GOLF – MY FAVORITE OUTDOOR ACTIVITY
WHY GOLF IS GROWING IN POPULARITY
Ever wonder why golf is growing in popularity
and people who don't even play go to tournaments or watch it on TV? These
truisms may shed light on reasons why.
You can watch the best golfers in the world up close, at any tournament, including the majors, all day, every day for $25 or $30. The cost for a seat in the nosebleed section at the Super Bowl will cost around $300 or more. You can bring a picnic lunch to the tournament golf course, watch the best in the world and not spend a small fortune on food and drink. Try that at one of the taxpayer funded baseball or football stadiums. I brought a Coke into Oriole Park at Camden Yards last year, and an usher came to my seat and told me I had to dispose of it, or I would not be allowed to stay in the stadium.
In golf you cannot fail 70% of the time and make $9 million a season, like the best baseball hitters (300 batting average) do. Golf doesn't change its rules to attract Fans. Golfers have to adapt to an entirely new playing area each week. Golfers keep their clothes on while they are being interviewed. Golf doesn't have free agency. In their prime, Greg Norman, Arnold Palmer and other stars, would shake your hand and say they were happy to meet you. In his prime Jose Canseco wore T-shirts that read "Leave Me Alone."
You can hear birds chirping on the golf course during a tournament. Ladies are welcome players. At a golf tournament, (unlike at taxpayer-funded sports stadiums and arenas) you won't hear a steady stream of four letter words and nasty name calling while you're hoping that no one spills beer on you. Tiger Woods can hit a golf ball three times as far as Barry Bonds can hit a baseball. Golf Courses don't ruin the neighborhood.
This is a slice of golf history I thought you
might enjoy. I never knew why there were 18 holes before this. Why do
full-length golf courses have 18 holes, and not 20, or 10 or an even dozen? How
many of you golfers know the
"THE FEARSOME FIVESOME" – The "Table Guys" from the Senior Golf Association of Atlanta. From top: Byron C. "Pat" Patterson, "Father" Frank Coughlin. Luther "Mac" McAlister, Ray "Old ‘n Slo" Gardner, and Bill "Straight Hitter" Porch. Picture taken at 8 a.m. looking down from clubhouse toward first tee at The Trophy Club.
"SGAA MEMBER-GUEST" – BILOXI, MS – (l to r) Gene "The Machine" Lopez, "Rapid" Rodney Rasnick, "Old ‘n Slo" Ray Gardner and "Father" Frank Coughlin. We shot a blazing 69 on the Mississippi National Golf Course and managed a 10th place finish! Hard to tell in picture but Mac discovered an orphaned baby egret which was adopted by three ducks. When anyone came near the egret (which you can barely see through the leaves on the right) the ducks would surround the baby bird and not allow anyone to approach. Nature at its very best!
"DOES ANYONE KNOW WHERE RODNEY CAN GET A DECENT VEGETARIAN MEAL?" Mac made this shot at sunset from high atop the Imperial Palace Hotel & Casino, looking out over the bay. No need to identify the two dudes in the upper left-hand corner. They’re just waiting for daylight and the next tee time! For any golf enthusiast who wishes to visit the Biloxi area, take a lot of money with you and be sure to play the new Davis Love III course off US 90. It’s called "Shell Landing" – a good test of golf with huge, undulating greens that seemed like about a 16 on the Stimpmeter.
|But the best part of Shell Landing…be sure to introduce yourself to the lovely Bonnie who drives the beverage cart. They don’t come any nicer or better looking than this young lady! She almost makes the $80 green fee worth the price.|
Looking back on a very good life, some of my fondest memories have occurred while attempting to get a white 1.68" sphere into thousands of 4.5" wide by 6" deep holes literally all over the world. My ever-increasing love-affair (which some call an addiction) began innocently enough in 1940. Back in those days most cities were divided up into streets and behind the houses were alleys where trashcans were placed and your garbage collected out of sight of the general populace. While riding my bicycle down the alley between Rembrandt and Montcalm streets on the northwest side of Indianapolis I found an old rusty 7 iron which someone had discarded. Maurice Feeney, a local PGA Professional, owned a driving range some four blocks from our house and I used to ride over there and watch he and other adults hit old golf balls out onto a field that he rented from the Indianapolis Water Company. Maurice was always looking for kids who didn’t mind risking life and limb to walk all over this huge field and pick up golf balls using tin cans affixed to an old golf shaft. A few other guys and me used to make two-and-a-half cents for retrieving a small bucket; and a whole five cents for a large one.
After a couple of summers of being the only one of us willing to keep doing this and lucky enough to have only been hit a couple of times, Feeney trusted me to stay in the small shack and dispense range balls to customers while he played local matches around Indy in the afternoons. Maurey also repaired and made golf clubs so I learned a lot about equipment and how to wrap whipping around the persimmon club heads where they attached to the shaft as well as how to re-grip clubs with new leather. This was long before Eaton and the others came up with the one-piece rubber grips. All irons in those early days were forged and it would be quite some time before investment-cast club heads would become available.
BEN HOGAN & "POWER GOLF"
While Horace Turner – one of my best friends and next-door neighbor for years – played baseball and other team sports, I preferred doing things I could enjoy by myself and golf fit into my aspirations better than anything else. I began following the exploits of the professional golfers and the tournaments they played around the country which were reported in the sport’s sections of the Indianapolis Star and Times. Every kid who ever picked up a golf club knew about the exploits of the greatest amateur player the world had ever seen – Robert Tyre Jones – and most of us aspired to copy his style of play. We all enjoyed seeing the old black and white instructional movies Bobby Jones made which were shown at the local movie theaters before the MovieTone news reels and the weekly serial cowboy films from Gene Autry, Tom Mix and Roy Rogers were projected on the large screen.
It wasn’t long before we began reading about golfing exploits of the great Byron Nelson, Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, "Slammin’ Sammy" Snead, and "Bantam Ben" Hogan. Golf generally appeared on the back pages of the sports section and usually not much was reported unless it was some type of national tournament such as the British or United States Open, the PGA and Bobby Jones own tournament to which he invited the "Masters" of the game. Later we loved reading about the Bing Crosby "Clambakes" which he hosted at world-famous Pebble Beach on the Monterey Peninsula some 75 miles south of San Francisco. That seems so far away at the time but we eventually got to play it several decades later.
Ben Hogan’s first book, "Power Golf" was published and I bought one of the first copies to hit the bookshelves. I believe that later on the book was re-titled "Five Fundamentals of Golf." The illustrations were beautiful pen and ink drawings. I read it from cover to cover many times. When Mr. Feeney would go meet his buddies for a match at Meridian Hills Country Club, I’d prop Ben’s book against the small wooden wall which separated the hitting areas and bang hundreds of balls as I tried to copy Ben’s flawless swing. It took awhile but I was finally able to keep my left arm very straight and pronate the wrists as he so strongly advocated in his instructions. Needless to say I never mastered it to the degree to which he played the game, but the method has served me well for nearly sixty years. I finally broke 100 in 1947; 90 in 1949 and stayed in the 80’s throughout my years in high school and a couple of years in college before Uncle Sam wiggled his forefinger, drafting me into the U.S. Army for a two-year hitch.
GOLF AROUND THE WORLD
After a couple of years of youthful attempts at developing some type of repeating golf swing and gathering a small carry bag of a few used clubs given to me by Mr. Feeney, I hopped on the bicycle and rode a couple of miles to nearby South Grove municipal golf course. To give you an idea how long ago this was, greens fees for junior golfers was 25 cents for 18 holes and a season pass, allowing play every day it wasn’t sub-freezing, was an astounding $13/year. On the first tee was a small wooden shed where a crusty old starter took your ticket and stamped it with the time. You had to be finished in no more than three-and-a-half hours to four hours. If you held up play, a ranger would make you step aside to let faster players go through. This was the age of "polite play." If you were on a par three green, it was understood that you waved the group on the tee to hit to the green before you putted. The same courtesy was extended on par five holes and you invited the group in the fairway to hit their third shot before the group on the green putted out and went to the next tee. This was rare because only on the weekends were there enough players to fill up the course and it would be another decade
before Arnold Palmer and occasional black and white television coverage would entice millions more to take up the game. After that golf started it’s downward spiral from the "golden age" of inexpensive rounds played in three hours or less to what it is today…extremely overpriced and ridiculously slow!
Back in those halcyon "glory days" there were no carts…no cart paths…and "cow-pasture pool" was truly enjoyable. We carried our clubs and walked. In 1999 I visited my old hometown of Indianapolis and went by South Grove to play 18 holes. It was still the same wonderful course – with one quite large exception. The small trees that were planted during the spring of 1949 were huge and parts of the course seemed to be forest. It was truly spectacular and brought a flood of memories to this old brain!
My parents provided for my sister and I well but there never seemed to be excess cash for anything other than basic necessities. As a consequence, coming from the "poorer side of the tracks," I was relegated to playing the municipal courses. Never a part of the country club set, I wasn’t invited to play on the high school golf team. One kid who attended the same grammar school was Scott Teal who was an excellent golfer even at an early age. I often wondered if he finally got a job as a pro after school. Shortly after graduation from Shortridge High School I went off to college for a year or so before being drafted. (If you’re an AARP member you can read about our graduating class in the May-June 2001 issue of Modern Maturity. The article was written by class member Dan Wakefield. Our "claim to fame" was Richard Lugar who went on to become Mayor of Indianapolis and finally the democratic representative from Indiana in the U.S. Senate in Washington, D.C.).
While in the Army my parents moved to a small house on the east side of town. Golf more-or-less sat on the back burner for awhile, but I did get to play at several places in Alabama during weekend passes while in basic training. Also enjoyed teeing it up at a few places overseas. While stationed in Seoul, Korea after the truce had been signed, we hacked it around a few holes of the bombed out Seoul Country Club. Later, while on R & R in Tokyo, I managed to play a course on an Army base. When I returned home I began to play at another municipal course by the name "Pleasant Run." It, too, was truly beautiful and a good test of golf.
Once a civilian again, one of the first purchases made was a new set of Hogan irons. The prices of everything had gone up rather dramatically so that’s when I decided to make a living teaching ballroom dancing. A few friends started getting together to make up a foursome for weekend play – especially early Sunday mornings. About that time I started playing a steel-centered ball by the brand name of First Flight and managed to win a few shekels from my playing partners. It wasn’t long before I thought I might be good enough to enter some local competitions and perhaps even the qualifying rounds for the U.S. Amateur. That’s when you truly find out whether you can play decently. I rarely won local competitions and never made it past the first round of match play. It really didn’t matter because I just loved playing golf. I also found out that it’s not a good idea to place bets with people you don’t know! I lost more than my share of bucks to high rollers and made up my mind at age 23…play for fun and leave the gambling to the pros!
A DECADE WITH NO GOLF
There are few things in this life that hold enough of a fascination for me to give up the game of golf. In fact, the only thing I ever did that could make me stack my clubs in the corner of the garage was the incredible world of slot car racing. I won’t go into detail on that here. You can read all about that phase of my life on the other pages in this web site. But I did stop playing golf…from 1959 until nearly 1969. By that time I had relocated to Atlanta where the girls were gorgeous and the weather spectacular almost year-round. In fact, the first year I was here we played golf in short-sleeved shirts on Christmas day. Ahh…Paradise found!
TIME TO TEE IT UP AGAIN
By 1969 a bunch of us were traveling all over the place racing slot cars as factory team members for Champion. We were having a lot of fun but the golf wasn’t getting any better because a couple of fellows who liked to play weren’t getting in much practice with the sticks. I was having a great time hitting Atlanta nightspots and meeting dozens of lovely ladies. At a lounge on West Peachtree I met a super musician/entertainer by the name of Larry Mack (short for McManus). Turns out he was also an avid golfer and he invited me to join him for an 18-hole round at a very old course in the Atlanta area – Chastain Park. That’s about all it took…I knew I’d be back playing regularly before too long.
About this same time I took a part time job playing the piano at nights in a lounge where I met a super dude by the name of John "Buz" Rust. We were chatting one day over a cup of coffee and I was relating my disappointment at not having a regular golf game. He made the mistake of saying, "If you’ll teach me I’ll start playing." Thus began a long and enjoyable golf friendship that lasted for twenty years. Buz, along with a wild ‘n crazy dude by the name of Lewis McClure must have played virtually every course we could get onto in Atlanta and the surrounding counties. We also managed to do considerable traveling for the sole purpose of playing the world’s best yet most frustrating game. We made it to many courses that regularly are seen on national television programs of PGA Tour stops.
OVERRATED - OVERPRICED – OVERCROWDED
Opinions are like rear-ends…we all have one and this is mine. I’ve played Pebble Beach, Spyglass, Torrey Pines, Hilton Head, Turtle Bay Hilton, St. Andrews, and dozens of other "famous" tracks. Sorry folks…I wasn’t impressed. The heading of this chapter is how I feel about the current state of golf around the United States and the world. I have the utmost respect for "The King" and "The Bear" but the increasing television coverage of tournaments due to their ongoing rivalry on the links began to bring hundreds of thousands of new enthusiasts to the game. While that was tremendous welcome news to all the manufacturers of golf clubs and course architects and builders, the handwriting was clearly on the wall. Prices would be going up dramatically and the days of getting on a course for five bucks and off in less than five hours was in serious jeopardy. By ’85 both were true and for a while I seriously considered putting the clubs in the garage and going back to racing slot cars all the time.
SENIOR GOLF ASSOCIATION OF ATLANTA
I don’t remember exactly who it was that introduced several of us to a very nice golf course by the name of Little Mountain, but it came at just the right time because I gave up the idea of quitting the game I had played for forty years. Occasionally I would drive out there just to play the course because it was fairly easy, relatively short, and wasn’t too crowded. I’d still get a bit bent out of shape having to pay higher greens fees, but it costs so much to operate and keep golf courses maintained that it goes with the territory. On a fine spring day in 1993 I was paired with two very nice gentlemen and we enjoyed a leisurely but very quiet round. You see, both of them are deaf but sign very fast and read lips so we had no difficulty communicating. While on the third green I noticed one of them repairing a ball mark with a tool which had a nifty logo with the initials "SGAA." When I inquired what the letters stood for, he wrote down the name "Senior Golf Association" and said they were both members. I asked what was required to become a member and found that I met the requirements…was old enough and had the money to pay the initiation fee – all $25.
NICEST GROUP OF GUYS YOU’LL EVER MEET!
Six years ago I met several fellows I would like to have as friends for the rest of my life. At my first SGAA event it didn’t take long to find out if you wanted to play fast you had to play with the event organizers. This meant "working the table" and getting the event ready to go; then tally everything up at the end. So…the guys I was lucky enough to get with included Mr. Luther "Mac" McAlister; the retired former managing editor of the Atlanta Journal/Constitution. Mr. Frank Coughlin – who many of us call "Father Frank" because after he retired from the U.S. Navy where he flew fighter jets off aircraft carriers, he became heavily, ensconced in the local Catholic diocese. Mr. Byron "Pat" Patterson – who we call the Bionic Man for all his replacement hip and knee surgeries – is retired and now at age 75 one of the SGAA Emeritus Members. Pat isn’t able to play as often as he’d like and when he took breaks, Mr. Bill Porch came on board and is now the Monday tournament table captain and the rest of us help out. This means that on most days we get to be the first to tee off which means we can finish and get back into the clubhouse in under three-and-a-half hours.
To make the golf move along at a decent pace, the S.G.A.A. primarily stages what they call "dog fights" – during which you earn points for your play. The object is to do your best in order to be "plus" points by the end of the round. Points are awarded as follows: 2 points for par; 1 point for bogey; 4 for birdies; 8 for eagles; and 12 for aces/double eagles. To speed play and to prevent "sandbagging" (padding the handicap) players are to pick up and pocket the ball once double bogey has been reached. Throughout the year, scores are tabulated and players are rated "A" "B" "C" or "D" status and assigned a handicap and number of points to accumulate per round. Have a bad day and you end up in the minus column; have a good day and you’ll be "plus" points and share in the year-end prizes. In addition to the points, the par three holes are "flagged" for the, B, C, & D players and the closest to the pin on each of those
Is also awarded points. The highest in each category also wins additional points. At present my S.G.A.A. handicap is 7 and to get in the "plus" column, I have to average a minimum of 29 points per round. Occasionally, teams are paired, putting together ABC & D. players for "Lauderdale/Scramble" events. To win a team usually needs to be 8-10 under par. For three successive weeks in September the annual tournament is played with each participant allowed to play as many of the nine days they wish, but are allowed to count only the best three of the first four rounds posted. At the awards ceremony, trophies are awarded to both low net and low gross players in each category. For the past six years I’ve had the privilege of playing golf with nearly one hundred of the current 330 members of the S.G.A.A. I’ve also been exceptionally lucky to have won the annual tournament low net trophy on two occasions – 1997 and 1998. Probably won’t happen any more because there are some really good players who have joined in the past three years and a couple of them are nearly scratch players.
Because the weather in Atlanta is relatively mild year-round, when the spring/summer/fall season is over, one of the members put together "winter golf" for us and everyone owes a big "thank you!" to Lew Delameter. He was able to get us onto some good courses at close to the same discounted rates we enjoy during the summer months.
Cost is a divining factor for me because I simply couldn’t afford to play these really nice courses if we had to pay "full retail." As a member of the S.G.A.A., most courses charge us around $20-$25 green fees and this includes the riding cart. In addition, each player donates $3 per round to the prize fund that is divided up at year-end and paid out in grocery gift certificates. I’ve also been fortunate to get back a nice chunk every year in time to buy goodies for Christmas dinners.
By 2002 there’s a good chance I’ll be taking the golf clubs and moving to in central Florida. With any luck there should be new "digs" in a retirement community near Leesburg. If you plan to visit Orlando’s "Mouse Land" or "Universal" and want to get away from the kiddies for a few hours to tee it up, e-mail me and we’ll get a tee time at one of the local courses.
In the meantime, if you decide you’d really like to improve your golf game, let me suggest that you seriously consider a few ballroom dance lessons. Why? Golf is basically a game of balance, rhythm and timing…three things that are developed and honed on the dance floor. Good luck, and hope to see you soon – on the dance floor, the fairway or the slot car track.
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