I did not receive my introduction to golf from either of my parents. I think most of you might say your first introduction to the game came from your fathers, but my introduction came from my paternal grandfather. My father and grandfather were on good terms, but my dad never showed interest in the game until after I started playing. Oddly enough, I was the one who officially introduced my father to golf as my grandfather had done for me, and my father now plays everyday in his own retirement. I thought, since the Holiday season is upon us, that we might remember those first few swings we took with a club, and the kind wishes of those who shared their joy of the game of golf with us.
My family (parents and two siblings, both younger than me) visited my grandparents one Spring at their home in Florida. Just as Northerners do when they visit Florida with young children, the rest of my family had gone off to DisneyWorld except for me (I was “too old” for Disney, after all, being 14 whole years of age). With the two of us left, my grandfather was about to step out (and I was about to walk down to the beach to admire “the view”), when he receives a phone call. After hanging up, his mood apparently having turned sour, “Gramp” turns to me and says, “Get in the car.”
The old man (meant respectfully) was quiet on the way to “wherever we were going” and I honestly thought we were just running some errands; except that we turned in to a local golf course. In a classic Judge Smails bark he informs me that, “You are playing golf today.” The problem is that I had never played golf before in my life. I didn’t even know what the numbers on the clubs meant! I knew not to mention the obvious to him, as he already knew that. I just helped out as he took two sets of clubs from the trunk and walked to the range.
What followed next had to be the most intense crash course in golf ever delivered to a single individual. “Gramp” pulled out an 8 iron, showed me a grip, and told me not to move my hands out of that position till we were driving out of the lot. If you think I am kidding – I’m not! He even made me walk to the first tee with my hands on the club after we were done practicing. To be truthful, what we did on the range could never really be described as practice; it was more like “EPIC FAIL” with a grumpy old dude watching me. Seriously, I totally missed the ball on the first three swings and barely got out of the tee box the rest of the time. Towards the end of the lesson (which might have been a half hour or an hour, I don’t remember) I was able to at least elevate the ball in some meager approximation of a golf shot.
“Okay, that is enough,” he said. I asked him, “Gramp, don’t I need to learn how to putt?” He responded with, “Anyone can figure out how to putt, including you.” Okay…off to the tee, then!
Come to find out, my grandfather had a weekly money game going with another twosome, but his partner had come down with an illness (cancer) so he couldn’t make it that week. He told me that he was confident he alone could beat them both, but they insisted that he have a partner, ”Because they don’t want to have to admit that I beat them both by myself. They get embarrassed easily.”
Our two opponents turned out to be a gentleman about my grandfather’s age, and his son, who was about my father’s age. Despite being a well rounded, fearless, and a possibly immortal 14 year old, I was a little intimidated by the situation. I was playing against some older guys (older than me, anyway), playing golf for the first time, and I didn’t want to let down my grandfather. I thought about what he said about beating them both by himself, but that didn’t take the pressure off of potentially being embarrassed in front of “Gramp.”
Unfortunately, that was not to be, because after the first six holes I only had one hole on which I broke double digits, and I had to pick up on two others, which (at that point) was fine with me! The worst part was hitting the snack cart off the tee with the (very) cute cart girl still sitting in it.
The good part was that Milton Sr. was a golfing beast that day (or at least as I recall), having beaten the other team after seven holes on his own steam. So, as the intended 9-hole match came to a close I figured I could relax a bit. However, the group decided to play on anyway and finish out the nine. As we came to the ninth tee, the elder opposing gentleman offered a new challenge to my grandfather:
“Hey Milton, double or nothing. My kid versus yours.”
This resulted in a raised eyebrow from my grandfather. Not a sight often seen, just so you know. In hindsight, (not knowing at the time) this might have simply been an off-the-cuff reference to Caddyshack. I wasn’t aware of the movie at the time, but always get a chuckle when I watch the end of it because of this situation. Anyway, I was thinking there was no way he was going to take the bet, having already won the match and having a total hack (me) as a playing partner, but… he did:
“Okay, you’re on.” he replied.
I looked at my grandfather, knowing there was no point in arguing (like I could with my father) so, with a grimace, I approached the short par 4 teebox with 8 iron in hand and managed to keep the ball in play down the right side. My opponent, being somewhat miffed that I took the honor (I didn’t know any better) gruffly approached the tee with driver in hand, and took a monstrous swipe that duck-hooked into the water on the left. Two more angry swings yielded the same result before his fourth attempt reached the fairway.
I miraculously hacked my way up to the green in four (having been gifted consecutive “flier” lies) and took three to get down; winning the hole with a triple bogey to my opponent’s quintuple. I couldn’t believe my fortune; I shouldn’t have won that little playoff hole. I couldn’t believe my grandfather even took the bet, let alone that I won it. However, I felt an immense surge of pride at my own (meager) performance. “I can do this, golf isn’t so hard,” I was thinking. I thought also that my grandfather must be some kind of sporting sage, who somehow managed to foretell my unlikely victory over our opponent.
As we were enjoying an after-round Coke, (our opponents sitting across the room, not wanting to hear my grandfather brag about how his first-timer grandson beat them in a playoff) I asked my grandfather why he took the bet. He said, “Daniel, even a blind pig finds an acorn,” and got up to use the restroom. I knew he was proud of me, but he wasn’t going to directly brag me up either. No swelled heads in the Ross family!
While he was away, I noticed the “son” (the guy I had just beaten) get up and come towards our table, still looking angry. I am thinking, “Oh crap, he was waiting till my grandfather left to get a piece of me!” Instead he handed me a dollar bill. I said, “What is this for?” He told me that it is the winnings from the match, and to keep the change. I was speechless.
I thought my grandfather had some real money on the line with that match. Turns out that he was playing a nickel per hole! Double or nothing pulled in ninety cents, and I actually owed the dime. He walked off just as my grandfather got back. Gramp says, “Oh, there it is” and picked the dollar out of my hand and plopped it down on the table as part of the tip for the waitress and turned to walk to the car. I was thinking, “You have to be kidding!” I was feeling “all-important-and-stuff” and suddenly, that disappeared.
I know now why he didn’t tell me that the stakes were pretty low; he wanted me to try my hardest even when there wasn’t much to be gained. I think he was curious to see what I could do. I played a LOT of baseball, but not much else. There actually was something to be gained, though; an appreciation for the game of golf and the desire to keep playing, the opportunity to impress gramp, and the knowledge that I could succeed even when the odds were against me.
And my family thought they had it good when they went to Disney. God, I miss my grandfather.
Happy Holidays WRX. Remember…life is short. Say what deserves to be said while you can.
TG2: Should Tiger Woods play in The Masters without a driver?
Tiger Woods’ No. 1 concern heading into the Masters is the driver, according to Notah Begay. Equipment expert Brian Knudson and Editor Andrew Tursky argue whether Tiger should even use a driver during the Masters. Also, they discuss Rory’s new prototype putter and how it was made, and they talk about a new shaft company called “LA Golf Shafts.”
Listen to the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!
For more info on the topics, check out the links below.
- Rory’s putter: www.golfwrx.com/503976/rory-mcilr…rmade-soto-proto/
- Tiger’s driver: www.golfwrx.com/503940/tiger-wood…irms-notah-begay/
- LA Golf Shafts: www.golfwrx.com/503818/la-golf-pa…s-la-golf-shafts/
Book Review: The Life and Times of Donald Ross
The Life and Times of Donald Ross is a successful golf history, in that it holds one’s attention, regardless of one’s level of enthusiasm or interest for the subject. It can hardly avoid doing so, as it traces the life of a man who lived through both world wars, emigrated from the old country to the new, and championed a sport that grew from infancy to maturity in the USA, during his earthly run. The loss of two wives to uncontrollable circumstances, the raising of a child essentially on his own, and the commitment to the growth of golf as an industry add to the complexity of the life of Donald J. Ross Jr. Within the cover of this tome, through words and images, the life and times of the man are communicated in fine fashion.
The book was published in 2016, by Chris Buie of Southern Pines, North Carolina. Buie is not a professional writer in the traditional sense. He does not solicit contracts for books, but instead, writes from a place of passion and enthusiasm. This is not to say that he is not a writer of professional quality. Instead, it isolates him among those who turn out high-level prose, scholarly research, with attention-holding results.
Before I opened the book, it was the cover that held my attention for much longer than a single, fleeting moment. The solitary figure, staring out across the ocean. Was he gazing toward the Americas, or toward his birthplace, in Scotland? And that blend of blue shades, like something out of Picasso’s 1901-1904 period of monochromatic azures, proved to be equal parts calming and evocative. Those years, by the way, correlate with the 29th to the 32nd years of Ross’ life. During that period, Ross lost a brother (John) to injuries suffered in the Boer War, and married his first wife, Janet. With care like that for the cover art, what marvelous research awaited within the binding?
After a number of readings, I’m uncertain as to the greater value of the words or the pictures. Perhaps it’s the codependency of one on the other that leads to the success of the effort. The book is the culmination of 5 months of exhaustive research, followed by 7 months of intense writing, on Buie’s part. The author made up his mind to match as many images as possible with his descriptors, so as to create both visual and lexical collections to stand time’s test. Maps, paintings, photos, newspaper clippings, postcards, etchings and course routes were collected and reproduced within the covers. Throughout the process, so much of Ross’s life and craft, previously unrecognized in publication, were revealed to Buie. Ross’s ability to make the unnatural look natural when necessary, is hardly equaled in the annals of golf course architecture. According to Buie,
Growing up all I’d heard was natural. Certainly he incorporated as much of the existing terrain and environment as possible. But given how much other work went into the courses, it would be more accurate to say his courses were naturalistic.
Buie also scrapes away at the misplaced notion that Ross was a one-dimensional golf course architect. After all, what else did Shakespeare do besides write plays and sonnets? Well, Ross did so much more, in addition to building some of the world’s great member and tournament golf courses, shaping the Pinehurst Resort experience, and running an in-town hotel in the process. Again, Buie comments,
His greatest contribution was the role he played in the overall establishment of the game in the United States. He was involved in every aspect (caddymaster, greenkeeper, teacher, player, mentor, tournaments, clubmaking, management, etc). The theme that went through his efforts was that he was adamant all be done “the right way”. Given the breadth and enduring nature of his efforts I don’t think anyone else did more to establish the game in America. That makes him the “Grand Old Man of the American Game” – not just a prolific architect.
What was it about Ross, that separated him from the many compatriots who journeyed from Scotland to the USA? They were content to compete and run golf clubs, but Ross sought so much more. His early years involved much successful competition, including top-10 finishes in the US Open. He was also a competent instructor, manifested in the ability of his students to learn both the swing and its competitive execution. And yet, Pinehurst is so different from any other place in the Americas. And so much of what it is, is due to the influence of Donald Ross.
In a nod to the accepted round of golf across the planet, the book contains 18 chapters, including the appendices. At locomotive pace, the mode of transportation utilized by Ross to traverse the lower 48 of the USA and Canada, the reader gathers a proper awareness of the great man’s living arc. Beginning with the hike from the train station in Boston to the Oakley Country Club, the emigration of the Scotsman from the highlands of Caledonia to the next hemisphere was a fairly simple affair, with unexpected, poignant, and far-reaching consequences. Donald J. Ross, jr., would complete the shaping of american golf that was assisted (but never controlled) by architectural peers. Men like Walter Travis, Albert Tillinghast, Charles Blair Macdonald, Alister MacKenzie and Tom Bendelow would build courses of eternal worth, but none would shape in the far-reaching manner of Ross.
It’s tempting to make a larger portion of this story about Buie, but he wouldn’t have it so. A Pinehurst native, Buie’s blend of reverence and understanding of his home region are evident and undeniable. One almost thinks that a similar history might have been written about any number of characters charged with the stewardship of the Sandhills region of North Carolina. Fortunately for aficionados of golf and its course architecture, Buie is a golfer, and so we have this tome.
Donald J. Ross, jr. was a man of principle, a man of faith, a man of belief. When those beliefs came into conflict with each other, which they seldom did, he had an instinct for elevating one over the other. No other place is this more evident that in his routing of the Sagamore course in Lake George, in the Adirondack mountains of New York state. Faced with the conundrum of how to begin the course, his daughter remembers the sage words of the father. Despite contradicting his belief that a course should never begin in the direction of the rising sun, Ross commented I can’t start it anywhere but looking out at that lake and those mountains. Indeed, Sagamore would be a poorer place for an alternate opening, and this review would have less of a way to reach its end.
My recommendation: read the book.
Kingston Heath: The Hype is Real
We touched ground late in the afternoon at Melbourne Airport and checked in very, very late at hotel Grand Hyatt. Don’t ask about our driving and navigating skills. It shouldn’t have taken us as long as we did. Even with GPS we failed miserably, but our dear friend had been so kind to arrange a room with a magnificent view on the 32nd floor for us.
The skyline in Melbourne was amazing, and what a vibrant, multicultural city Melbourne turned out to be when we later visited the streets to catch a late dinner. The next morning, we headed out to one of the finest golf courses that you can find Down Under: Kingston Heath. We had heard so many great things about this course, and to be honest we were a bit worried it almost was too hyped up. Luckily, there were no disappointments.
Here’s the thing about Kingston Heath. You’re driving in the middle of a suburb in Melbourne and then suddenly you see the sign, “Kingston Heath.” Very shortly after the turn, you’re at the club. This is very different than the other golf courses we’ve visited on this trip Down Under, where we’ve had to drive for several miles to get from the front gates to the club house.
Nevertheless, this course and its wonderful turf danced in front of us from the very first minute of our arrival. With a perfect sunrise and a very picture friendly magic morning mist, we walked out on the course and captured a few photos. Well, hundreds to be honest. The shapes and details are so pure and well defined.
Kingston Heath was designed by Dan Soutar back in 1925 with help and guidance from the legendary golf architect Dr. Alister MacKenzie, who added to its excellent bunkering system. Dr. MacKenzie’s only design suggestion was to change Soutar’s 15th hole from a 222-yard par-4 (with a blind tee shot) to a par-3. Today, this hole is considered to be one the best par-3 holes Down Under, and I can understand why.
I am normally not a big fan of flat courses, but I will make a rare exception for Kingston Heath. It’s a course that’s both fun and puts your strategic skills to a serious test. Our experience is that you need to plan your shots carefully, and never forget to stay out of its deep bunkers. They’re not easy.
Kingston Heath is not super long in distance, but it will still give you a tough test. You definitely need to be straight to earn a good score. If you are in Melbourne, this is the golf course I would recommend above all others.
Next up: Metropolitan. Stay tuned!
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