Lifetime On The Course: 20 Years of Golf

August 31, 2013

Today (Aug 31, 2013) marks my birthday and what I would call my 20th anniversary of “playing” the game of golf. It was 20 years ago today–on my ninth birthday–that my dad gave me my first “set” of clubs. It was a Northwestern Golf kids set which included a bulls-eye style putter, a driver and a 3-wood that I think had plastic as part of their crowns and probably were no bigger than a very small hybrid by today’s standards, as well as a 3-iron, 5-iron, 7-iron, and 9-iron (because a kid with a 45-mph swing speed needs a 3-iron, right?). Once I had gotten into my teens, my father actually sold that set–much to my chagrin, as now I have a small child and would love to have been able to pass along the memories to him.

As I embark on my next 20 years of golf, it amazes me how much things have changed in the game. When I started, golf was a hobby taken up by generally upper-middle class white men–and that was basically it. I was one of the lucky few who, although not upper-class, was guided by a few well-meaning individuals in my life to start this beautiful game. None of them could play worth a spit, but that didn’t matter–they enjoyed the time. My Dad had the good sense not to try to teach me a golf swing; instead, he brought home magazines from work that I would spend hours reading and trying out all the “tips” within. Back then, irons were either blades or PINGs (or “clones”). Woods were actually made of wood. If you used the word “hybrid” on the golf course someone would’ve thought you were from outer space. Everyone had an Odyssey Rossie with the black face insert, and we were just finding out about this guy named Scotty Cameron.

Twenty years later, everything is different. Clubs are commodities to be replaced and resold year after year. People actually get financially invested in golf clubs–particularly putters–to the tune of multiple thousands of dollars. Where before the “long” hitters could bang it out there 275 yards, nowadays you’re a short knocker if you’re under 300. Most of the people I play with have never even heard the word “balata,” and if I talk about a spoon they’ll think it’s utensil to go with breakfast. The diversity of the game has changed too. We’ve seen an influx of all types of people who want to learn this game, and, to some degree, an outflow of those who either thought it wasn’t worth the time or wasn’t worth the money for the interest level–both of which are good for the game.

Through it all, what hasn’t changed is the meaning of the game. Twenty years after I got “my first set,” I still look forward to what a day on the course means. It’s a reprieve from what else life has going on. It’s a chance to get to know someone and see how that person deals with both success and adversity–as you will without a doubt see both in any round of golf. It’s a chance to test your own competitive skills while finding out if you can maintain your composure under fire. It’s a chance to do something you’ve never done before.

I still look forward to my rounds with the same people I had twenty years ago. Four hours on the course with Dad is still four hours well spent, no matter how many balls he deposits into the abyss of trees and water hazards. Four hours listening to Uncle Jimmy talk about what’s going on in each of his grandchildren’s lives is still a priceless experience. Even playing a scramble here and then, I still think back to the 2-day scramble tournament my father and I would drive 9-hours to get to–and the year I was FINALLY allowed to play in it and, as the B-player, became the team’s anchor (over the A-player) by the 5th hole.

For all the time, money, energy, effort, and soul I’ve given to the game, it’s given me so much more than I’ve put in. Not only has it given me two jobs–one perhaps my dream job–it has given me a sense of how the world operates, an ability to interact and connect with others, and a lifetime of memories. There was any of the 5 aces that I’ve hit (will be covered in a later topic on this series), the magic 4-iron, the 8-iron through the window in the sky, or the 385-yard drive. There was Pebble Beach, Glen Abbey, Wolf Creek (and again, again, and again until I FINALLY broke 80!), Torrey, and Lake Chabot. There was Meadow Lane and Indiana Country Club with Unk and Nay. The was Atlanta International, Southland, and how Korean Air destroyed them. There was a best friend who broke two hosels in the same round, and another best friend who dared a bit too much during a range session. There was a broken ankle, a broken collar bone, and a scratched thumb. There was even a full-on threat to “beat you into the ground” from a muscular Jamaican wielding a 3-iron over his head.

For all the places life has taken me, golf has been there. I’m thankful for the time it’s given me and the joy I’ve received. I can’t wait to show my kids what the game is about.

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One Response to “Lifetime On The Course: 20 Years of Golf”

  1. Slade Says:

    That was great! I loved the references to Northwestern clubs and balata balls! It made me recall my memories as well! Nice article.


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