Imagine a golf course with no trees, no hazards, no bunkers, no rough and perfectly flat greens.
You’d probably finish with one of your better scores. And you also would most likely be bored after a round or two.
But then there’s the opposite end of the spectrum, the monstrous layout with constant trouble and tricky contours. They’re considered the greatest courses in our great game, yet some people won’t play them for fear of being embarrassed.
To some degree, I understand it. They want to be in their comfort zone, and they just don’t feel equipped to handle some of those shots. But, boy, are they missing out.
What makes golf so fascinating is that it is the only sport where the dimensions and challenges change dramatically from venue to venue.
Some tennis courts might be a little tougher because they’re more exposed to the wind, and some bowling alleys oil the lanes more than others. But it’s still the same size court and alley – every time.
Same goes for all the team sports. Some venues have nasty fans and little quirks, but they’re still basically the same. Even in baseball, where the outfield dimensions vary from ballpark to ballpark, the bases are still 90 feet apart and the pitcher is still 60 feet, six inches away from the hitter.
Golf stands alone.
You might like a particular golf course because it suits your game.
You might like it because it’s scenic.
You might like it because, well, it’s the closest one and it’s all you’ve got.
You go somewhere else – a course that’s more challenging – and you wonder, “Why am I doing this to myself?”
We’re not like other recreational athletes. We don’t want it easy. Well, maybe some of us do. But I would contend that they’re in the minority.
We LIKE that golf is hard. We treasure its challenges. We want to be able to tell people, “Yeah, it beat me up, but I birdied that brutal par-4.”
I got to thinking about this as I watched the pros try to navigate Carnoustie last weekend. I played that course once. Boy, is it long and tough. You stand on the tee of some of those holes and you have little confidence that you can put the ball in play. It beat me up pretty good. Car-nasty, indeed.
And yet I absolutely treasure that memory. I got to play one of the greatest golf courses in the world. It was a privilege. I still talk about it. I’ve got to do it again someday.
I feel the same way about Spyglass Hill, Half Moon Bay and all the other long, punishing layouts on the West Coast. It’s the same reason that I’ve got to get to Chambers Bay.
Playing a municipal track just doesn’t spark the same passion. You’re there to work on your game and hopefully make a birdie or two, but it’s not something to tell your friends about.
I also take a strange kind of joy in playing courses that don’t suit my game. My most recent round was on a course that’s short and extremely tight. I’ve been wanting to play it for a long time. Then I went out there and had nine – count ’em, nine – penalty strokes (four OBs and an unplayable lie).
Many of those seemingly errant shots would have been just fine on most courses. One of them, in fact, was the result of hitting a cart path that is five steps from the edge of the green (extremely unfair, in my opinion).
But oh well. That’s golf. I would have broken 80 without those penalty strokes, so the next time I play that course – and I will – I know that I have to find a club that will keep the ball in play.
If you’re someone who’s serious about your game and wants to improve, don’t get scared away by tough courses. They’re far more entertaining in their own diabolical way. There’s no room in golf for a Flat Earth Society.