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Opinion & Analysis

Holiday Reflections: My introduction to golf

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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.

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I am a professional musician, educator and researcher, in addition to being a golf coach for Hampden Academy in Maine. Currently, I am pursuing a Ph.D., in curriculum and instruction at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. My past academic achievements include a Bachelor's degree (in music performance) from the University of Maine, a Master's degree (in jazz performance) from Florida State University, a second Master's degree (in education) from the University of Maine, and K-12 teacher and school administrator certifications in Maine. My current research interests include overlapping content points between music and golf, as well as studying/comparing/contrasting how people learn in both endeavors. I have worked in education for 12 years, including public school education and university instruction. I have taught in the Maine public school system, and at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, the University of Maine at Fort Kent, Florida State University, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison. My main area of musical endeavor is drumset performance with an emphasis in jazz, where I have performed with Chuck Winfield (of Blood Sweat and Tears), Dr. Billy Taylor (of the Kennedy Center), Yusef Lateef (jazz legend), and numerous local and regional groups in the New England area.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. JesseV

    Dec 16, 2012 at 6:28 pm

    What a great memory. Thanks for sharing your story with us!

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Opinion & Analysis

WATCH: How To Remove a Stuck Tip Weight

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Tip weights are one of the smallest components used to assemble a golf club, and they get stuck all the time. That causes a lot of problems if you want to re-use a shaft. In this how-to video, I explain the best practices for removing tip weights, as well as the tools you should use to remove them.

 

 

 

 

 

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Opinion & Analysis

Have you got Golfzheimers?

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While it has taken more than a quarter century of teaching golf to arrive at this point, I have come to the conclusion that there is an as-yet-unnamed epidemic condition afflicting a great majority of players. This condition is so prevalent that I think it is high time it was given a name. So let me be the first to navigate those uncharted waters and give it one in hopes that, once formally recognized, it will begin to be more seriously studied in search for a cure. I will call this condition “Golfzheimers,” as it is the complete inability most golfers have to remember the vast majority of good shots they have ever hit (even those hit only moments before), while having the uncanny ability to instantly recall every chunk, shank, skull, and chili-dip they’ve hit since sometime back around when balls were still covered with balata.

Now trust me, I’m not making light of a very troubling and serious disease. My grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s, and it is a heartbreaking condition.  n truth, I could have just as easily named this “A Golfer’s Senior Moment,” since the term is ubiquitous enough, if I really believed someone would actually take offense (and I am truly sorry if you do).  I didn’t, though, because it was after a conversation with my late grandmother one day that I was suddenly struck with how oddly similar her lack of short-term memory, combined with her ability to vividly remember things that happened 40 or 50 years ago, was in some ways to how most golfers tend to think.

As long as I have been playing and teaching, I’ve been searching for different ways to learn to accept bad shots, keep them in perspective, and move on without letting them affect the next shot, hole, or round. When it comes to swinging the golf club, I can generally teach someone how to hit pretty good shots in a fairly short period of time, but teaching them to remember them with the same level of clarity as those of the more wayward variety often seems like trying to teach a blind man to see. Despite a general awareness of this phenomenon by most players and its detrimental effect upon their golf game, little has been suggested until now as to why it exists and what if anything golfers can do about it. And while research in the field of neuroscience suggests that our brains are hard-wired from the caveman days to catalogue and assign more importance to events that are considered dangerous or threatening, what about the game can have become so dangerous (other than to our egos) that we all seem to be fighting such an uphill battle?

Numerous psychological studies have found that the majority of people can remember five bad experiences more readily than five good ones, and assuming this is true, it speaks a great deal about how we have been conditioned to think since an early age.  The concept of scarcity, a term popularized in the self-help world, essentially describes a lens through which many of us have been conditioned to look upon our world, our lives, and apparently our games, with far too much regularity. It is through the use of this concept that many of our parents kept us at the dinner table as children, far beyond our wishes and long after our dinners were cold. We were guilt-ridden, not because we might be unappreciative of the time and money that went into providing us with that dinner, but because there were millions of starving children in China or some other far-off country that would have been tripping over themselves for even the remnants of that liver and onions our mothers had beset upon us.

As a proud parent, I’m embarrassed to say I’ve used the scarcity tactic a time or two myself during moments of desperation. Being naturally an optimist, though, I try to avoid succumbing to its siren song because I prefer to teach my daughters a far better lesson. At the same time, my girls are proof positive of these same studies and our ability to recall, as evidenced by another thing we do at that very same dinner table — we play a game called high and low. I’m sure you’ve heard of it; it’s where you ask your kids what their high and low moments were during the day. With my kids, I ask them to tell me the low first, preferring to close their day’s reflection with something positive, but it’s uncanny how often recalling something positive makes them really pause and reflect, while if something negative occurred, their recall of it is nearly instant and typically very descriptive.

The good news for both my daughters and the general golfing public, however, is there is a very effective way to short-circuit this type of thinking, and it comes from the field of hypnosis. From this moment forward, make a point not only to remember every good thing that happens to you, but to stop and savor it. If you are paid a compliment, don’t just brush it off. Stop to relish it for a moment and recognize the responsible person with more than just the perfunctory, “Thanks.” If you accomplish a goal, regardless of how small, reward yourself in at least some small way, all the while reminding yourself how good it feels to follow through on your intentions. And if you actually hit a golf shot well, reflect a moment, make a point to enjoy it and remember the moment vividly, and actually thank your partners when they say, “Nice shot” rather than blowing it off with some sort of, “Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while” type of comment.

Hitting the golf ball well is actually a near miraculous achievement when you consider the complexity of the swing and the incredible timing and hand-eye coordination it requires. Enjoy it (or anything else for that matter) when it actually comes off right. Do it several times a day for a month or more and there will be subtle changes in your brain chemistry, how you feel, and your outlook on life. You will notice, and so will those closest to you.  Make it a long-term habit and you might even be able to avoid ever having your playing partners ask this unfortunate question: “Have you got Golfzheimers?”

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Opinion & Analysis

The History of Course Design is Yours to Play at Oglebay

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There is a much-talked about “New Golden Age” of golf course design underway that is driven by demand for ever-more spectacular courses at the top end of the resort golf market. Destinations such as Streamsong, Bandon Dunes, Cabot Links, Sand Valley and others provide the traveling golfer a spectacular golf experience; unfortunately, it comes at a price tag that is equally spectacular. When a week playing golf in Florida can cost as much as a week in Scotland, where do you go for a golf getaway that doesn’t require a second mortgage?

Oglebay Golf Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia, doesn’t just provide an affordable golf vacation option; with its three golf courses, it provides players the chance to experience a condensed history of American golf course design through its three courses. The resort sits on land that was once owned by a wealthy industrialist and is now a part of the city park system. Located about an hour from Pittsburgh, Oglebay draws the majority of its golfers from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. It’s kind of cool that when you drive to Oglebay from the Washington, D.C., you hit all of those states except Ohio, which is just a few minutes away from Wheeling. The area is especially picturesque in the autumn months when the changing colors of the leaves are at their peak.

The property has a rich history in the business and sporting history of West Virginia, but the three golf courses, Crispin, are a special prize that taken together form a primer on the history of golf design in the past 90 years. The 5,670-yard Crispin course is a one-off design by local golf enthusiast Robert Biery that was completed in 1930 and is a fascinating study of design techniques of that era. The slopes and elevation are severe and extreme by today’s standards. A clue was the raised eyebrow of the assistant pro when I said that I would walk the course. Uneven lies are the order of the day, the product of a time when there was neither the money nor equipment readily available to create gentle slopes and even surfaces; the course is true to the original contours of the West Virginia hillside.  There is little relief on the greens, which run a little slower than typical greens but make up for it in size and slope. It is by far the shortest of the three courses but the par-4 8th hole and par-5 9th holes are a thousand yards of joy and pain.

Hole No. 6 at the Klieves course

The Klieves Course is a 6,800-yard, par-71 Arnold Palmer design that was completed in 2000. The design features broad fairways, mildly undulating greens and opportunities for heroics on short par-4’s, all the prototypical characteristics of modern resort golf courses. While some architects choose to torture and torment, Palmer courses put a premium on fun and this one is no exception. The par-5, 515 yard 6th is a great example of the risk/reward available without that challenges the resort golfer without the need to humiliate. The course is very well maintained tee to green, and you’ll want to keep a fully charged battery to take photos of the vistas from the elevated tee boxes.

Hole No. 13 at the Jones course

In my humble opinion, the true gem is the Robert Trent Jones course. The 7,004-yard, par-72 Course carries a healthy 75.1 rating/141 slope from the back tees. It utilizes a gorgeous piece of land that meanders across the West Virginia hills to give a mesmerizing collection of holes that are equal parts scenery and challenge. Both nines start from elevated tee boxes hitting down into valleys that offer classic risk/reward propositions. Usually I have no problem identifying a favorite hole or two, but on this course it’s difficult. Having said that, the stretch of No. 4 (par 3, 193 yards), No. 5 (par-5, 511 yards) and No. 6 (par-4, 420 yards) are among the best I have played anywhere as a show of nature’s beauty and the at of laying out a golf hole. And the four par 3’s are not the place to pic up an easy birdie. The only one less that 190 yards from the tips is the 158-yard 15th, which is protected by a small, undulating green. All in all, it’s a perfect representation of the genius of Robert Trent Jones.

The golf is good at Oglebay and the prices are better. You can get in 18 at the Oglebay courses for as little as $32…on the weekend. And when you’re not playing golf, you can take advantage of the myriad of outdoor sports activities, tour the Oglebay mansion, hit the spa or visit the Glass Museum on the property (I promise it’s a lot more interesting than it sounds). There’s a lot of great new golf resorts out there and that’s a good thing for the golf industry, but destinations like Oglebay prove that there’s a lot of life left in the old classics as well.

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