Geeked on Golf


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TIPPING THE SCALES

A Geek Dad’s Diary entry reflecting on the complexity of golf culture and how we welcome beginners

Golf is a game of invitation and camaraderie. Very few are those players who come to it without being brought by friends, family, colleagues or a mentor. Fewer still are those who stick around long enough for the love of the game to take hold without patient and persistent support from their fellow players. Getting the ball in the hole is difficult. Navigating the rules and norms of etiquette, perhaps even more so. Without the welcoming invitation followed by the supportive camaraderie that are at the heart of what’s best in golf, these challenges prove too daunting for most.

This past week’s golf adventures, which included my son Henry, illuminated a balancing act that is deeply ingrained in the game. On the one hand, there are many aspects of golf—traditions, exclusivity, cost, difficulty—that are unwelcoming. On the other, most golfers are enthusiastic, courteous and generous, especially to those who exhibit a genuine interest in meeting people, having new experiences and enjoying the game. At the end of the day, it’s the players who tip the scales. Will they help beginners along, or will they intolerantly turn them away, like a teacher who kicks a child out of kindergarten for not knowing how to do long division?

Back to My Beginning

Earlier in the week, I had occasion to be up near my home town. Time allowed for me to stop in Fort Sheridan to take a walk. When it was an operational Army base, the Fort had a golf course that was open to active and retired servicemen and women, and their families. That is where I learned to play the game. My dad and grandfather, who both served, started taking me out when I was six with sawed off clubs. They would drop my ball at the 100 yard marker and let me play in. Fun was the priority, but I was not allowed to run wild. They patiently taught me when it was my turn, to be quiet when someone else was playing, to replace divots and rake bunkers, and the other standards of etiquette. I had to earn my way backward to play from the tee. The course at Fort Sheridan is no longer there, along with many other community golf courses in America, but the memories and foundation I gained while walking its fairways are ever present.

My week also included the privilege of getting out for an afternoon loop with buddies at the Old Elm Club, where I caddied from intermediate school through college. Old Elm is a small men’s club that’s as exclusive as they come. It always surprises my friends now to learn that back in my day, the caddies were almost all teenagers who were allowed to play after work at 5:30pm Tuesday – Sunday, and after noon on Mondays. Suffice it to say, my fellow golf bums and I took advantage of the perk. Our days were spent learning all manner of lessons from adults on the course, and fellow caddies in the yard. Evenings were for chasing the sun, where one rule reigned supreme—play fast. We didn’t care if you were a novice or an expert, a hack or a stick. Just get on with it. As I look back now, I can see the scales balanced, with exclusivity on one side, and the generosity of the members on the other. It’s complicated, but one thing is simple. My days as an Old Elm caddie were highly beneficial in my life, and I wish that youth caddie programs were thriving rather than dying.

On the Road

The memories and musings of the week were packed up and we headed to Indianapolis for the weekend. On Friday, Henry and I met my buddy Jamison at his favorite local track, Pleasant Run. The course was laid out on rolling land with a creek running through it and plenty of quirk baked in. It’s not easy to play or walk, but Henry made it and we had a blast. Pleasant Run is community golf at its best—fun, affordable, interesting—and the combination of friendly staff and a terrific host made us feel right at home.

Contrast that pleasantness with our experience at The Fort. After receiving a less than warm welcome in the pro shop and being reminded that Henry wasn’t permitted to drive the cart with his grandmother, it came to our attention that someone on the staff made a stink about a 9-year old being allowed out to play. Henry plays well, fast and with solid etiquette. He has played Olympia Fields, Lawsonia, Kingsley, and Arcadia Bluffs, and has done just fine. Of course, this person at The Fort didn’t know about Henry or his game, but they didn’t bother to ask me either. They made a snap judgment based on his age and in the process made him feel unwelcome. Ironically, we were greeted on the 3rd tee by a nice lady selling raffle tickets to raise money for youth golf in Indianapolis. Apparently the message is that The Fort supports youth golf as long as it doesn’t happen there. The encounter clearly bummed Henry out, and after 2.5 hours of watching adults make a mess of the front nine at an excruciatingly slow pace, he asked to quit.

This could have just been a bad moment for a few people at The Fort, or it could have been a symptom of a wrong-headed, unwelcoming culture. I don’t know, and frankly, because my child was involved, I don’t care. I took to Twitter and blew off some steam with a rant. What happened next is one of many reasons why I love golfers. Not only did Henry receive messages of support and encouragement, but he also got invites to play in Indianapolis, Philadelphia and Lexington. I have passed the messages along to him as they come in, and he is thrilled. His love of the game goes on while golf culture puts on its balancing act. Fortunately, the good folks consistently show up to tip the scales.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that private clubs swing their doors wide open, or that we replace the game’s rules and standards with a behavioral free-for-all. There is room on the golf landscape for all manner of courses and clubs—one size does not need to fit all. And the fact that we voluntarily adhere to rules for competitive play and etiquette at all times is part of what makes the game special. This diary entry is not meant to come to sweeping conclusions, but rather to be a reminder that, to one degree or another, we were all brought into golf. In turn, we each have an obligation to pay that kindness forward by welcoming others and helping them find their way so that they too have the chance to fall in love. The experiences of the week, linking my younger self to my son, reminded me that in the complicated culture of the game, I need to put forth the effort to tip the scales.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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MY MUSINGS ON GOLF

If you are reading this blog, and you are not my wife or parents, it still surprises me a little that you are here.  When I started GeekedOnGolf, I didn’t expect that it would ever be more than a collection of musings about my rediscovery of the game 20 years after my junior playing days ended.

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My boys with Luke Donald at Canal Shores

With Adventures, Resources, Interviews, and more, the scope of the site has expanded greatly into a broader celebration of what’s great in the game.  Jon Cavalier, Simon Haines, Kyle Truax, Peter Korbakes, and my other collaborators have added quality and depth by lending their talents and perspective.

What began as a “me thing” has become a “we thing”, and GeekedOnGolf is so much better as a result.  Although the focus of the site has changed, I will continue to share periodic musings and index them all here. Thank you for visiting, and indulging my geekery. I hope that we get a chance to tee it up some day.


MOST RECENT MUSINGS

GEEK DAD’S DIARY – TIPPING THE SCALES

Golf is a game of invitation and camaraderie. Very few are those players who come to it without being brought by friends, family, colleagues or a mentor. Fewer still are those who stick around long enough for the love of the game to take hold without patient and persistent support from their fellow players. Getting the ball in the hole is difficult. Navigating the rules and norms of etiquette, perhaps even more so. Without the welcoming invitation followed by the supportive camaraderie that are at the heart of what’s best in golf, these challenges prove too daunting for most. Read more…


MORE MUSINGS

IT’S NOT WHAT YOU’RE LIKE

A line is crossed when one drives a long way to play a golf course. Most of us have a course close by that is good enough to conveniently scratch the itch when it arises. Exerting the effort to road trip signals a focus shift from our own play to the experience of the playing field, which adds a dimension to the game. An even brighter line is crossed when one boards a plane, clubs in tow. My son Jack crossed that line for the first time this year on a trip to Aiken, SC, and I had the pleasure and privilege of being his partner in adventure. Read more…

MORE MUSINGS ON GREATNESS

While listening to a podcast with Ron Whitten, long-time architecture editor with Golf Digest, I was struck by how similar his early experience of falling in love with the game’s playing fields was to my own. Read more…

MUSINGS ON OUR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

The internet produced a variety of strong reactions to the Open at Shinnecock.  Some were well-reasoned and others were hyperbolic in the extreme.  Setting reactions aside, following are my musings on what we’ve learned, and where America’s governing body might go from here with our National Championship.  Read more…

GEEK DAD’S DIARY – THE BEST BIRTHDAY GIFT

There is joy to be found in many places in this great game, but nothing mainlines it for me quite like enjoying golf time with my kids.  It brings me back to happy days, learning the game with my dad and grandpa, while simultaneously pulling me intensely into the present moment the way that few things can.  Read more…

MUSINGS ON GREENKEEPING

These musings are not exactly about greenkeeping.  I know only enough to be dangerous.  What I do know with certainty is that a Golf Course Superintendent’s job is hard.  Read more…

MUSINGS ON GREATNESS

First things first – there is no such thing as objectivity when it comes to assessing the greatness of a golf course.  And objectivity in ranking one golf course’s greatness versus another?  Please.  Fortunately though when it comes to having good geeky fun with your buddies talking golf courses, objectivity is irrelevant.  What is relevant when having the endless discussions and debates is the standards by which one assesses a course.  Read more…

THE YEAR THAT THE GOG TOUR ENDED

That title has a sad tone to it, but 2017 was anything but a sad year for my golf.  In fact, it was the most fulfilling year of my golfing life.  Read more…

2016 GEEKED ON GOLF TOUR

A pattern seems to be developing.  As I watch the snow fall out my window, I reflect back and think, “It can’t get any better than this year’s golf tour.”  And then the next year comes around, and it does.  That was the story of 2016.  Just when I thought golf adventuring couldn’t get any better, it did.  Read more…

2015 GEEKED ON GOLF TOUR

What a year.  I took the madness to another level this year, playing 49 different golf courses in 11 different states.  34 of those golf courses were first time plays.  As an indication of the quality of the 2015 golf adventure, I would make a point and an effort to go back to 33 of the courses.  Read more…

WILSON & ME

I have always been a Wilson guy at heart.  I started with Wilson Golf clubs, and I suspect that that is where I will finish.  As Wilson has had its ups and downs, I have watched with interest even when I was not playing golf.  Read more… 

NEW YEAR’S SHIFT

Having a day-at-a-time paradigm, the whole New Year’s thing doesn’t typically do it for me.  It has been a long time since I made a New Year’s resolution.  My wife’s enthusiasm for the holiday is influencing me this year, and even though there are still no resolutions forthcoming, I do feel compelled to share a shift I am making for 2015.  Read more…

MY BUCKET LIST – U.S. OPEN VENUES

Goal setting is important. Having a goal has a tendency to enhance motivation and focus, and increase the likelihood of achievement. In my early career, I was extremely goal oriented and meticulous in my goal setting. My colleagues ribbed me about it and asserted that my approach would not survive the arrival of children. I scoffed at the time, but it turns out they were right.  Read more…

2014 GEEKED ON GOLF TOUR

The leaves and the first snow have fallen in Chicago.  My golf calendar looks as desolate as the landscape for the remainder of this year.  It’s a good time to revisit the wonderful courses I was privileged to play in 2014.  Those memories will be enough to take me through the winter.  Read more…

WANT TO IMPROVE PACE OF PLAY?  START FIRING GOLFERS

The USGA has been studying pace of play extensively and sharing results at their Symposium.  They are amassing data that promises to help course operators improve “flow”.  Additionally, technological innovations like smart flags, GPS-enabled carts, and others will track players and help them keep the pace.  Read more… 

SHORT GAME GAME PLAN

One of the factors contributing to the variance between my current index and scratch is inconsistent wedge play.  I estimate that I’m leaving 2 shots on the course every round.  In reflecting on my short game, it occurs to me that part of the issue is a lack of commitment to one approach.  Read more…

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.  Read more…

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.  Read more…

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.  Read more…

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.  Read more…

FROM PUTT PUTT TO PUNCHBOWL – REMEMBERING THE POINT OF THE GAME

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.  Read more…

A SLIP OF THE MIND, AND IT SLIPPED THROUGH MY FINGERS

I’m standing on the 17th tee at Kingsley Club, with one of my biggest golf goals in hand – I am 1-under and just two holes away from breaking par for the first time since I was 18.  The thought of achieving that milestone, as well as telling my coach about it, crossed my mind and lingered for a moment.  Read more…

COMING FULL CIRCLE

Standing on the 16th green at Old Elm Club, looking back down the long, rolling fairway with the sunlight filtering through the trees, I remembered why I loved this game so much.  I had been invited by my good friend Brian to join him at Old Elm even though I wasn’t really playing golf at the time.  He needed a fourth, and he knew that I grew up caddying and playing this marvelous little Donald Ross course in the north shore suburbs of Chicago.  Read more…

Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Coming Full Circle

Standing on the 16th green at Old Elm Club, looking back down the long, rolling fairway with the sunlight filtering through the trees, I remembered why I loved this game so much.

OldElm2008I had been invited by my good friend Brian to join him at Old Elm even though I wasn’t really playing golf at the time.  He needed a fourth, and he knew that I grew up caddying and playing this marvelous little Donald Ross course in the north shore suburbs of Chicago.  An interesting and kind invite, especially given that I had essentially quit playing golf with any regularity for the previous twenty years.  Perhaps he knew something that I did not.  Perhaps he had an inkling that seeing those familiar fairways and greens would rekindle my passion for the game.  A passion that I had talked myself into believing was long ago dead.

The story that I would tell people if they asked me why I didn’t play anymore was that I had competed as a kid and had become burned out.  I failed in my attempt to make the team at University of Illinois, and ditched the clubs for a full college life.  After graduation, I didn’t have many potential playing partners in my inner circle, and so the opportunities did not arise.  That was the story I told, and there was some truth to it.  The deeper truth though is that I just put the clubs down one day and inertia took over.

Thankfully, on that day several years ago, Brian’s invitation changed my direction.

Looking back now, I realize how fortunate I was to have had the opportunity to caddie at Old Elm.  Each day, I got to act as a guide, cheerleader, coach, and comrade to some of the country’s highest powered executives.  Perhaps I will share some of the words of wisdom, and the funny stories, of looping around the course in their company in later posts.  For now, I’ll just share that I witnessed every brand and quality of golf imaginable, absorbing as much as I could along the way.

We were allowed to play each evening and all day Mondays on this immaculate course created by a master designer.  These were times with friends that contained equal parts joy, challenge, competition and serenity.  I have putted out on the final hole in the dark at Old Elm more times than I can remember.

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That place is dear to my heart.  It has its own special magic for me.

Brian and our other two playing partners (Peter and Dan) helped me reconnect with that magic again that day, and it has had me ever since.  In the the past 2 years, I have travelled coast to coast playing world-class courses, started working with a coach, and joined the Kingsley Club in Michigan.  I have found the joy, challenge, competition and serenity once more, and I can’t get enough.  I am truly geeked on golf.

I invite you in to phase two in my journey with this game, and I hope you share with me as well.  After all, golf-geeking is always more fun in a group.


MORE GEEKED ON GOLF MUSINGS:

 

 

Copyright 2014 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf