Not long ago, I was a guest for a round of golf at a private club. Wow, look at me: I’m fancy.
The course was tremendous. It was designed by someone important I’m supposed to know the name of. It was awash with handsome details: rolling hills, lush fairways, clever doglegs and greens so impeccably maintained, I wanted to curl up and nap on them. That is, after I four-putted for a quintuple bogey.
Serious golfers love this place, and I could see why. It was beautiful. Challenging. Exclusive. Maybe even worth it.
But it wasn’t for me.
I’m a scruffy golf course guy.
Let me explain. I admire a well-maintained lap just as much as the next hacker, but I prefer a golf course that resembles my game: a little rough, a little abandoned, a little unclear if anyone’s done anything to it for at least a few years.
I like a course which may or may not own a lawn mower. I like a course with trees they mean to have there, and trees that have just grown 50-feet tall without anyone noticing. It has tall grasses and short grasses, Bermuda and Rye, wildflowers and weeds, and those are just the greens. There’s a palm tree right in the middle of a fairway. No one knows why. It just showed up.
Have you ever driven past a golf course and asked yourself: Hey, is that a golf course, or is that a place where you can toss a broken dishwasher? If you have, let me know where it is. I want to play there.
You might like to play the same courses that Tiger and Phil play. Not me. I want a course where a pro wouldn’t walk a dog. I want sand traps that haven’t been raked since the Ford administration. I want water hazards that might contain Titleists, 7 irons, shopping carts, and maybe someone who knew where Jimmy Hoffa went.
I like a course where the only noises you can hear are the birds, the wind in the trees, and the jackhammers repairing a 10-lane highway. I like a course where, if you show up in cargo shorts, flip-flops and a Judas Priest T-shirt, someone might pull you aside and tell you you’re overdressed.
(All you have to do is take off the flip-flops, and you’re fine.)
I don’t need to pull into a course and see a lot full of Audis and Beemers. I like a course where a round costs less than dinner at Arby’s, and, when you ask to pay, the clerk acts like it’s a big hassle to get up from the TV. When you ask what the food options are, they point to a box of Snickers. They have two kinds of beer: Old Milwaukee, and also Old Milwaukee.
Oh wait, they have another kind of beer: Old Milwaukee.
To me, that’s the ideal place to golf. It isn’t fussy. It isn’t rules-y. Nobody minds if you start on the 1st tee, or the 17th, or don’t start at all. Nobody cares if you’re playing with a fancy new driver or swinging your grandfather’s broken woods. You can walk, crawl, or take a cart. At a course like this, there’s the cart that works pretty well…and then there are the other carts.
I took my 9-year old son recently to a course like this.
He’s in the early stages of his golf career, where it’s a victory if nobody loses an eye. That’s right: He plays just like his old man.
When we first arrived at this course, I wasn’t sure if it was still a place where people played golf. Perfect. When the woman in the shop warned us they hadn’t had time to tend to the greens in a while, I said No problem. When they said the only balls they had to sell were old range balls, I said Fantastic, gimme a dozen.
We signed up for nine holes, and my son and I had a beautiful day. He shot a 32. I shot a 31. Then we moved onto the second. We saw a fox, a hawk, and a family eat a pizza in a cart. He hit a range ball into the water and giggled. Then he hit another range ball into the water and giggled. Then he hit another range ball into the water and I told him to stop, or we were going to run out.
This is the best way to learn this hellish, soul-crushing game—at a place you can make a mistake. Golf is frightening enough. You’re going to spend the rest of your life wondering why you play it, and whether or not you’d be happier with a less stressful activity, like gardening, or jackhammering a 10-lane highway. There’s no need to add additional anxiety by playing on a fancy course where you need to wear a collared shirt. Or worse, pants.
Maybe you’re one of those talented golfers who loves a fancy course. You’ve been to the legendary laps played by Tiger and Phil and you’ve had the time of your life. You drive it straight, find the fairways and get to the greens in regulation. I bet you haven’t four-putted since the Ford administration. I bet you look great in a collared shirt.
That’s great! I admire your game, and offer sincere congratulations. We’ll be over here, at the other place, eating a Snickers, looking for a range ball. It’s got to be around here somewhere.