As I write this, my wife is driving out to Central Massachusetts to play a round of golf with some coworkers and clients. It’s the newest, latest version of a sales call these days. With offices closed, zoom and golf have become ways to connect and stay relevant during a pandemic.
For my wife golf has typically played the part of stealing me away for hours at a time; she’s received text messages from me complaining about the slow play while I stand on the fifth hole and add an hour to my ETA. However, the last couple weeks, in preparation for her round of golf with seven men at a very nice course, we have done a little bit of practice and playing so she feels comfortable and not “in the way” as she makes her way around the course. Obviously, a couple clubs and a bag were purchased, too. Because what is a golf experiment without a few new club in the bag?
Last Saturday, Tiff and I snuck out onto a practice green behind my mom’s house. She lives on a 9-hole golf course, so we grabbed a bag of golf balls went and chipped and pitched. The quiet, low stress practice was fun. No one watching combined with real grass is the perfect chemistry for golfers new or old. The following Monday we drove out to a driving range, I figured it would be quiet, it was, after all, a Monday. I was wrong. The place was packed with people. Every single bay was taken and we had to wait in a line to get a spot to hit balls. Bad swings and slices as far as the eye can see. At $11 for a large bucket, the math is staggering when a range has 200 people all flailing away at the same time. Tiff did great, learning a bit about the swing, learning to not concern herself too much with her surroundings or bad shots. I often tell her everyone sucks at golf, and this trip to the range helped solidify that fact.
Chipping-green-golf and driving-range-golf are very different beasts from golf-course-golf. Tiff needed some reps on a golf course. The process of getting to a course, putting on your shoes, dropping your bag somewhere, and just knowing the rhythm of things can make a big difference to a newbie. Nothing like standing on a first tee box, either.
Last Friday, I made a 5:45pm tee time at a small 9-hole course called Unicorn in Stoneham, MA. It’s 8 miles from our house, a 15 minute drive. It’s a dumpy little course, but it was delightful and turned into the best version of practice for anyone trying to learn how to play golf. It’s also how I’d like to practice more often. We only managed to play seven holes total; we played some holes multiple times because we caught up with a two foursomes by the fourth hole. We had about 90 minutes of sunlight, and we squeezed every ounce of it, wandering back from the fourth green in the darkness to the parking lot.
Many experts say that practice across all sports should be random. Standing on a driving range and hitting the same shot over and over again without any real feedback isn’t going to do the trick. On a golf course, the lies aren’t flat, the ground isn’t astroturf, and the stakes are higher. It also allows for some creativity, drop ball down at a distance that you struggle with and hit that shot. Or drop a ball 140 yards away and hit a 6-iron when a 9-iron is the usual club.
It was the same with Tiff, she could swing away, try again, and have a bit of fun (she even had a couple legit par and bogey putts over the course of our two visits to Unicorn.). She found herself stuck in a bunker, wailing away to try to get it out. The experience of hitting four or five shots in a bunker as the balls slams against the lip and rolls back to your feet cannot be duplicated on a driving rang. You also cannot duplicate the sensation of finally lifting the ball from the bunker only to learn it skidded across the green and into a bunker on the other side. If you can’t handle that, don’t keep playing. If you can smile and keep going, like Tiff, then you’ll be alright.
It would be insincere to encourage people to lock up the last tee time at some local muni and use it to practice without talking about price. Yes, it’s more expensive to play 9-holes than to visit a driving range 25 bucks vs. the $11 bucket of balls). However, if you’re looking for a way to get better or introduce someone to the game, spending a bit more money for real grass, a bit of exercise, and some accountability will steepen the learning curve and help a newbie understand the little things about getting around a golf course. As the “teacher” in this scenario with Tiff, I enjoyed playing alongside my wife rather than standing around at a driving range and watching her hit balls and trying to explain some swing technique Hitting a good shot on the driving is like sugar-free cake compared to the sugary taste of a great shot on a golf course.
With daylight savings looming, the window to get out and play before the sun sets is shrinking, but 9-holes at twilight will be a staple of my practice routine in the spring and I’m looking forward to wandering around with Tiff and watching her improve, too.