

Saved by the Only Caddie on the Course

A good caddie never stops believing in his player. I brought a caddie to my club championship and even though he was 16 years old he taught me a lesson.

My country club doesn’t have a caddie program, but occasionally I like to find a friend to carry for me in some of our annual tournaments. Usually, that means employing the services of a player from the local high school golf team.

For our recent club championship, I secured the services of a young local golfer named Mason. We struck up a quick friendship over a chat about golf and made a deal for him to caddie for me in the tournament.

Mason met me at the driving range before our first round tee time and the wisecracks from my golf buddies immediately ensued. These guys roll their eyes at me a lot and the smack talk is in keeping with the true spirit of our club. Besides the enjoyment of walking my home golf course with a caddie, part of me wanted to do it just to give everyone a stir.

“Oh here comes the tour pro with his caddie” and  “I sure hope he’s paying you well for this misery” were the kind of things Mason heard as we walked to the first tee. I was feeling pretty good despite not playing much of late, but our first tee is right next to the practice facility. Each player in the tournament started their round amid the glaring stares and snickering comments of their fellow competitors who were warming up to play. It’s a difficult theater to perform in.

The first tee jitters are real at our club, but I can usually handle it just fine. Not so much this go round. I would love to know what Mason was thinking as I made a hefty swing with my three wood and sent the ball rocketing straight up in the air. I hit a dreaded first tee sky ball and it quickly made for a few chuckles in the peanut gallery. I looked down at the fresh dummy mark on the club head and handed it back to Mason with a nervous smile. The game was on and it was ugly front the start.

I managed to keep things somewhat respectable for a bit by making a couple redeeming swings and a few pars to balance out the early onslaught of bogeys. Mason was full of encouragement even though the bad breaks were starting to mount against us. I could really feel the wheels getting shaky as I had to line up my third putt on the sixth hole. The golf gods were calling my number and not in a good way.

Mason kept rooting me on,  but the problems persisted. A hard hooked hybrid at the eighth hole made for a double bogey and I soon matched it with another thanks to a fried egg lie on the eleventh. Twelve was a disaster and I lipped out another par on fourteen. I then bogeyed the easiest par five in America and followed it up with a triple-bogey 6 on the seventeenth where I missed my tap in for a double.

I limped home to an earth-shattering 86 in round one. My score was so bad that it probably won’t even count for my handicap. Mason walked with me from the scoring table to the parking lot and somehow was all smiles. When he loaded my clubs in the car he looked at me and said, “Maybe we will flip that number around tomorrow. 68 sounds like a winner.” The pep talk was much needed.

I wasn’t angry or embarrassed about my poor play, but like anyone who cares about competing, I was disappointed. My caddie made sure I didn’t sulk though. He tells me, “I shot an 86 in a tournament a few weeks back. No big deal. Tomorrow is a new day.” Mason still believed.

I don’t get to play golf on back to back days much anymore. My wife and young child don’t yield that kind of time for me. Quite frankly, I was lucky to be playing in the club championship at all so for me to let one bad day bring me down is just dumb. When I pulled up to the course on Sunday I kept that in mind. I arrived with a smile and a sense of joy derived from the wisdom of a teenager. It was indeed a new day and I was going for a walk on my favorite course.

The golf didn’t start much better for the final round as I made a double bogey straight out of the gate. I shrugged it off and told Mason, “Not my hole, but the next one may be.” My swing started to settle after the first hour and things gradually improved as we walked our way around the course. I made some good swings that day and as the round progressed I earned a couple of solid fist pounds from Mason. A few birdie putts even burned the edge of the cup and he reminded me that things were looking up.

When you shoot a big score in your club championship its easy to get down on yourself and a bad attitude will make you miss out on how wonderful it is to be able to play at all. I’ve got an awful lot to be grateful for and there was something about having Mason walking with me that reminded me of that. I suppose youthful optimism can rub off on you when you listen to your caddy.

Mason was upbeat and he had a positive attitude from start to finish. During our Sunday walk, we talked about all things in life and golf. I kept looking for birdies and we both had a bunch of laughs listening to jokes from my over-served playing partners. We were a mile behind the leaders, but I’m thinking our group had the most fun.

By the time we made it to our final hole I was much improved from the first day, but still without a birdie for the tournament. We walked up the steep hill on the eighteenth hole and found my ball in a great place to attack the pin from. Mason looked at me with a grin and said, “Let’s get one for the road.” I liked what he was thinking.

Despite all the missed shots and messed up bounces Mason was there to make sure I powered through. I’m not much for quitting and we both wanted a birdie to finish. “I think you’ve got about eighty-five yards here and you are straight into the gas” he said. “Let’s stuff that sand-wedge,” he told me as he handed over the club. After a long weekend of bad swings, I finally flushed it.

We crawled up to the green to find that I had an uphill ten footer for birdie. I called him in for the read and made sure to give the putt my purest roll all weekend. A smooth stroke landed the ball in the back of the cup and a raised putter and fist pump soon followed. Mason’s smile grew across his face and with a firm handshake, I thanked him for sticking with me.

The birdie didn’t help my position on the leader-board much, but it damn sure made lunch taste better. My game was in shambles most of the weekend, but I had a great walk with some good company. Most people saw me bringing my own caddie as a cheesy gimmick, but it turned out to be my saving grace. Mason reminded me about the many reasons why golf is the best game there is. His adolescent optimism even made me feel better about the future of our country. When the whole world is still ahead of you shooting an 86 doesn’t seem to matter so much.

There were many reasons for me to give up over the course of the club championship, but Mason kept me in the game. I could have quit, but his persistent support kept me in it. He was the only caddie on the course and luckily he had my bag on his shoulder. Mark Twain’s famous line was that “Golf is a good walk spoiled”, but with Mason’s help, I didn’t let bad golf ruin a great walk.

Like Mason said, “Maybe we’ll get’em next time.”

Until then friends swing, walk, and repeat.

-J

My new MacKenzie Golf Bag.

This month I announced a new partnership with MacKenzie Golf Bags. I’ll be sharing a number of dispatches from my travels on their company blog as a way to invite their fans further into the MacKenzie lifestyle. The star of those stories will be my beautiful new MacKenzie Golf Bag(pictured).

If you are unfamiliar with MacKenzie bags I would highly encourage you to browse their website a bit and get to know their work. Each of their golf bags is carefully crafted by the skilled hands of their team members. MacKenzie bags are perfect for walking golfers. Light weight, durable, and timeless.

My MacKenzie arrived just in time for Christmas and I can’t wait to take our first walk together. Check out my first post on the MacKenzie blog to learn more about my new bag and our fun new partnership.

Cheers mates. Swing, walk, and Repeat.

-J