On Golf

Curvy Ponds and PalmsAs I observed recently to a friend of mine, I am officially white. I drive a Volvo, I wear collared shirts on weekends, and as of about 2 months ago, I golf. In fact the thing I find most absurd about it all is that it has taken me this long to get into golfing. A game played outdoors for hours at a time; a precision game, where you keep score mostly just to judge your own performance; a reasonably leisurely walk amidst trees and ponds and swallows; it is everything a game should be, for me.

I’m still quite bad at it, you understand. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be good, at least not good good. But as I’ve observed in the past, inexperience and lack of authoratative knowledge is not an impediment out here in the tubes. Thus it is without misgiving or remorse that, despite my relative neophytism, I wade nipple-deep into the corpulent morass of internet golf advice to offer my…

8 Things I Wish People Had Told Me About Golf

#8 – This is how you swing a club, but don’t worry, you won’t be able to do that for a while. Golf is surprisingly hard, and there are a million things to keep track of at the start, but even if this video conflicts with other advice you’ve been given, it’s probably not a bad way to swing, on balance.

#7 – No one is going to steal your golf clubs. Seriously, this is an interesting cultural shift. The first time I played 18 at Granite Ridge in Milton, I offered to stay with the clubs while Dan & Chris went in to pay and Dan chuckled and said “No one is going to steal your clubs.” I’m sure country club intrigue occurs, indeed that diabolical machinations are forever underway, but really, most of the sober people I’ve met while golfing have been downright personable. It’s a surprising atmosphere. I guess the moneyed classes mellow as they get further from the unsavoury types and their domestic cars.

#6 – Forget about handicap for a couple years. Handicap is a concept from golf that most non-golfers have heard of, and are eager to establish for themselves. Turns out that calculating handicap and applying it properly is surprisingly baroque. There is wisdom in that complexity, when you stop and think it through, but suffice it to say that no one really bothers to talk about handicaps above 40, which means that 10 of your last 20 rounds have been 110 or less and… you won’t be needing that kind of calculation for a while. Handicaps aren’t for you.

#5 – The funny pants thing is mostly over. I was looking forward to some ridiculous golf pants, but mostly it’s Dockers. Maybe this is a Tiger Woods thing, attracting a clientele replete with youth and hipnesse?

#4 – Mercy rules aren’t for your suffering, they’re for the people you’re tormenting. Lots of golfers play with a “mercy rule”, often that the max score on a hole is double par. This is no doubt descended from actual rules about maximum strokes above par based on handicap which for you and I (falling as we do into the “33 and over” category) is 4. Whenever possible, I ignore this rule and log my actual strokes because it’s the only way I’ll eliminate ceiling effects, but I am ever careful about the real value of this rule, and apply it when necessary. Here’s the thing: just because you suck, and take 13 shots to drop the ball, doesn’t mean everyone else wants to wait around. If you’re up past par+4, and the others in your group are done, and especially if there are people waiting to play behind you, pick up your ball and go. If, like me, you are worried about the stroke-cap inappropriately reducing your score, then add 3 strokes any time you hit the cap. That way when you start actualy making it in 9, you’ll feel like a ninja.

#3 – Most courses are good enough. I guess I’ve only played 6 or 7 courses so far, but they’ve all been at the cheaper end of the price range, and they’ve all been quite nice by my unrefined standards. So do not fear – unless you try hard to find the crappy ones, it seems that courses range from Blah to Fantastic, but rarely explore the “Asspile” area of the spectrum. Did you know that on a lot of courses, a person (sometimes a lady-person!) drives around in a golf cart and sells you cold drinks? I did not know this, and almost didn’t mention it because it is such a joyous revelation.

#2 – Anything worth doing is worth doing with gloves and lotion. I tried the driving range once without a golf glove, and came back with some wicked calluses. Avoid that. A glove is a $10 accessory, and instantly doubles your golfer credibility score. The glove is for your “pulling” hand (that is, the hand that grips highest on your club – R for lefties, L for righties) unless you are my sister-in-law Barb. The lotion, obviously, is sunblock.

#1 – Custom clubs are for people better than you, but more importantly, you don’t need them. This was without a doubt the single greatest point of contention among the golfers in my vicinity when I announced my intention to take up the game. Many of them argued that, at 6’5″, I needed custom/extended-length clubs because regulation clubs would make for an uncomfortable swing and ruin my nascent love of the game. Likewise any golf forum out there will tell you that it is nobler to buy high quality used clubs than a set of cheap-o clubs, same arguments about the crushing of newborn love. My earnest attempts to find consensus here before wasting money probably kept me off the course for the first half of the summer. I have absolutely no doubt that custom, high quality clubs will not only bring you profound consumer joy, but also shave a million strokes off your game. Nevertheless, I bought my set from sportchek, a store that is to serious golf enthusiasts as future shop is to people with intact neocortices, and I have thoroughly enjoyed every game that I’ve played. Get some sticks, worry later about fit and finish, would be my humble suggestion.

If you’re thinking about taking it up, I would encourage you to do so. My goal for this year is to break 120, though I’m not sure it will happen. Lowest I’ve hit is a 61 on 9, worst was a 72 on the same course. Anyone who plays any golf at all has already wet themselves laughing at numbers like that, but as I say above, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every game that I’ve played.

[Thanks to MS4JAH for the pic]

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