It’s easy to forget the object of the game of golf. It’s not perfect mechanics. It’s not 300 yard drives. It’s not money, FedEx points, trophies, or the latest greatest equipment. It’s not handicap indexes to playing from the tips. Every one of these things is a part of today’s golf, but none of them is the object of the game. The object of the game of golf is to get the ball in the hole – in the fewest strokes possible, ideally while having as much fun as possible. Not coincidentally, there is nothing more fun than watching the ball drop in the hole. The farther away one is, the greater the fun. There is so much that goes into achieving that objective, and so much wrapped around it in today’s golf culture, that the point is sometimes lost.
I was reminded of the object of the game in a recent conversation with my coach, Scott Baines. I was seeking advice on how to help a friend who wanted to start playing. Scott’s initial response was, “Tell him to get a wedge and putter, and spend the first year learning how to get the ball in the hole.” His statement surprised me into awareness of memories of how I learned the game. The first club I picked up as an 8-year old was a putter. My dad took me to the putting green and taught me to get the ball in the hole. As I improved, we had putting contests. The next club I got was a sawed-off 9 iron. He took me to the course when he played with my grandfather. I got to drop my ball 50 yards from the green and play it all the way into the hole. The more competent I became, the more clubs I got and the farther out I got to start. By the time my parents set up my first lesson, I already knew well the object of the game – I had been getting the ball in the hole for years.
To reinforce the premium on short shots, my caddie friends and I set up chipping courses at our homes and at the club, and we played with every free moment. Whiffle balls, tennis balls, golf balls, it didn’t matter. We had our clubs out and we were playing mini matches practicing getting the ball in the hole.
My sons are 4 and 12, and I am teaching them the game the same way. We hit the links at the local putt putt courses every chance we get. We celebrate holes-in-one with a “booty dance”. My little guy exclaims “Win!” after every putt is made, regardless of the total score. We don’t correct him, because in the purest sense, he is right. We took a further step one day when I came out of the house to find them chipping around the front yard. Deciding that it was time for them to discover the wonder that is a chipping course, I installed a hole in the corner of the yard (using the cup from my wife’s immersion blender – oops). We can be found out there most evenings getting in 9 or 18, or more. Always, the ball goes into the hole before moving on to the next one, and we give kudos for every made shot. In these small ways, my boys are learning the joy of the game.
While I teach them, I am reminded of why golf grabbed my attention when I was a kid. Although an easy argument could be made that golf’s stewards (developers, pros, equipment manufacturers) have strayed from the game’s roots of fun and perhaps even lost sight of it’s object, there are signs that I am not the only one making this re-discovery. Many courses have expanded their short game areas and still more now include additional forward tees, in support of the TEE IT FORWARD initiative of the PGA and USGA. Even better, on a recent trip to the Bandon Dunes resort, I was delighted to find three attractions that are often left out of the reviews focused on the 4 Top-100 courses on site:
- The Shorty’s course is a practice course laid out by David McLay Kidd within the practice area. It is comprised of nine par 3s. It is a place to go “play around”, have fun and get warmed up for the golf ahead by getting accustomed to holing shots on the Bandon terrain. And if one sneaks out to Shorty’s late in the day, cross-country golf is also a max-fun option. No set par for a hole, just pick a green and the person with the lowest score wins.
- The Punchbowl is an enormous, undulating putting course designed by Tom Doak and Jim Urbina. Even as a kid, I doubt that I could have dreamt up a golf adventure that was more fun (and I spent many an hour doodling and trying).
- Bandon Preserve is a thirteen hole par 3 course designed by Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw. Playing this course was by far the most fun I had at Bandon (in spite of the fact that I played well to shoot 72, 74, 74, 76 on the “Big 4”), and it might have been my favorite course. Plenty of challenge, but not too hard that an average player can’t meet the objective of getting the ball in the hole in a reasonable number of strokes.
When I am asked about Bandon Dunes Resort, I give the 4 courses glowing reviews – they deserve the accolades. But what really sets Bandon apart, I tell my questioners, are the “Little 3”. They are unique (for now), and they maximize the joy of the Bandon experience by bringing golf back down to its basics. When they are older, if they are still playing the game, I will take my boys to Bandon Dunes. I will take them not just because of the courses – there are great courses all over of the country, and the world. I will take them because Bandon knows how to maximize fun for its guests. And I know that, when we go, my boys will be ready to take on Bandon’s challenges because they are learning well how to achieve golf’s primary objective – get the ball in the hole, and have fun while you’re at it.