Golf may be the greatest participant sport ever invented, but the way it’s played today on public courses you’d never know. It is that bad.
For the record, I have played every crabgrass-infested muny, every $75-a-round pseudo-country club, every glorified putt-putt executive course, and every pasture with short grass that passes for a course in this part of the world.
In my 15 years of public golf in Middle Tennessee, I have played with an overcharged partygoer who went straight from an all-night bachelor party to the first tee and drank a bottle of champagne by the ninth hole. I have played with a German lady who had the most consistent 35-yard drives you ever saw. I have played with a beer truck driver who decided to water the 17th green in a natural way.
Not that I’m a country club snot. I grew up at a city course in Atlanta where you got a free drop when your ball came to rest next to a McDonald’s cartonwhich happened every time the polluted Peachtree Creek flooded.
Public golf should be, at its best, a way for people without the means or inclination to join a country club to enjoy the game. But public golf today is not the way the game is meant to be playedit takes too long, the players don’t know the game, and all the rules of courtesy that made golf a gentleman’s game have been forgotten.
For better and for worse, the golf boom of the last 15 years is responsible for the current state of public golf. More people interested in the game have meant more money to be made, meaning more and better courses. But the boom hasn’t been in the ranks of the low handicappers; instead, the boom has meant more hackers, or bad golfers. I’m not advocating a break-80-or-quit philosophy. But too many people have been playing this awful public golf for so long they don’t know there’s a better way.
The only chance we have to get back to real golf is to fix these faults:
The pace of public golf simply ruins the game. How often have you waited while some beer-gut wearing shorts lined up a three-foot putt in more time than it takes an artillery unit to target?
Too many players believe playing faster means rushing. Not so. It means watching your ball land rather than turning away in disgust when it slices. It means parking your cart or bag on the side of the green nearest the next tee. It means playing “ready golf,” instead of waiting for your buddy to get a new ball out of his bag. It means marking your score down on the next tee. It means playing from the regular tees if you can’t break 85 on your best day.
Basically, it means concentrating on the game more.
The courses share the blame. Daily-fee courses have an economic incentive to cram as many green and cart fees into the average day as possible. Public courses need to find a comfortable play level and stick with it.
Too often, today’s hackers have never played competitive golf, or have never been under the tutelage of a PGA pro. So they have never been taught the intricate etiquette of the game.
Most players could pass for courteous golfers if they would just do the basics: stay out of sight and sound when a fellow player is putting or swinging; if the group behind meets you on every hole, let them through; and repair whatever mark you leave on grass or sand.
Too many hackers begin the game by going straight from the golf superstore to the golf course. Why anyone would pay $50 to spend five hours shooting 124 is beyond me. Try improving your game, and here’s how.
Get over “prophobia,” the irrational fear that golf lessons will somehow ruin your game. Ask yourself this: Have you gotten any better in the last year?
Every swing is different, but the mechanics of what defines a good swing are universal. Go see a PGA pro, and leave your ego behind when he or she tells you to do everything differently from how you’ve been doing it. For every ball you hit on a course, hit 10 at a driving range.
And, I promise, the two best clubs to practice with are a wedge and a putter. No two clubs can shave as many strokes off your game as mastering everything from 100 yards in.
4. Play, but with a purpose
If you want to drink 10 beers in an afternoon, try NASCAR. Buy a pontoon boat. Sit on your front porch until you hear yourself slosh. Just stay off the golf course.
Too many people on golf courses have little or no interest in playing golf. True, one of the great things about the game is how social it can be. You may think it’s OK to shoot 133 and tell everyone what a great time you had hanging out with your foursome, but pity the poor 5-handicapper who was stuck behind your ambivalence all day.
5. Get over yourself
How often have you seen a golfer who has never broken 90 toss a club? Golf is a humbling game, but not one in which being angry at yourself does much good. Being able to recover from a bad shot or bad hole is one of the game’s greatest skills, and one worth mastering early.
I try to never forget that the person I am playing with has been slaving away at a desk all week looking forward to playing golf.