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And Butch said, “He likes to tinker”

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Your swing is broken. You know it. Your playing partners know it. The 15-year-old kid picking up balls on the range knows it. There is something fundamentally wrong. Everything was fine, and then one day it wasn’t. Well, that’s not entirely true. You started to feel it slipping away a few weeks ago, like a slow leak in a tire, but you ignored it hoping that it would get better. Unfortunately it got worse, until you had a complete blow-out today. What happened?

You aren’t sure, and so the first chance that you get, you make your way to the practice range and buy three large buckets of balls, determined to find the answer. You then begin to randomly experiment, trying one thing after another. What was it you heard on the Golf Channel the other night? What about the tip that your brother-in-law gave you last weekend when you were up at the lake? Your mind begins to race. Maybe if you took the club back a little slower? What if you were to hold your finish? Maybe try pausing at the top? And then, before long, you find yourself lost in a maze of thinking.

In desperation you begin to tinker, hoping you can fix the problem yourself. You realize that there is a certain audacity in thinking that you can repair your own swing. You would of course call a plumber if a pipe burst in your house. Why wouldn’t you hire a teaching professional to help you with your golf swing? And then a random thought crosses your mind. He would probably charge less than a plumber. The truth is that you like to tinker with your swing. You think of it as a hobby. But then you remember what the speaker at last year’s men’s club fall banquet said: “I would agree that tinkering with your swing can be fun, but it is an absolute guarantee that you’ll never improve.”

What exactly is a “tinkerer?” The dictionary defines a tinkerer as an individual who would repair, adjust, or work with something in an unskilled manner. The key words in that sentence is “unskilled manner.” As a life-long teacher, I’ve witnessed times when a skilled player is able to fix their own swing by experimenting around the edges.

That is not the case with the average golfer, who more often makes the mistake of confusing the symptoms they are experiencing for a root problem. And then, in an attempt to fix it, an average golfer often puts a band-aid on what amounts to an open wound. The problem may then appear as if it has been solved, but only temporarily — maybe for a day, a week or a month — but then the original problem reappears again, but this time often in a more virulent form.

When that occurs, the player is then forced once again to search for a secondary cure, and then a third, and a then fourth, beginning an endless cycle of tinkering. And in time, they often find themselves so confused, it is as if they have tumbled down into Alice’s rabbit hole where up is down and down is up, creating their own wonderland where nothing seems to make sense anymore.

Butch Harmon

I attended a teaching seminar hosted by the Iowa Section of the PGA in Des Moines, Iowa, a few years ago. Butch Harmon was the guest speaker. He had just been fired by Tiger Woods a few weeks before. After finishing his presentation, someone in the audience asked him about Tiger. Butch was quiet for a moment, clearly weighing what to say — or not say. The room became quiet, and then when it seemed as if he may have forgotten the question, he said quietly, “He likes to tinker.”

The Scientist

In the mid ’80s, I had a student who loved to tinker with his swing. He was a 15-handicapper who never improved because he was constantly experimenting. In his case, it was to a degree understandable because he was a scientist. He would spend his day conducting laboratory experiments, mixing the contents of one test tube with another and then observing the outcome.

The doctor would come to see me for a lesson every week without fail. He was like a man who might go for a haircut or a massage on a regular basis, whether he needed it or not because he enjoyed it. And each time he came, it was the same. He had made a discovery. He would first explain his latest idea and then how it had come to him.

“I was lying in bed when it occurred to me that if I pointed my left elbow joint downward it might force my wrist into a better position at the top of the backswing. What do you think?”

“I think if it works that’s great,” I said. 

“Let me show you,” he said, taking a practice backswing then looking at me like an expectant puppy begging for approval. “Do you think it will work?”

“We won’t know that until you hit a ball,” I said. “As you know, the practice swing and the real swing are always different.”

The problem was that he suffered from a nasty hook that might have put Ben Hogan to shame. The primary problem, was that like Hogan, he bowed his left wrist outward at the top of his backswing, which closed the clubface. The problem then was that he had to find a way to open up the clubface on the downswing so that at impact it was somewhere close to square. The doctor was capable of emulating the top-of-the-backswing position when making a practice swing, but then, when he went to actually hit the ball, his left wrist would revert to the same convex position.

And so lesson after lesson, the doctor continued to come up with a new idea, none of which worked. The next time he came for his appointment, I suggested that we talk for a moment. I started by saying “Doctor, there is something we need to discuss.” I could see the anxious look on his face. “Yes. I’m listening” he replied. He was used to doing the lecturing, but now he was on the receiving end. “I’d like you to stop tinkering with your swing,” I said. And then he said the words that I will never forget: “But I tinker to improve.”

I thought for a moment before answering him and then said, “I’m sorry doctor but I’m afraid that is just not true.” He looked at me as if I’d killed the family dog.

“You want me to stop tinkering with my swing?” he asked. 

“Yes, that is what I’m suggesting,” I said. 

“I’m not sure that I can do that,” he said. He paused. “But if you think it is important, I’ll try to stop.”

The word “try” gave him away. What I’ve learned is that when someone says they will “try” something, they are giving themselves a way out. They usually have no intention of following through on the promised action. I knew he couldn’t stop. I knew he wouldn’t stop. And so, at that moment, I resolved that I would allow him to tinker, and I would play the role of the janitor, sweeping up whatever mess he might leave behind.

A Dream

The doctor continued to take lessons from me for a few more years after that with only minor changes in his swing — or his scores. And then one day he just stopped coming. He was elderly, but in good physical condition. And then a macabre thought crossed my mind; maybe he had passed away.

That night I had a dream. I saw a picture of him lying in a coffin. There was a pastor standing at the church alter inviting members of the congregation to come forward to pay their last respects. As I shuffled forward down the center aisle, I saw his wife, Francis, seated in the front pew with a black veil covering her face. She turned her head as I passed, nodding in my direction. As I neared the open coffin I could see that his hands were crossed, left over right. As I looked closer, his left wrist was bowed outward just like in his golf swing. And then I woke-up with a start.

A few weeks later, I was relieved to see him at the airport with his wife. He apologized for not mentioning it before, but they were going on a trip around the world. “I’ll call you when we get back,” he said, waving over his shoulder as the two of them made their way toward their gate with a porter trailing behind. That was the last time I saw him, but I tell his story as a cautionary tale to students of mine who are inclined to tinker with their swings

The Author (as a sponsor)

You enjoy tinkering, you say? I understand perfectly. Just realize that as a tinkerer, there is a good chance that you will never be a better golfer than you are today. And so if you really want to improve, quit tinkering. Should you make that decision, you will in all probability find that you have become addicted. And so, as you begin to pull away, you may experience a period of withdrawal. This is normal, but during this period do not let your guard down. This is when you are most vulnerable.

Also, it is important that you remove any forms of temptation that could draw you back into your old behavior.

Step 1: Go through your house with a large trash bag and put all of the books, magazines, and videos that you own, including those stashed under your bed, into the bag.

Step 2: Cancel your magazine subscriptions, effective immediately.

Step 3: This step is related to watching the Golf Channel. In the event one of the instructional segments should suddenly come on while you are watching, you should do one of three things immediately:

  1. Mute the sound.
  2. Switch the channel.
  3. Put your hands over your ears and start mouthing, “La, la, la, la, la,” until the segment is over.

As your sponsor, I want you to understand that the only way to break your addiction is to go “cold turkey.” You may feel an impulse to jump into your car and drive to the local drug store for a copy of the latest golf magazine. Should you feel that urge, I want you to start counting backward from 100. That usually does the trick.

Let’s return to the subject of your swing. You are probably wondering, “What should I do next? You are a little confused, and I understand. You’ve had a good deal of new information to process. Here is my thought. I’d advise you to sign-up for a series of lessons with a competent professional who has a track record of success working with players at your level… and then never look back.

Also, as your sponsor, I want you to remember that if you should need me during a moment of crisis, you can always reach me. I’m only a phone call away. And now before leaving, I want you to take the Tinkerer’s Pledge. Please raise your right hand while placing your left hand on this old copy of Golf Digest with Gay Brewer on the cover. Now, repeat after me:

“I, (then state your name for the record)…”

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As a teacher, Rod Lidenberg reached the pinnacle of his career when he was named to GOLF Magazine's "Top 100" Teachers in America. The PGA Master Professional and three-time Minnesota PGA "Teacher of the Year" has over his forty-five year career, worked with a variety of players from beginners to tour professionals. He especially enjoys training elite junior players, many who have gone on to earn scholarships at top colleges around the country, in addition to winning several national amateur championships. Lidenberg maintains an active schedule teaching at Bluff Creek Golf Course Chanhassen, Minnesota, in the summer and The Golf Zone, Chaska, Minnesota, in the winter months. As a player, he competed in two USGA Public Links Championships; the first in Dallas, Texas, and the second in Phoenix, Arizona, where he finished among the top 40. He also entertained thousands of fans playing in a series of three exhibition matches beginning in 1972, at his home course, Edgewood G.C. in Fargo, North Dakota, where he played consecutive years with Doug Sanders, Lee Trevino and Laura Baugh. As an author, he has a number of books in various stages of development, the first of which will be published this fall entitled "I Knew Patty Berg." In Fall 2017, he will be launching a new Phoenix-based instruction business that will feature first-time-ever TREATMENT OF THE YIPS.

28 Comments

28 Comments

  1. Speedy

    Sep 23, 2017 at 2:20 pm

    Butch Harmon’s the best.

  2. Double Mocha Man

    Sep 20, 2017 at 3:58 pm

    I am so glad I am not a tinkerer. I proudly admit that I “experiment” on the range.

  3. bh

    Sep 20, 2017 at 10:58 am

    Tinkering is what makes it fun for me. I like the puzzle. Sure, I could leave well enough alone, but doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.

  4. Acew7iron

    Sep 19, 2017 at 4:25 pm

    If your not tinkering…yur not trying

  5. RonMcD

    Sep 19, 2017 at 2:29 pm

    We know he likes to tinker with his dinker ……..

  6. Square

    Sep 18, 2017 at 8:48 pm

    That last post was a mess. Sorry guys. Let’s try that again.

    I admit, I used to tinker. Even though would shoot between 68-78, I was never consistent. Tinkering was the culprit. I would try this, try that…you name it. A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to have the money and the desire to see a real teacher in Tampa. I make a point of seeing him 2 x per year. His name is Rich Abele and by using Trackman we identified my one serious, consistent swing fault. Rich focuses on impact and I just needed one thing to think about. When I practice or play this single thought is the sole thing I concentrate on when I swing. Without question this year with less practice and play, I was able to play my best. I was able to consistently shoot 68-72 with a few 73s. Having one swing thought and having confidence in that single thought was the key. Having a great teacher helped too.

  7. Square

    Sep 18, 2017 at 8:34 pm

    I admit, I like to tinker. Even though would shoot between 68-78 I was never consistent. Tinkering was the culprit. I’ll try this, try that…you name it. A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to have the money and the desire to see a real teacher in Tampa. I see him 2 x per year. His name is Rich Abele and by using Trackman we identified my consistent swing fault. Rich focuses on impact and I just needed one think to think about. When I practice or play it is the sole thing I concentrate on when I play golf. Without question the last year, with less practice and play was the best. I was able to consistently shoot 68-72 with a few 73s. Having one swing thought and having confidence in that though was the key.

  8. BW

    Sep 18, 2017 at 7:38 pm

    Most rec’n players who seek help from an ‘instructor’ are usually in poor physical shape and the instructors know it’s futility, so they just string them along to suck $$$ from the suckers.
    Many go to instructors to have a ‘golf buddy’ to talk to and then brag they went to so-and-so for lessons and it was great.
    Those who avoid instruction are usually ashamed of their bodies and avoid embarrassment. They just keep on hacking and clowning on the golf course.
    Golf is a dying activity and even the club manufacturers know that so they just cater to the upper 1% and wannabes with over-engineered clubs at ludicrous prices. They are just milking the stragglers. It’s over, baby…..

  9. Ray Bennett

    Sep 18, 2017 at 6:43 pm

    There is so much BS in this article. I had to laugh about the bowed wrist and opening the clubface bit. No wonder the average golfer is in Limbo after reading this nonsense.

  10. Steve S

    Sep 18, 2017 at 6:22 pm

    Much of this article seems to be a bit tongue-in-cheek, so enjoyed it. Bottom line though is that I have not found a teacher yet that doesn’t want to remake my swing. I play to a 10-11; mostly due to an erratic short game. I use a modified single plane swing that takes into account a bad knee and an arthritic back. It looks ugly but when I’m not in pain I hit the ball mostly straight with a very tiny draw. I’m sure most pros would gag if they saw my swing but I have fun. I’ve taken video of my swing when I was hitting the ball well and use it to compare to when I’m going bad. With all the new technology available to us, many of us no longer need a teaching pro to enjoy the game.

  11. acemandrake

    Sep 18, 2017 at 6:11 pm

    For me, “tinkering’ = “chasing tips”

  12. AB

    Sep 18, 2017 at 5:26 pm

    I tinker all the time and my swing gotten better, plus I have gained yards. There’s nothing wrong with tinkering

  13. Patricknorm

    Sep 18, 2017 at 5:18 pm

    Excellent article. I taught tennis and squash for 30 years from beginners to world champions. It’s easy teaching players with skills and motivation. It’s near impossible to teach those that question your methods. These people ” have an idea” but really don’t grasp the reality. If I could have had these people as children then maybe there would be hope.
    As adults, busy with life, successful in business but mediocre in sports. We all have aptitudes: music, math, athletics, memory, spatial, etc. I can take you so far but, there are limitations. We all need mentors regardless of our skills. Nobody can do it themselves and be great.

    • mlecuni

      Sep 19, 2017 at 4:54 am

      As an adult, i think that the tinkering way is possible if you Eat, drink, sleep golf like a child would do.
      So in a way, i agree with you when you say, if only i had these people when they were child, and i add, “or if they have way more time to practice/play”.

  14. Dennis Lurvey

    Sep 18, 2017 at 4:10 pm

    Tiger is a perfectionist to the point it takes over his life and his golf. He is incapable of playing as an art, has to be in control of everything all the time. Michelle Wie as well and others. It’s a mental disorder. Tiger has never been able to take direction from others, except maybe his dad. When he said he liked to tinker he was searching for a phrase that wasn’t, he’s an arrogant control freak perfectionist who believes he’s the only one who knows golf.

  15. Philip

    Sep 18, 2017 at 3:18 pm

    Have to disagree … I play with so many that regularly have lessons and do not even understand what they are trying to accomplish at times. Granted it is highly likely that they do not have the ability or desire to get better, however, I have witnessed lessons being given and received lessons that have no chance of resulting in real improvement. Personally, I think the main reason is the difficulty that people have in truly communicating. Luckily, I’ve had a few pros in which it clicked nicely. On the other side, the tinkering that I have been doing this season has resulted in me having more control than I ever did of the golf ball, and without losing distance … actually gaining some.

  16. Redley Jacob

    Sep 18, 2017 at 1:17 pm

    Where I practice next to it is Pro area where he teaches his students. All I hear is BS for 60 bucks an hour.

  17. Andrew Broom

    Sep 18, 2017 at 1:14 pm

    All the Pros want you to cough up your hard earned money but you will never actually improve. I went from 22 to 8 by tinkering only. Don’t listen to these vested interest and tinker away.

  18. Chris Baker

    Sep 18, 2017 at 12:29 pm

    I think the article makes a lot of sense, especially for the average golfer. But I’m not sure using Tiger Woods as an example is most effective way to get people to buy into your idea/theory (yes if you want them to open the article). He is either the greatest or second greatest golfer to ever play the game and he likes to “tinker”. I can only assume that people who hear Tiger Woods liked to “tinker” will take it upon themselves to also “tinker” because it seemed to work pretty well for him. My opinion is to use a golfer who liked to “tinker”, but ultimately was not successful in doing so.

  19. RonG

    Sep 18, 2017 at 11:49 am

    Adult men believe there is a golf swing buried in their big strong body and their massive minds only need to be told what to do and it will happen… consciously. It’s mind over matter and a small golf tip is all they really need to knock out the glitches.
    Oh, and the newest model golf clubs with SGI features will launch them and conquer the golf course. So easy….

  20. Avery

    Sep 18, 2017 at 11:27 am

    Hahaha.

    Step 4: Stop visiting Golf WRX

  21. Acew7iron

    Sep 18, 2017 at 11:25 am

    Oh and BTW…Ive dropped 4 strokes off my HC just this season. It is possible to Tinker and improve…the key? You have to play the game more than 4 times a month…

  22. Acew7iron

    Sep 18, 2017 at 11:22 am

    Well…As a player of the game for over 25 years and currently a 9 I consider myself somewhat of a “tinkerer”. As a avid follower of this site I recently read a very informative piece about how every golfer eventually hits the skids with their swing because its all tied to every sense you have and at some point it WILL come off the rails (not “if”…but “when”) mostly because we are human and not machines. It has been my experience that the more I practice and play the longer I can ride those good playing waves but I know one day it will just seem to leave…without warning.
    Now to my point…What shall I do when this happens? Run to a Pro and pony up $100 for a lesson to immediately get me back on track? I admit…would be nice to have that luxury but the game itself is expensive besides pay a Pro every time a hitch gets in my giddyup. No…Most of us must resort to the tinker…eventually the good swing returns and you ride the wave again until it crashes on shore 6-8 strokes above your HC.

    Tinkering is not the Devil…Its the only way to fix what ails you.

  23. Nick

    Sep 18, 2017 at 10:38 am

    Tinker = Trial and Error & Error & Error & Error ………….

  24. Doug Ferreri

    Sep 18, 2017 at 10:26 am

    I have been an instructor for many years and truer words were ever written.

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Legendary clubmaker Dave Edel joins host Michael Williams to talk single length sets and more. Also features Williams’ recent trip to Puerto Rico, which is appropriate, given the PGA Tour’s return to the island one year after Hurricane Maria. A look at golf in Jamaica as well.

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The Bandon Experience

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Do you ever have one of those memories that jumps up and slaps you in the face? It happened to me the other day. It wasn’t the first time, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. One of those memories that forces you to stop whatever it is that you are doing and reminisce. It’s been just over a year since I made the trip to Bandon, Oregon, and I still think about it often.

I find myself trying to explain the experience to friends and golf buddies back home but it’s nearly impossible to do it justice. My attempts inevitably end with “you just need to take a trip up there and see for yourself. Trust me.”

I have hit more putts from off the green in the last year than I did in 25 years of golf before that. That’s Bandon. I don’t shy away from high winds and cold temperate golf anymore. That’s Bandon. I look forward to walking 18 now and am certainly not too proud to use a pushcart. That’s Bandon. But most of all, I think I better appreciate the beauty of the game. I marvel at how gorgeous each golf course can be in its own way. And I yearn for my next chance to play golf as it was meant to be. That’s Bandon.

Before I headed to the great northwest, I read a book titled “Dream Golf: The Making of Bandon Dunes.” It tells the story of how Mike Keiser created his golf wonderland in Oregon and why he chose the architects he ended up working with. It was a tremendous read and I loved every word. And while it certainly made me more eager to arrive, it did’t prepare me for the few days of golf I had ahead of me.

Three of my best friends and I flew in from all over the country to play these courses. Nashville, Houston, Fort Worth, and San Francisco converged on a little town in Oregon. They say Bandon Dunes is like playing golf in Scotland; only it’s harder to get to. There are several different ways to arrive, but we flew to San Francisco and then took the short flight to North Bend, Oregon. There is a shuttle bus that picks you up from the airport and then takes you the remaining 30-or-so minutes to the main clubhouse.

We planned our trip in February, quite frankly, to save some money. The course fees are much cheaper in the winter months and while there is a higher chance for bad weather, we all knew that bad weather was possible year round in the Pacific Northwest anyway. We were prepared to play in less-than-ideal conditions, so we decided to pay less for it. Also, if you play two rounds a day like we did, the second 18 is priced half off. There are no carts on the property so you’ll be walking, but come on! Half off golf to play some of the best courses in the country! You need to be playing 36 a day. We booked our first 18 holes of the day in advance and then we would make an afternoon tee time the morning of. I recommend doing this if you aren’t sure which of the courses you want to play twice. It is definitely doable to hold off on waiting to make your second tee time of the day until you are on property. At least it was in February.

As incredible as the golf ended up being, I may have been more impressed with how efficiently the well-oiled Bandon machine operates. Our golf clubs, which were shipped in advance to make travel easier, were ready for us as soon as we arrived. The entire trip went this smooth. The folks at Bandon have convenience down to a science. Each clubhouse, course and practice facility is within the friendly confines of the Bandon Dunes gates. Shuttles work on a schedule that is frequent enough to prevent any downtime. Each clubhouse has a restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, all offering a unique menu to fit any taste. More on that a bit later. But imagine Disney Land for the golf nut.

The Preserve

We departed the airport shuttle, changed shoes right there on the spot and immediately headed for The Preserve, a Coore-Crenshaw designed, 13-hole par 3 course. Our luggage was handled by staff and their main priority was to make sure we got some golf in before the end of the day. We only had a couple hours of daylight left after travel, so this dynamite little track was just the right amount of golf to whet our appetite. When you make your trip to Bandon Dunes, do not be tempted to skip this course just because it is a par-3 track. Find time. Make time. Some of the best views on the property are out on The Preserve. The holes range from 63 yards to 150 yards with decision making winds on each tee. We ended up playing it again before we left for the airport at the end of our visit. The perfect bookend.

Food and Lodging

Our favorite spot to take dinner was without a doubt, McKee’s Pub. A lively atmosphere with golf history on the walls, the place is usually full of tired golfers and stories of missed birdie putts. Pro tip: the scotch eggs are a game changer. McKee’s is stocked full of good bar food and local craft brews. The meatloaf is a hefty portion and honestly, it may have saved my life after our first day of 36 holes. Above McKee’s is another bar and banquet style room where you can grab a drink if you need to wait for a table.

Every clubhouse on site has their own restaurant with a unique menu and beverage list. Trails End is within the Bandon Trails and Preserve Clubhouse and provides views of both courses. The menu is asian influenced and the noodle bowl is a legit lunch option. The Pacific Grill provides plenty of seafood dishes and it overlooks the Pacific Dunes finishing holes. It is also steps away from the Punchbowl, a 100,000 square foot putting green/course designed by Tom Doak. The PunchBowl is a fantastic way to kill an hour and practice putting on the undulated greens found on the property. There is also a green-side bar to help make the experience even more memorable. It’s a great spot to gamble a few bucks. We played two man teams and my partner was unconsciously good. So I drank for free. Thanks buddy.

The main lodge has both the Tufted Puffin Lounge and the Bunker Bar. Both spots are casual and affordable. The Bunker is also home to a billiards table, poker table and fantastic selection of spirits.

Bandon Dunes has lodging options to suit all types of guests and budgets. You can stay within the walls of the main lodge or also book from one of many apartment/condo style rooms for larger groups. We stayed in a 2 bedroom apartment with common area near Chrome Lake. The shuttles can pick you up from your room whenever you desire and take you directly to your first tee. I was genuinely shocked at how wonderfully easy it was to get around the property. Never a wasted second. And depending on the month, room rates start as low as $100 a night. But don’t spend too much on rooms. Most of our time was spent on the course.

Old Macdonald

Our first round of 18 was at Old Macdonald, named after famed course architect Charles Blair Macdonald. This was the fourth course built on property and the second track designed by Tom Doak. This time he was assisted by Jim Urbina to create the 6,944 yard (from the tips–it’s so much better from back there) par-71 course. Golf Digest’s most recent Top 100 ranking of United State’s public golf courses have all four of the Bandon tracks listed in the Top 15. Pacific Dunes comes in at number two, followed by Bandon Dunes at seven, then Old MacDonald at 10 and finally Bandon Trails at 14.

The round at Old Mac started with light dew on the ground and clouds in the sky but the temperature was pleasant enough for a light sweater. I didn’t know what to expect but whatever I had in mind, this course was different. It’s a tribute to all the classic designers with template hole after template hole. A true links style course, with the famed “Ghost Tree” visible from many spots around the course. The greens were massive and tricky, but the layout itself played incredibly fair. I think that is one of the best things about the golf at Bandon…it never was too difficult. It’s a place for golfers of all skill level to enjoy.

Old Mac had incredible ocean views, but some of the best moments of my round came from the shots that I couldn’t see at all. The course provided several elevation changes that forced us to fire at tops of flags with no pins in sight. And when we finally made it up the hill with our pushcarts, our balls could’ve been anywhere on those massive greens depending on the slope Doak and Urbina dealt to us. We only played this course one time on the trip, but I feel Old Mac is the best suited of the quartet for a drastic score improvement on the second time around. I look forward to that chance someday.

Pacific Dunes

By the time we teed off on our afternoon round at Pacific Dunes, the infamous Oregon winds had picked up. I genuinely don’t remember the first four holes because my head was down the entire time. Thankfully, we were granted some relief as the winds decided to die down and give way to clear skies. And just in time for some of the most spectacular ocean view holes I have ever played in my life.

Pacific is another Tom Doak design. The course plays to 6,633 yards and is a par 71. It was the second course built on property and a trio of par threes on the back nine were designed to best utilize the ocean frontage for several breathtaking holes.


Two of the fellas in my group decided to share a caddie for this round. The guy was a real gem and he provided us with stories that enhanced our experience a great deal. I would recommend doing this if you have a little extra money to spend. But keep in mind, you’re also going to want to break the bank on merchandise as well…each course has their own logo. One of my friends may have gone a bit overboard on gear. He’s a logo guy. And as long as we are on the subject of logos, my buddy ranks them as follows: Preserve (it really is so good), Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes, Punchbowl, Bandon Trails and then Old Mac.

Pacific Dunes probably has the best collection of views on property and they alone might justify the number 2 ranking on the best 100 US public courses. The high winds made it tough to judge just how difficult this course actually plays, but it really didn’t matter. Just being out there and looking around made it an enjoyable round.

As our round progressed, it became apparent that we might struggle to finish before nightfall. We picked up the pace and played ready golf but things weren’t looking good when we reached 17, a beautiful but lengthy par three over a gorge. But then the charm of Bandon showed its face. The group ahead of us, obviously realizing that we were in a race against time, waved us up and stepped aside, allowing us to hit our tee shots before they putted. We all hit and then began a somewhat lengthy walk around the gorge to the green, allowing the group ahead to putt out and proceed to the 18th tee. And we finished our round with just barely enough light to see our final putts roll in the cup. Had it not been for the kindness of those golfers on 17, whom we did not know one bit, we likely wouldn’t have finished our round. But that’s Bandon.

Bandon Trails

I went into our morning round at Bandon Trails with little excitement. I am an ocean-view kind of golfer and I had just been completely spoiled by Pacific Dunes. I knew this Coore-Crenshaw par 71 layout was all internal on the property, away from the ocean and that didn’t have my juices flowing.

By the time I had played the first three holes, all of that had changed. This course was special.


Looking back on it now, the lowest ranked course at Bandon may easily have been the round I enjoyed the most. The third course built on the property, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw somehow found a direct line to my golf heart without distracting me with views of blue water. The routing at Trails lead my foursome through forest and dunes alike, up hills and over water. The greens were challenging but fair and the fairways attainable and inviting.

The coastal forest provided a beautiful backdrop that I had largely ignored in my Bandon preparation. Trails, in my opinion, is the most underrated of the four Bandon courses. The par 4 14th hole stands out in my mind as a hole I’d like to play over and over again. The elevated tee box looks down on a drive-able par 4 begging for an escalated swing speed. I hit driver. Of course. But the target, a hog back green, is small and deadly and full of terrors. Any miss left or right required a savvy short game to salvage a good score. It was a wonderful golf hole and a highlight of the trip. One of my playing partners would like me to mention that he made birdie, I’m sure.

When I think back on my Bandon trip, I first think of those oceans holes on Bandon and Pacific Dunes. But it doesn’t take long for my mind to take me back to Trails. From a pure golf perspective, it is the best course on property.

Bandon Dunes

I had read up more on the original 18 at Bandon Dunes than either of the other three courses. Designed by relatively unknown (at the time) Scottish architect David McLay-Kidd, the course that started it all opened in 1999 and the rest was history. Bandon Dunes plays at 6,732 yards, par 72 and winds along the pacific coast towards a climactic finish that is as good as any in golf.

Weather for our round at Bandon was ideal. Overcast, slight wind but not too cold. It turns out, our decision to play in February worked out great for us. We dealt with rain on the morning of our third day but we were still able to fit in our golf.

Golf rankers tend to rave about Pacific Dunes, but I will take Bandon over Pacific, pound for pound, any day of the week. The bunkers are deep and large and the fairways are pristine condition. And while Pacific Dunes clearly worked hard to maximize its ocean views, the flow of Bandon Dunes seemed more natural while still providing incredible coastal holes.

Hole 16 is a classic risk reward par 4. Reachable off the tee with a typical down wind, the smart play is to poke your spoon out to the raised fairway on the left. But with the pacific ocean crashing ashore to our right and the sun setting behind, we all decided to hit driver. And it worked out for a couple of us. This is arguably the most beautiful hole I’ve ever played in my life and I remember walking off the green, looking back towards the tee box thinking “wow…I am not sure it gets any better than that.”

Until I played the next hole. And then the hole after that. Both 17 and 18 are incredible golf holes in their own right. The closing stretch at Bandon Dunes is truly as good as it gets. And if you time it correctly like we did, your walk down 18 is illuminated by the setting sun bouncing off the windows of the clubhouse. Life is good.

People who visit Bandon love to rank the courses and then ask for your rank as well. Half of the conversations at McKee’s Pub are started with this very topic. And while you certainly can’t go wrong with any selection, for me it starts and ends with the original, Bandon Dunes. I’d rank Bandon Trails second, Pacific Dunes third and Old MacDonald fourth. And you know what…each of my three buddies put those courses in a different order.

There is something for everyone at Bandon Dunes. You just need to take a trip up there and see for yourself. Trust me.

 

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Opinion & Analysis

An important way Tiger Woods changed professional golf

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Tiger Woods is, without a doubt, one of the most influential players in the history of golf. 80 tour wins, 14 majors (10 of them before he was 30) are all incredible numbers.

But this article is not about his amazing stats.

Today, I want to talk about one thing he has done for the game off the course. Most of us remember the Nike commercial with all the little kids saying “I am Tiger Woods.” What we didn’t realize at the time was that an entire generation of young players were growing up idolizing Tiger.

While other kids may have had posters of Michael Jordan or Troy Aikman on their walls, these kids had posters of Tiger. They watched his every move. They all had black shorts or pants with a red shirt to wear on Sunday. They all wanted to be him. Some of those kids were Jason Day, Brooks Koepka, Tony Finau, Rory Mcllroy, and Lexi Thompson. They watched him and were amazed at how dominate he was and wanted to be like him.

As these kids grew up, they understood that the physical shape that Tiger always seemed to be in played a key role in how many tournaments he won and how, even on bad days when his skills seemed to take a day or two off, his physical conditioning got him through it. The young people watched him and started to include physical conditioning in their game. They were spending time in the gym and working with personal trainers. They still worked with swing coaches and in most cases played NCAA golf but the difference in their game was the work they did without a club in their hand.

So what is it that gives these players an edge? Is it because they are stronger? Maybe. Is it because they hit the ball further? No, because John Daly could bomb the driver but was in no way the most dominate player of his day. The key here is endurance. Because of the incredible shape these players keep themselves in, they can walk 72 holes of golf in brutally hot conditions and still have their A games on Sunday.

This is exactly what helped Tiger to be so good his competition couldn’t keep up with him and just faded down the leaderboard. Playing Tiger in his prime meant you had to have your entire game at its best and hope he missed a few shots or got sick. If he didn’t he was going to sneak up on you and pounce or he was already so far ahead that you were in a race for second place.

Today’s players have swing coaches and athletic trainers they work closely with nutrition experts and monitor everything they put into their bodies. These are the type of things we historically have expected to see from top NFL, NHL and NBA players, not golfers. This is the difference that Tiger has made and this may be the thing that impacts golf for decades to come. He has made golf into a sport that requires you to be in the best shape of your life if you want to play at the highest levels. It is also exactly what the game needed.

I can’t imagine the players of 25 years ago wearing golf shirts that were designed to be skin tight. I never would have believed seeing players with biceps bigger than some peoples legs (Brooks Koepka) but today it’s a reality. Most of the top players on both the PGA and LPGA are in great shape and reap the benefits of it on the 18th green on Sunday. Tiger will be remembered as an amazing player with amazing numbers. He is one of just a few players whose galleries could rival that of small cities. He is also a player that changed the way a generation of greats now play the game.

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