By Ambassador Matthew Keating
Dunegrass: The Way Golf Should Be is an eighteen-hole course in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. From the whites the slope rating is 70.3/126. For first timers the course can be confusing and intimidating. The members are gracious and helpful, so there is no reason not to dive headfirst into this beach course experience.
“A challenging course with a mellow feel,” was how my wife described Dunegrass. This was an especially poignant observation, as my wife had never played a day of golf in her life. She has recently become more likely to be my travel partner, photographer, destination selector, chef, and mixologist on these trips than a hardcore competitor. However, while I misread greens, confused doglegs, and got us lost in our pursuit of the tenth tee, she was googling reviews and chatting up locals and members. She is developing a love of the game and its culture, and that is so very good for me. At one delightful point during my round my sweet wife delightfully input my score of six remarking, “not bad honey, your last one was an eight!”
My investment in golf stems from the simple need to dedicate myself fully and financially to yet another outdoor form of recreation. Hers is much more sophisticated than that. She wants to learn to play, explore the culture more thoroughly, but more than anything, she wants to enjoy all aspects of the travel, the apparel, the food, the drink, and the traditions.
I have played golf seriously for two years, I am getting better. I am. However, my love of the game increases at an almost inverse ratio to the improvement of my skills. It is as though the more I invest of my income and time, the higher my handicap becomes. Many will say, “well, that’s golf.” Others have said, “Could be worse, at least you didn’t get into motorboats.” We all recall that Mark Twain is alleged to have suggested, “Golf is a good walk spoiled.” I feel otherwise. For me, the determination to get good at a thing has never been so secondary to the enjoyment of the thing. Golf possesses as much a psychological draw to me as it does a physical one.
For examples of this: If I were as bad at alpine skiing as I am at golf, some of my decisions over these past many winters would surely have resulted in death by full skeletal fracture. If I found the challenges and frustrations from playing golf as prevalent in the backpacking world, I would limit my foot travel to the Portland Mall between Hot Topic and Cinnabon. Were I as measurably unskilled at Nordic skiing as I am at playing golf, I would never have returned from some of those thirty Kilometer afternoons in the White Mountains. Imagine if I were as bad at making drinks and cooking as I am at golf… were that the case I would surely be poisoned and on fire by now.
It was Churchill who said, “golf is a game who’s aim is to hit a very small ball into an even smaller hole, with weapons singularly ill-designed for the purpose.” While every word of that statement is an irrevocable fact, it does not describe golf being a terrible way to spend four and a half hours of one’s time. We must account for some of the psychological and spiritual magic that is this devil’s game of clubs, balls, and holes. Churchill was correct, golf clubs are absurd things. But they are not the only weapons available to shabby golfers like me seeking fun in the outdoors. In an effort to increase enjoyment I approach the links with a few accessories and some hard-earned mental fortitude from my other outdoor activities that seem to help.
Armed with the right beverage and the appropriate attire an outdoorsy fellow like me can work his way into this gentleman’s world of frustrating leisure. A flask passed around a cold, wet camp, on a blustery summit or while strolling that last, long, familiar mile back to the truck after days in the woods, can propel an already exceptional moment into the upper atmosphere of pure joy. Some among us, we cultured and admittedly hedonistic representatives of the adventure crowd, may even amend this sipping with a good cigar.
Similarly, while in the thick of it, traversing a knife edge ridge in a snowstorm, expecting water at mile two on Grand Canyon’s North Rim, -not finding it until mile six, or when the winds kick up on a shallow lake, in the midst of a long crossing, and your canoe becomes a tub containing eight inches of dark, frigid water, that’s when the right apparel can make or break you. Golf is the same, in brief, it’s a chance to indulge in the bad-for-you niceties frowned upon in most other places in contemporary society while dressed comfortably, yet sporty.
Unlike the world of outdoor recreation, golf attire is not built with durability in mind. Then again, on a golf course, the most abrasiveness that one may encounter are the attitudes of fellow golfers and maybe the cart guys if you don’t tip them, and tip them well, for their work is hard. - C’mon people, aside from all this golf and outdoors chatter, let’s not forget that gratuities ARE the paycheck for a lot of these guest-service personnel. If you’re a life-long golfer, and just possibly, you were raised differently from the rest of us, you will receive no judgment here. However, if you have never worked a tipped position, like as a cart guy, bartender, server, etc. and you don’t realize that their take home, in their paycheck, based on their hourly wage, is less than you may have in your wallet as you read this, allow me to shed some light on this reality. Service industry people, especially those in the tourism and guest service fields, rely on you to reciprocate with your cash for their efforts at making your experience a memorable one. If they do their jobs, please fulfill your obligation to leave them a gratuity. If you want them to do their jobs better and go even further in their efforts toward your happiness, tip them well and often. This mutually beneficial relationship can last for years and every employee’s grateful, extra efforts when they see you next, will only improve your experience, your round, and possibly even your soul.
But I digress- Do as we do in the backcountry, when playing golf, make the investment to wear the right gear (it is crazy comfortable if you do it right). It will only add to you and your companions’ enjoyment of this heart crushing sport of micro defeats.
It would require another 10,000 words to get into clubs and balls, so we are skipping that stuff for now. I want to, instead, discuss company. I play several different styles of golf, depending on my schedule, locale, and mood. On Tuesdays, at my local club, I play with my serious golfer buddies. We wear what’s clean, we show up with coffee and energy bars in hand, we blast through eighteen familiar holes, and we catch up on seven days’ worth of driving kids around and which manager put in their notice this week. We play where we work, we work where we play.
On Wednesdays, when life allows, most of the same group ventures out to a different course. For these days we take the time to clean up, dress the part, eat a good breakfast, and pack a full cooler. We don’t take approach shots for granted on Wednesdays. However, we do seem to enjoy that third hole cocktail, that nip of something perfect at the turn, and maybe two or three meet ups with the beverage cart on the back nine. We know we are hitting the nineteenth hole for some club house delicacies, and the goal is to make memories and have the day last as long as possible.
Once a month, usually on a Monday, when the courses are slow and the tourists have all driven home, my wife joins me for a round at a course new to us. She makes dinner reservations for that night, she packs a picnic basket and a cooler, and she picks out a golf outfit that is en flique from tee time to the Bloody Mary brunch.
Instead of six packs and seltzers, she packs my Highcamp Flask, Firelight 750. This season has been another one for top shelf Mezcal. Depending on the tee time we may mix it with club soda add a twist of fresh lime, or we may sip it straight-up out of a Six Shooter Tumbler.
Add a good cigar and those whiffed shots exit the mind entirely. I can’t get behind the nips of mint schnapps and cinnamon whiskey that golfers are bringing to courses these days. It seems akin to wearing a tee-shirt with a dicky to fulfill the course’s dress code. It may do the job, but it isn’t right. Just as one should replace divots and repair ball marks, one should feel compelled to imbibe as well as they dress, and for me, seek to play as least as good as I feel after some strong drink while clad in my fine threads.