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Opinion & Analysis

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done for golf?

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Golf, like many hobbies, can drive people to do some crazy things—whether it be to play a course on your bucket list, purchase a club you’ve been looking for, or drop everything just to play with your buddies.

As a purely self-diagnosed golf junkie, I have gone out of my way to do all of these things on many occasions, and I have a feeling a lot of others here have some stories to tell similar to these.

The Long Trip

Let me start by saying that I’m not a “Bag Tag Barry” or really a bucket list course kinda guy. Yes, I have courses I want to play, but at the moment the highest on the list starts and ends with the Old Course at St. Andrews – because, simple – it’s St. Andrews. Beyond that, my “hoping to play” list pretty much the standard classics.

But it doesn’t mean that I haven’t gone WAY out of my way to play, especially when you think about the recent 1600-plus mile journey I just took to Sweetens Cove to play in the First Annual “Oil Hardened Classic” run by Eternal Summer Golf Society.

Sweetens has been on my radar since I first heard about it, and if you are at all interested in course architecture I’m sure it has been on your radar for a while too – great piece on it here from WRX Featured Writer Peter Schmitt (You’ve Never played Anything like Sweetens Cove).

Sweetens Cove

When I first heard of this event, I knew it was something I HAD to do. I’ve been playing persimmon clubs (not to be confused will full hickory) for a couple of years now and in case I haven’t made it clear in the past—I love blade irons. To be able to play with a bunch of other “golf sickos” made this something I really wanted to do, and to let you in on a little secret I’ve been hiding for a while, before this I had never done a real “golf trip” before.

Problem: Being in the Great White North puts me a long ways away from South Pittsburg, TN and a golf trip like this with air travel and a rental car was out of the question. So what’s the next best thing? load the car up with a bunch of old wooden clubs, some blades, three golf bags, lots of balls, gloves, enough clothes for a few days, a cooler, and a passport: BOOM my first golf trip.

I-75 was my route for an entire day. 14 hours total with stops: It was an easy drive to Chattanooga, where I filled up on BBQ and stayed the night. From there, it was a simple 40-minute drive over in the morning and with Sweetens Cove in Central Time (just across the line, I should add), I even got a much appreciated extra hour of sleep. The golf course was ours for the whole day and beyond the for fun scheduled matches it was a playground. Groups of 12 people playing the same hole, three-club mini loops, trying out impossible putts on the rolling greens—we did it all.

A few years ago, if you had told me I would drive 28 hours round trip to endlessly loop a 9-hole golf course with persimmon clubs and a bunch of “strangers,” I would have probably called you a total idiot. Now, I can’t imagine not doing it again.

Speaking of long golf trips, how does a 2,700-plus mile round trip to play Cabot Links and Cliffs Sound?

It started with an already planned two-week road trip, Toronto, Boston (to see Fenway), Portland, Halifax then finally to Inverness, Nova Scotia home of Cabot Links—and at the time, only open for “lottery bookers” and resort guests Cabot Cliffs. We had times booked for the links course but Cliffs was another story. Since I’m not one to take no for an answer, and although staying at the resort was well beyond our road-tripping budget, I had a little tip that if you call very early the day you are hoping to play they could potentially find spots for players when resorts guests cancel. Cliffs was still under preview play and tee times were 20 minutes apart so the chances we’re slim but a 5 a.m. alarm and some not-so-subtle begging and bartering got my wife and I an afternoon tee time on the best new course in the world!

It was an amazing experience made even better by the beautiful weather and fun we had that day. I have, still to this day, never had an experience like that on a golf course.

The Must-Have Wedges

I’m an obsessive club collector and builder. There I said it. Not only do I love clubs, but I love the idea of making things, or taking things that are considered less desirable and making them better than ever before.

This all stems from a piece I wrote this spring about a HUGE used club sale about an hour from where I live, Check it out here: Hunting Used Clubs at Fore Golfers Only

Although I did get some fantastic deals at “The Sale,” as the locals call it, there were a few wedges I could not get out of my head after visiting the accompanying retail store after the sale. As I was driving home, in a bit of a snow storm, I couldn’t help but think about the potential of the raw Nike Engage wedges I left behind. I wanted them for a number of reason including the fact that I hadn’t had the chance to work and grind on raw wedges in a while and these were the last Mike Taylor-designed Nike wedges before Nike decided to shut the doors and Artisan Golf was born.

By the time I realized I had to have them, it was already too late to drive back and they were closed, so first thing the next day, I called and asked if they 1) Still had the two exact wedges I remembered seeing  2) if they would hold them for me until the Monday morning after the sale—the only chance I would have to get back there in the next month. Why did I need them when snow was still on the ground? Because I’m a nut!

Monday rolled around, I got out of bed bright and early during another not-so-fun snowfall to shovel the driveway, gas up the car, and drive three hours round trip to pick up two rusty used, Nike Engage wedges for the grand total of $120. But when I finally got the chance to work my magic, it’s hard not to say the effort was worth it.

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Ryan Barath is part of the Digital Content Creation Team for GolfWRX. He hosts the "On Spec" Podcast on the GolfWRX Radio Network which focuses on discussing everything golf, including gear, technology, fitting, and course architecture. He is a club-fitter & master club builder with more than 17 years of experience working with golfers of all skill levels, including PGA Tour players. He is the former Build Shop Manager & Social Media Coordinator for Modern Golf. He now works independently from his home shop and is a member of advisory panels to a select number of golf equipment manufacturers. You can find Ryan on Twitter and Instagram where he's always willing to chat golf, and share his passion for club building, course architecture and wedge grinding.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Chris

    Sep 19, 2019 at 4:24 pm

    I drove 6 hours each way on Sunday of the 2016 PGA Championship at Baltusrol. Got tickets that morning and even with the impending rainstorm that was predicted we trecked out at 3 am and returned home at 2 am that Monday. We got a spot on the 18th green. Was totally worth it just to see Jason Day’s eagle. It was the first major I had attended and it only makes me want to go back every time I think about it. It also puts the Lower Course at Baltusrol on the top of my wishlist.

  2. MattStrube

    Sep 19, 2019 at 1:53 pm

    Ryan, those wedges look sick…what finish is that? They look so different from when you got them.

  3. Aaron Long

    Sep 18, 2019 at 9:48 am

    You guys should definitely check out this Sweetens Cove video!!!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o5jyGxrPb74

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Opinion & Analysis

Barney Adams: Why we play golf

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I played golf the other day with friends. COVID-19 restrictions, but we got out. They will attest that I stunk, but that isn’t news or the basis for this piece.

Normally that kind of golfing experience has me in borderline depression searching for a swing change that I know will allow me to play at my fantasy level. What was remarkably different was the pleasure. Being outside, sunshine, fresh air, joking with friends, enduring the glares from my partner. It was four hours that were singular in their positivity made more so by the daily media barrage of doom and being essentially quarantined for all other activities.

To start, one of the great things about golf is when you play, it requires total concentration—world events, personal issues are put on hold. You see, golf isn’t fun, it’s hard and that element is what brings us joy no matter how small our victories.

I’ve played the game for some 70 years and studied it for 40, working in the industry. One of my favorite exercises over the years has been to ask someone who played recently to describe their best shot of their previous round. Immediate answers flow accompanied by a smile or whimsical expression. Whether it’s a tee shot, a chip, putt, it’s a moment of slaying the dragon. And this is golf. Not an 18 or even 9-hole score—one shot, immediate recall and the reason to play again.

We find ourselves today bordering on panic—daily feeds from the media, warning us, frightening us. For those who play the game, it is a needed respite. There have been some articles, and I’m sure more coming, about what will happen in the distant morning. Massive unemployment, lost wages, and crashing investment portfolios, a small sample. Sadly, the media is going to have bad news to emphasize for months to come and there is no question that some of the collateral damage will be human lives and financial well-being.

It’s easy to sit and critique humans making decisions. But when asked the question about affecting lives now or in the future, it’s way more complex. Political expediency focuses on the now knowing there will be a pivot down the road.

What does all this have to do with golf? The game provides an instant middle ground. People can have four hours in the sun and fresh air and the difficulty involved forces them to temporarily shelve daily tribulations. Even with reduced course services as a precaution, just the chance to go to bed at night knowing the weather looks great and you can escape to the course for a few hours…it’s something that brightens one’s outlook.

So, I’m championing the playing of golf, while accepting various related restrictions. I’m championing a few hours where we can forget the drama, the panic, and get our butts kicked by a little white ball. And when done, we’ll make arrangements to play again.

Oh yes, now that the internet is overflowing with tips from golf teaching experts, I really need to play, because I have this new move that is guaranteed, guaranteed, to produce 12 more yards off the tee. You see, it all has to do with the position of the shaft vs. the left knee and…

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Opinion & Analysis

Everyone sucks at golf sometimes

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“Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an even smaller hole, with tools singularly ill-designed for the purpose.”

This quote dates back over 100 years, and has been credited to a number of people through history including Winston Churchill and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. Although the game and the tools have changed a lot in 100 years, this quote remains timeless because golf is inherently difficult, and is impossible to master, which is exactly what also makes it so endearing to those that play it.

No matter how hard we practice, or how much time we spend trying to improve there will inevitably be times when we will suck at golf. Just like with other aspects of the game the idea of “sucking” will vary based on your skillset, but a PGA Tour player can hit a hosel rocket shank just as well as a 25 handicap. As Tom Brady proved this past weekend, any golfer can have a bad day, but even during a poor round of golf there are glimmers of hope—like a holed-out wedge, even if it is followed by having your pants rip out on live TV.

I distinctly remember one time during a broadcast when Chris DiMarco hit a poor iron shot on a par 3 and the microphone caught hit exclaim “Come on Chris, you’re hitting it like a 4 handicap out here today” – the shot just barely caught the right side of the green and I imagine a lot of higher handicap golfers said to themselves ” I’d love to hit it like a 4 handicap!”. This is just one example of the expectations we put on ourselves even when most golfers will admit to playing their best when expectations are thrown out the window.

– Gary Larson

Dr. Bob Rotella says golf is not a game of perfect, and that’s totally ok. The game is about the constant pursuit of improvement, not perfection and with that in mind there are going to be days when no matter what we just suck.

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Opinion & Analysis

By definition, there will be no 2020 U.S. Open. Here’s why the USGA should reconsider

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In 1942, the USGA decided to cancel the U.S. Open because it was scheduled so soon after U.S. entry into WWII.  They did this out of respect for the nation and those called to war. There was a Championship however called The Hale America National Open Golf Tournament, which was contested at Chicago’s  Ridgemoor Country Club. It was a great distraction from the horror of war and raised money for the great cause.

All the top players of the era (except Sam Snead) played, and the organizers (USGA, Chicago Golf Association, and the PGA of America) did hold qualifying at some 70 sites around the country. So effectively, it was the 1942 U.S. Open—but the USGA never recognized it as such. They labeled it a “wartime effort to raise money” for the cause.  Their objection to it being the official U.S. Open was never clear, although the sub-standard Ridgemoor course (a veritable birdie fest) was certainly part of it.

The USGA co-sponsored the event but did not host it at one of their premier venues, where they typically set the golf course up unusually difficult to test the best players. Anyway, Ben Hogan won the event and many thought this should have counted as his fifth U.S. Open win. The USGA disagreed. That debate may never be settled in golfer’s minds.

Ahead to the 1964 U.S. Open…Ken Venturi, the eventual winner, qualified to play in the tournament. His game at the time was a shell of what it was just a few years earlier, but Kenny caught lighting in a bottle, got through both stages of qualifying, and realized his lifelong dream of winning the U.S. Open at Congressional.

Ahead to the 1969 U.S. Open…Orville Moody, a former army sergeant had been playing the PGA Tour for two years with moderate success-at best. But the golfing gods shone brightly upon “sarge” through both stages of qualifying, and the tournament, as he too realized the dream of a lifetime in Houston.

Ahead to 2009 U.S. Open…Lucas Glover was the 71st ranked player in the world and had never made the cut in his three previous U.S. Opens. But he did get through the final stage of qualifying and went on to win the title at Bethpage in New York.

Ahead to 2020…The USGA has decided to postpone the event this year to September because of the Covid-19 virus. This was for the fear of the global pandemic. But this year there is a fundamental difference—the USGA has announced there will be no qualifying for the event. It will be an exempt-only event. By doing so, the event loses it status as an “open event,” by definition.

This is more than a slight difference in semantics.

The U.S. Open, our national championship, is the crown jewel of all USGA events for many reasons, not the least of which is that it is just that: open. Granted, the likelihood of a club professional or a highly-ranked amateur winning the event—or even making the cut—is slim, but that misses the point: they have been stripped of their chance to do so, and have thereby lost a perhaps once in a lifetime opportunity to realize something they have worked for their whole lives. Although I respect the decision from a  health perspective, golf is being played now across the country, (The Match and Driving Relief—apparently safely)

So, what to do? I believe it would be possible to have one-day 36-hole qualifiers (complete with social distancing regulations) all over the country to open the field. Perhaps, the current health crisis limits the opportunity to hold the qualifiers at the normally premier qualifying sites around the country but, as always, everyone is playing the same course and is at least given the chance to play in tournament.

In light of the recent “opening” of the country, I am asking that the USGA reconsider the decision.

 

featured image modified from USGA image

 

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