Geeked on Golf

A Celebration of the People & Places that Make Golf the Greatest Game


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These are a Few of My Favorite Things

Meditation, gardening and golf have commonalities that draw me to them.

Over coffee, a friend was recently telling me about his new meditation practice.  He had experienced moments of real peace and quiet in his mind, and he was excited about continuing forward.  Having meditated over the years of my recovery, I felt the same peace.  But my experience of meditation has been much more varied than that, and not always so pleasant.

In a sense, meditation is the practice of creating conscious space.  Sometimes the practice works and the space stays open – hence the peace and quiet.  Other times, the space fills with buried memories and emotions.   At certain frustrating times, the space is nowhere to be found.  In meditation practice, there is no final destination, no mastery.  There is only the commitment to sit courageously and find out what the silence might bring.

“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” – Pema Chodron

Similarly, gardening has proven to be a much broader and deeper adventure than I originally anticipated.

When I purchased my home in 2006, the garden space was poorly designed and even more poorly kept.  I figured that I would cut some things down, move others around, and voila, have a beautiful garden.

The reality of creating a beautiful garden space in much messier and more demanding.  The soil, the plants, the weather, the seasons – they are highly dynamic and cannot be forced to do much of anything.  Every time I have been overly willful with my garden, it has taught me a lesson in humility.  Conversely, when I have brought my faithful attention, effort and creativity to it in a real sense of partnership, I am rewarded with the awe-inspiring beauty of nature.

Those moments of beauty are fleeting though.  The cycles of growth and death never end, and the garden constantly clamors for attention.  As in meditation, the garden cannot be mastered.  It can only be tended, and it responds to that tending as it chooses.

“Then there are those who plant.  They endure storms and all the many vicissitudes of the seasons, and they rarely rest.  But, unlike a building, a garden never stops growing.  And while it requires the gardener’s constant attention, it also allows life for the gardener to be a great adventure.” – Paulo Coelho

Any player who has ever tried to play the game of golf well knows the fundamental truth of the game.  Like meditation and gardening, there is no “final destination”.  It cannot be mastered, it can only be played.  In playing, one will experience the entire range of thoughts, emotions and results on the course.

Golf is demanding physically, mentally, emotionally and even spiritually.  To play and score well consistently, a player must work on all aspects of the game.  That work can often feel like a game of whack-a-mole with one aspect coming online, just in time for another to go haywire.

Nobody, including a glutton for punishment like myself, would play golf if there were no rewards though.  Golf’s rewards are magical.  Perhaps the most magical of all.  Like moments of true serenity in meditation, or winter giving way to the first blooms of spring, a well-planned and purely struck golf shot is a reward like few others.  Stick with the work of improving at the game, and those shots turn into rounds, and even longer stretches of pure bliss.  That is why I am willing to endure the ups and downs of the game.

“Golf is a game of mistakes and unpredictable fortune. If it were not, no one would ever miss a fairway, a green or a putt. On top of that, there would be no sudden gusts of wind, no unfortunate bounces, no imperfections in the turf. Every ball would go exactly where you wanted it to go, and the winning score in a golf tournament would be something like 50 strokes per round.

If you truly love golf, you must love the fact that no one shoots 50, that golf is an inherently imperfect game. If you spend your time fighting the fact that golf is a game of mistakes and trying to make it a game of perfect shots, you’re really saying that you don’t like golf. You want it to be some other game–billiards, maybe. No one has ever perfected golf–not Ben Hogan, not Jack Nicklaus, not Annika Sorenstam. I don’t believe anyone ever will.

Golfers who understand and love the game accept it rather than fight it. They realize the essence of golf is reacting well to inevitable mistakes and misfortunes. They know they can separate themselves from their competition not by perfecting their games but by constantly striving to improve. I tell players that if there’s one thing they should always be proud of in their games, it’s how well they react to mistakes. I tell them that they will never have complete control of the golf ball. But they can control their attitudes.” – Dr. Bob Rotella

In the final analysis, these things are not my favorites because they are nice or easy or even enjoyable at all times.  They are my favorites because they are hard.  In overcoming the challenges of practicing meditation, growing a garden, or playing golf, I experience a fuller reward than any easier pursuit could ever provide.


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Making It Right Is Alright With Me

Having been a leader of sales and customer service teams for years, I accept that no company services its customers perfectly all the time.  Certain situations are complicated and certain customers are difficult to please.  And to top it off, we all have moments and make mistakes.  Therefore, maintaining a standard of perfect service that always keeps customers happy is not possible.

Given the reality of imperfection, I have taught my teams for years that customer service issues are not to be avoided when they arise.  They are to be embraced, because they are an opportunity.  A great opportunity to promptly do what it takes to “Make It Right” with the customer.  What I have found is that after a customer has had their issue effectively addressed, the positive experience of the Make It Right response often outweighs the initial problem.

I was reminded of the Make It Right principle in a recent experience with Talking Stick Golf Club.  After nearly being eaten alive by mosquitos, I became increasingly frustrated (in direct proportion to the itchiness of the numerous bites) that I hadn’t been forewarned of the problem.  Being a business geek, I also wanted to see what they would do, so I decided to send this feedback note to the club General Manager:

Mr. Heideman,

As a Coore & Crenshaw devotee, the North Course at Talking Stick is one of my favorites.  My company is headquartered in Scottsdale, and I get out to play it whenever I am in town for business and have a few free hours.  I have played it 6+ times since discovering it last summer, and my experiences have generally been outstanding.

Unfortunately, today was different, and so I wanted to share my feedback with you.  Today, because of the unbelievably high number of mosquitos, the course was basically unplayable.  I gave it a try but even covered in repellant (which the beverage gal lent me on my 5th hole) and without stopping to putt, it was just too much.  I finally gave up after 13 holes.  I cannot recall having less fun playing golf.   

Obviously, there is nothing you can do about the interesting curve balls that mother nature throws.  However, while reflecting on the experience on my way back to my hotel, I couldn’t help but be disappointed and frustrated that neither the website reservation system, nor the pro shop, forewarned me about the playing conditions before taking my money.  Based on other conversations I had with staff, everyone was well aware of the problem.  

Honestly, even if they had told me, I’m not sure that I could have comprehended how bad the mosquitos are, so I likely would have played anyway.  But in retrospect, it would have been nice to have been given the information so that I could have made an informed choice.  And if I had subsequently gone out to play, at least the Talking Stick crew would have adjusted my expectations.

You might want to consider full disclosure with your future guests to avoid off-putting anyone else.  I love the course, so I will probably come back. But given today’s experience, my decision to do so will no longer be automatic.

Take care,

Jason Way

And to their credit, another manager from the club responded to me:

Mr. Way,

Thank you for your email regarding your recent experience at Talking Stick Golf Club.  We appreciate your comments regarding our North Course.

I apologize for the experience on Tuesday of this week.  Mother Nature dealt us a problem we had not had to endure in the past and were working on a plan of action at the time.  The staff had been instructed to inform all players and offer repellent prior to play, but it appears they were unsuccessful with you.  We have taken steps to improve the situation by having the entire property sprayed for mosquitos and continue to offer repellent as an extra protection to all players.  

We would prefer this experience not have a lasting impact on your future decision to play golf and would like to offer a complimentary round of golf for your next visit.  Please contact (removed name) at (removed phone number) to arrange your next round of golf at the club.  I have copied him on this email, so please reach out to either of us if you have any questions or comments. 

Sincerely,

Andy Gaudet

Andy is a General Manager with Century Golf Partners, and although his team at Talking Stick did not initially get it right with me, he did Make It Right.  He didn’t have to give me the complimentary round, the response was enough.  But knowing that I have it, I will certainly be going back.  Andy is obviously smart enough to know, as I do, that keeping a relationship alive with an existing customer is much easier than finding a new one.  We don’t always get it right, but we can always Make It Right.


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Take the Risk, Get the Reward

Whenever I can, I sneak away on my frequent business trips to Arizona to play one of my favorites – the Coore & Crenshaw gem, Talking Stick.  On my most recent outing to Talking Stick, one of my all-time favorite holes, the short par-4 12th (more on that hole later), got me to thinking about risk-reward holes par 4s, and why they are so great.

Golf is a game that makes many demands of the player.  Mental demands to process information and use it in decision making. Physical demands to execute against the decision made.  And the best holes, especially risk-reward par 4s, make strategic demands.  On these holes, the player must weigh 2 options:

  • The first option typically involves a safe tee shot that leads to a tougher approach, and the therefore a lower probability of being rewarded with a birdie, but also a lower probability of a bogey.
  • The second option involves a riskier drive, where failure to execute could result in bogey or worse, but where success means a much easier approach to claim the birdie reward.

A risk-reward par 4 does not need to be drivable to maximize challenge and enjoyment, although many are.  The beauty of these holes, and what makes them so demanding, is that there is no “right” choice.  The safe and risky strategies both work, and both have their challenges.  There is no easy way out, and so the player must make a decision, commit fully, and execute to make a birdie.

I fell in love with risk-reward holes as a caddie at Old Elm Club, which has recently undergone a restoration by J Drew Rogers.  The 9th hole is a short dog-leg left par 4.  The green complex is drivable, especially with a well-shaped draw, but errant tee shots are gobbled up by stands of large old trees.  Drives that find the trees rarely result in a green in regulation.  The player can choose to lay up short of the green in an area between 2 sets of bunkers, yielding an 80-100 yard pitch to a tiered green guarded by bunkers.  Birdie is still quite possible with the safe play off the tee, but not nearly as probable as if the player can drive up near the green for an easy up-and-down.

Taking into account wind and weather conditions, I played the hole both conservatively and aggressively over the years.  I made numerous birdies on the 9th, and had a few looks at eagle, but I also made my fair share of bogeys and others.  The 9th at Old Elm never got boring, which is the mark of a great hole. (Thanks to Dimpled Rock Photography for the beautiful Old Elm photos)

My home course, the Kingsley Club, which was designed by Mike DeVries, also has a risk-reward par 4 that is great fun.  The 13th at Kingsley is short enough to be drivable under almost all conditions.  It also has an ample landing area for lay-ups.  An undulating green, surrounded in front and right by bunkers, makes all approaches challenging and exciting.

Having played this hole both ways, I have concluded that the risky play at the green with a bail-out long left is the optimal choice.  Ideally the player can hit a fade that runs up on to the green left of the front bunker.  Neither the safe nor the risky play from the tee leaves an easy second shot though.  There is still work to be done, even from greenside, to collect that birdie reward.

Returning to Talking Stick’s 12th – this hole has an abundance of visual and strategic interest, in addition to making wonderful use of the natural features of the land.  Specifically, the natural wash/dry creek bed has been creatively incorporated to demarcate the safe and risky options.

Having played this hole more almost ten times, I have still not committed completely to one of the two options.  Therefore, it should come as no surprise that I have made more bogeys than birdies .  That is the mark of a great risk-reward hole.  It introduces options, which can confound the player and produce doubt.  Very few good shots are born of a doubtful mind.

The 9th at Old Elm, The 13th at Kingsley, the 12th at Talking Stick North, and every other great risk-reward par 4 – they tease and torment, and every so often, they pay off with a birdie.  From my perspective, they embody all that is best about golf – challenge, interest and enjoyment – and that is why they keep us coming back for more.


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2013 Geeked on Golf Tour

2013 was the year that my reconnection to the game of golf took on a whole new dimension.

I was given the gift of a lesson with Butch Harmon in Las Vegas in the spring, as well as other rounds for my 40th birthday. To my delight, the birthday celebration seemed to go on all year.

I started playing rounds on business trips, and took three buddies trips (the first of my life) to Long Island, Bandon and Northern Michigan.  I also checked off bucket list courses in Chicagoland – Shoreacres and Westmoreland.  At the end of the year, I pulled the trigger on membership at the Kingsley Club (another first).

I ended my 40th year feeling very grateful, and yet wanting more golf adventures on great courses.

Here are the 2013 highlights:

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Special thanks to Golf Course Gurus for helping me memorialize several of the rounds with their photographs.  This photo wall in my home serves as a reminder of how lucky I am to have an understanding wife, great golf buddies, and the opportunity and means to spend time at special places like these.

40thGolfTourPhotos-Cropped

Looking forward to many more years like 2013 to come.

 


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End of Season Wrap-up

This weekend was the final session of the season with my coach, Scott Baines.

We took some time to recap progress made, and to discuss work to be done during the offseason.  2014 was the second year of my work with Scott.  We have “mastery” goals focused on my full swing, wedge and short game, and putting.  And we have “performance” goals associated with my handicap index, scoring, and return to competition.  This year, due to my work and personal schedule, we decided that we would take a casual approach to the performance goals.  I only achieved one of the five, but did drive my index down further and nearly had an under-par round for the first time since my teens.

TitleistIrons

My sexy custom-fitted mixed set of Titleist irons.

Scott, being on the Titleist staff, also converted me to their irons.  We went through the fitting process, which was fun and fascinating (perhaps the subject of a future post).  As usual, I underestimated the time and effort necessary to adjust to a change like this.  I am just now getting a feel for the clubs and learning what they do when hit properly.

Regarding mastery goals, we made meaningful progress on my wedge game and putting.  Scott helped me with “stock” shots and I now have confidence and competence from 80 yards and in.

Perhaps what excited me most though, is the progress we have made on my full-swing.  The intention is to be able to hit high bombs and low knock-downs with all clubs (the latter has been my go-to shot until now) to improve my situational versatility. As a former hockey player, I have several bad habits that are not conducive to consistent ball striking.  I have worked hard on my posture and setup, and have eliminated the snap hooks that used to plague me by reducing lateral movement in favor of rotational movement.

In today’s discussion, we boiled the work ahead down into 3 keys that build upon my progress to date:

1.  The central key is to let my big muscles do the work in the swing to achieve a full, wide takeaway that is on plane.  This video of Tom Watson teaching a clinic, in which he explains how he finally figured out the golf swing, illustrates the point.

2.  Related to the big muscles is a focus on my left shoulder, and letting it serve as a lever.  This video from Golf Machine guru Lynn Blake is dense and intense, but he does touch on this key, and why it promotes consistent rhythm and contact.

3.  And finally, to generate max power, my key is a slight squat followed by an explosion up from the ground through impact.  This analysis of Rory McIlroy’s driver swing highlights the move, and the results.

Putting these 3 keys together, as I am beginning to be able to do, produces shots that fly higher and farther – pro quality stuff.  It is clear that I need to be stronger and more flexible, and so increased reps, better fitness, and work with my chiropractor are the order for the offseason.  As I continue to put the pieces in place, the emerging picture is exciting.

Of course, with these mastery goals, the work is never really finished.  That does not deter me though.  Every step of progress along the path, even when there are temporary setbacks, just increases my resolve.

On to the offseason. The pursuit of mastery never ends…