Musings on the power of kinship, on and off the course
The subject of greatness is one that I have spent years now exploring in my golf travels, conversations, debates and attendant musings. What makes a golf course great? What makes one greater than another? Is it even possible to objectively evaluate a course, or are all such attempts hopelessly entangled with the individual’s experience on any given day?
Previously, I set forth a personal standard for my favorite courses based on their ability to elicit a desire for endless loops, my 108 in 48ers, which has been updated to include new entries from this past season. This angle on the questions above speaks to the enjoyment provided by these courses over multiple plays. It also points to the perspective one gains by playing and studying worthy designs at depth. Certainly, there is great value in expanding the breadth of one’s horizons through seeing new courses of all kinds. Profound gains in perspective are also available to those who explore every strategy, feature, contour and condition of their favorites, giving thought to the most impactful qualities. Equal parts breadth and depth yield the most profound enlightenment.
Subsequent to the creation of the 108 in 48 standard, I also made an exploration of the far ends of the spectrum. At one end are the courses that are universally considered exceptional. At the other end are those that possess qualities—architectural interest, fun, quirkiness, setting, community vibe—that when coupled with a reasonable green fee, place them among my favorites. Aiken GC, Rock Hollow, Pleasant Run and others were all welcome additions to this group for me last season.
Lawsonia Links – The gold standard for value
The bottom line for any golf geek is that, regardless of how many rounds we get to play on various courses, we would all like to play more. There are, sadly, constraints of resources and time. That makes maximizing the value of the time and money I spend on golf a high priority, worthy of attention and effort. Politeness and enthusiasm still go a long way toward gaining access to private clubs. Golfers are a generous lot, and they enjoy sharing their courses with kindred spirits. Lacking such access, resources like the GeekedOnGolf Global Guide and Sugarloaf Social Club’s Hidden Gem Project make finding the value plays easier than ever for the curious and adventurous.
A new criterion has been added to my list that is increasing in weight as the years go on—camaraderie. In any walk of life, if one looks for the goodness in people, it can be found. In my experience, the game of golf seems to attract people and bring out that goodness in a way that I find particularly enriching. Perhaps it is the choice of a pursuit that can never be exhausted or mastered, one that provides at least as much of the agony of defeat as it does the thrill of victory, which creates the conditions for bonding and kinship.
It has also been my good fortune to find a tribe of geeks for whom the score on the card, while not meaningless, is secondary to a $1 Nassau, and lively discussion of course architecture and history. It was our common interest in the game that connected me to these great people, but our friendships have gone far deeper. I find myself enjoying getting to know them more just as much as the courses we’re playing together, with modern connectivity allowing us to extend our 19th hole conversations indefinitely.
Therefore, where I choose to spend my time and resources playing is now strictly on courses that are likely to meet my standards for greatness—some new, but an increasing percentage tried-and-true. And further, it is a rarity that I find myself legging out a solo round on some new (to me) course just because it’s on a list. There are obvious exceptions. Your number gets called for Cypress, Pine Valley, Augusta, etc., you find a way to go, no matter what. Beyond those “once in a lifetime” experiences though, I will take course+camaraderie over just the course, every day.
Scenes from an emergency nine at Cal Club
Let’s take this year’s CA Swing as an example of these standards in practice. A quick trip to the Bay Area afforded me the privilege of a return visit to one of my favorite courses. A stone’s throw away is another top club, which I have not yet played, but could likely be accessed with enough effort. It would be nice to play that course, and it is possible that I might like it marginally more than the one I was visiting. Some people do. But on a trip like this with limited time, playing there would not only have meant foregoing a round at one of my all-time favorites. It would have meant losing time with my buddies. It might have also cost me the opportunity to make a new friend, who as a long-time sports reporter, regaled us with terrific stories from years on the NFL and PGA Tour beats. For me, the value of that kinship far outweighs another check on my list.
Had it been possible, I most certainly would have made time to see the San Geronimo Golf Course in Marin. Unfortunately, as detailed in my previous article, the battle over the course has left it in an unmaintained state. I did, however, have the honor of attending the Save San Geronimo fundraiser at Terrapin Crossroads in San Raphael. An inspiring spirit was alive and well among this group of warriors who are fighting to bring their community course back to life. As confirmation that I was in the right place, a conversation with the winner of the auction of a trip to Sand Valley revealed that he bought it for his buddies, with whom he has been taking golf trips for 35 years. My hope for every golf geek is the ability to some day claim such a track record.
My exploration of great golf courses started with a focus on the playing fields. After years of adventure, I have finally realized that key ingredient for me is the players. Great courses can be found and accessed by the open-minded and motivated, regardless of means. Upon identifying the venue, sharing the experience with good friends is what makes one’s favorites transcend any rating, ranking or list.
Copyright 2020 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf