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Golf doesn’t have to be what you see on TV

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Enjoying a round at the Dormie Club during the Ringer. Photo Credit: Scott Arden

“Golf is a game, and talk and discussion is all to the interests of the game. Anything that keeps the game alive and prevents us being bored with it is an advantage. Anything that makes us think about it, talk about it, and dream about it is all to the good and prevents the game becoming dead.” -Alister MacKenzie

Easily my favorite golf quote of all time. One that encourages progress though critical thought and civil discourse.  One that, when pondered a few times throughout a golfer’s season (or career), offers a much-needed gut check and a window into his or her soul.

What really keeps the game alive for you?  What keeps you thinking about it, talking about it, and dreaming about it?  What gives you that burning desire to peg it up on Saturdays?  Is it a chance to hang out with the guys for a couple hours?  A chance to cross a course off your bucket list?  A chance to shoot a new career low and impress your boss?

As golfers of a certain climate enter our offseason, it offers a much-needed time to reflect and reset.  Maybe you’ve been on a massive hot streak recently and your enjoyment of the game has never been higher.  Good for you!  If you’ve found your sweet spot with the game of golf, this piece is in no way intended to sway you from it.

17th hole at Dormie Club. Photo credit: Scott Arden

What I do find important, though, is that we use our offseason to discuss the reality all of us know too well: that there are millions of golfers in this world, yet only a very small fraction of us will ever earn a living playing it.  If you’ve found yourself in a place where you’ve grown tired of obsessing over your score, perseverating on driver shaft options, or pontificating about wedge spin rates, maybe it’s time to hit the proverbial pause button and remind yourself of the following:

Golf doesn’t have to be what you see on TV.

Of course, we all admire the professional game (as we should), but the truth is that golf is a pastime for the vast majority of us, not a career.  The point of any hobby, game, or activity you might participate in regularly is to enjoy the process of performing that activity.  And it’s through that enjoyment that we keep on going.  Sure, it’s easy to enjoy golf when you play well and if given the choice, we would all prefer to shoot lower scores (myself included).  But I would also contend that maximum enjoyment need not be directly linked to a minimization of score.  In some cases, that can be a good way to suck all the fun out of it.

This time last year, I was a bona fide head case. Constantly frustrated with my score, contemplating swing fixes, and tweaking clubs. Two-way misses and chipping yips are not a recipe for pleasant trips to the course I can assure you, but if we’re being honest with each other, we’ve all been there at some point. Also at that time, I tweeted out my goals for 2019. I am unusually proud to say I achieved none of the score-related goals, yet 2019 is arguably my best year in golf.

I played in a hickory tournament. I hosted a persimmon and blade tournament. I played barefoot. I played with as few as four clubs in the bag. I even played the forward tees. More than once. I played without keeping score several times. I befriended a ton of other likeminded golfers who enhance my appreciation for the game. Some are better players than me and some aren’t. Not that any of us care. I found so many mini-experiences within the game of golf that have lit up the proverbial kid in me and I’m infinitely better for it.

Hickory club trophies at the Ringer. Photo credit: Scott Arden.

Harvey Penick’s “The Little Red Book” is an annual read for me, usually around this time of year.  It’s full of so much timeless wisdom that I somehow seem to pull little nuances out of it every time.  His equally valuable follow-up book “The Game for a Lifetime” contains an anecdote from Harvey’s notes titled “Have Fun,” which beautifully illustrates what I’m trying to get across.

“When I say to have fun on the golf course, what I mean is to take pleasure in the game and in your companions and your surroundings.  Whether you are at Pebble Beach or pulling your trolley at Rancho Park, be mindful that you are in a special place.  Be aware of the trees and the sky and the feel of the earth under your feet.  Listen to the byplay of your companions. Breathe deeply.  Forget the stock market.  Enjoy yourself fully while you are inside the boundaries of the golf course, a world of its own…I believe playing golf can bring you happiness…It’s perfectly okay to play just for the love of the game…Put your mind at ease at the golf course and have fun.  Golf is a game for everyone, not just for the talented few.”

If we’re being honest with each other, I think we all need that reality check from time to time.  Yes, you should work on your swing, practice your short game, and try to shoot the best scores you can.  But the truth is golf is so much bigger than a number on a scorecard.  I suppose if you really wanted, you could distill this entire piece into a mere seven words that Patrick Boyd of Scratch Golf and National Custom Works fame is often keen to say on his Instagram feed:

“Do what makes you love golf.  Period.”

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Peter Schmitt is an avid golfer trying to get better every day, the definition of which changes relatively frequently. He believes that first and foremost, golf should be an enjoyable experience. Always. Peter is a former Marine and a full-time mechanical engineer (outside of the golf industry). He lives in Lexington, KY with his wife and two young kids. "What other people may find in poetry or art museums, I find in the flight of a good drive." -Arnold Palmer

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. James

    Jan 13, 2020 at 9:39 pm

    I tend to play focused and go for the lowest score. I see nothing except for the path to scoring. One time on a par 5 in Hawaii, that rambles up a valley toward the mountains I discovered a thin little snail trail through the morning dew on the fairway. Out of curiosity I followed that sucker off the fairway, through the rough, through the woods, down to a gurgling little creek I had never seen nor heard before… and found the trailmaker himself. It was a defining moment and now I try to see and feel the course itself, revel in the nature of things… and keep my score intact.

  2. dave

    Jan 13, 2020 at 12:10 pm

    Played regular weekend round on Saturday in 40F with 20+ mph winds with 7 clubs in the bag (D, 3W, 22h, 6, 8, SW, P)…and played to my 10 hcp. FUN

  3. 2putttom

    Jan 12, 2020 at 12:35 pm

    I keep repeating the lyrics. I’m not as good as I was once was, I’m as good once as I ever was. So I spend time noticing things I used to walk by while waiting for my playing partner to hit the next shot. Beautiful game played in beautiful environment.

  4. MPC

    Jan 12, 2020 at 8:12 am

    There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the grind of getting better. It can be very rewarding. You don’t have to stop and smell the roses on the course. Some people prefer to reflect on life off the course.

    So many preachy golfers out there. Let everyone enjoy the game however they choose. Some peoples escape is grinding and lowering their score. Nothing wrong with that.

  5. Richey

    Jan 11, 2020 at 8:27 pm

    For 7 years 3 or 4 some we have played “Scramble” best ball almost every Tuesday. Sure it has ruined my club game but the fun is well worth it. We call it no one wants to play their own ball anymore and we all want to put our hands on ball before every shot. We play fast, never hold anyone up and are all happy to head for Lunch in 3.5 hours or less each Tuesday. All being over 65 this is the perfect way to enjoy a round with friends…we also let the one hitting approach shot the closet put for a Quarter…made a dollar once…

  6. Speedy

    Jan 11, 2020 at 7:11 pm

    1. Play fast
    2. No fish stories, just tell it like it is.

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