Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Bo Bohlmann, one of the members of our fantasy golf group, for his contribution of this great article on golf. As golf moves more to the mainstream of sports with the Pebble Beach Pro Am and Tiger’s return, it’s great to take a moment and reflect on the beauty of the game.
Golf will never draw the live crowds over a season that football, baseball, and basketball do save some rare occasions like the Phoenix Open for a live audience or the majors for a media audience. However, for my money it is the number one sport I like to experience in person, on television, and over the radio waves (golf radio announcers are gifted - listen to them sometime), and there are numerous reasons for this so let’s start.
I lived most of my years in Akron, Ohio. This allowed me many opportunities to view golf up close and personal at the wonderful Firestone Country Club. Going through all those memories is more about me than the game, but I do remember following Jesper Parnavick one year with the brim of my cap turned up. I followed him from hole to hole and he finally relented and gave me a thumbs up as I applauded his shot making. He also picked me out as one of the many folks whose cap he signed (most of my competitors for his signature were not yet growing chin hair). It was a stand out day. I also remember once watching a golfer up close hit a recovery shot from under a tree with a 5 wood that simply left my brain in a dense fog. I was thinking pitch out to the fairway, but this acrobatic shot landed on the green. Being that close, listening to the caddie-player interaction, and witnessing a shot the player considered pretty common was indeed a memory gem. Truly, “these guys are good.”
I am an edgy person. I like to move, hence I rarely go to any game that is played in a confined venue. Ok, so what does that leave? the Winter Olympics and golf? Hmm, not sure. I do watch my sports on TV and am much happier that way in almost every sport but golf. With golf, I want to be there and that brings up another point.
What other sport offers the spectacular or at least wonderful views and conditions of observing golf even on TV? This weekend will be a cold and blustery one here in Missouri, but all I have to do to escape my reality is tune in to the tour which happens to be at one of the most epic spots in the golfing world. Pebble Beach and its surrounding courses are the stuff that videophiles dream of, and I get to see it all in livid color (time for 3D?). It is my shelter from the storm of icky. I don’t like icky.
With golf you get your money’s worth when you attend an event. I can spend in excess of four hours if I so choose to be in the outdoors, get in a brisk walk if I so desire, sit and bask in the sun on a beautiful hole, observe my golfing idols (and non-idols), critique their latest and ever increasingly creative clothing, and leisurely stroll for a beverage or sandwich if my cravings are such. Usually I can satiate my hunger and thirst in a relaxed atmosphere offering big screen TV’s and tasty food. As an additional bonus I don’t really think about the price. My most recent attendance at a golfing event was at Harbour Town, South Carolina. I had pavilion tickets which were a few bucks more than the regular ticket, but the food was above average and the joy of just hanging with other golfing fans in a relaxed atmosphere was worth the extra coin. I don’t remember what I paid for my shrimp po boy, but I really don’t care. Additionally, I am a lover of wine. Wine at a ball park or stadium is very unsatisfying and very costly. Wine at a golf course is more like what wine should be and yes, it is still costly, but I don’t feel stupid because I am not drinking a 48 oz. beer. It is just another piece of my personal jigsaw puzzle of the enjoyments of golf.
If I go to a baseball game and my team loses by leaving the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, I have a hard time feeling joy as I exit. If I attend a golf tournament and my player(s) just makes the cut, I am happy. I would even easily find happiness if he/she did not make the cut. There are just so many likeable players on the tours that watching most of them is entertaining. Ok, back to comparing golf to baseball. I really enjoy traveling up to St. Louis to watch my Red Birds take on, oh say, the Cubs. But here are two catches. If the game is a blow out either way, it somewhat taints the experience. With golf, there are some blow outs, but even then there is the contest for second and third place. And, as we have witnessed in the last two tournaments, a significant led on Sunday in golf is not a guarantee of victory by any means. Furthermore, with baseball you pile six guys in a van and head out. At the park there are six seats usually in a row. The chances for lively interaction during the game among all six folks is hampered by the confinement. You can see the comparison to golf coming. No assigned seats and plenty of chances for camaraderie either on the course or at the beer tent. It is a natural haven for freedom of choice.
The variation in golf is another wonderful TV viewing experience. The ability to jump from hole to hole, from golfer to golfer from amazing putt to amazing putt is just pure pleasure. For my somewhat hyperactive mind, golf is a tranquilizer. It excites and lulls me at the same time. It is not a contact game or a game based on strength alone. It is a game/sport of finesse, creativity, decision making, and so much more - so very much more. If I had life to live over again, I would have set out to be a golf psychologist or a golf instructor. I could hardly imagine a more rewarding experience than to have the ability to watch my efforts come to fruition as my mentored player tees it up on any tour for the first time.
The next point is about the competition. Let’s compare golf to professional basketball. With basketball how many games do you actually watch on TV or in person? How many of them are in essence really significant? I am a college basketball fanatic, but even with that fanatical obsession I can afford to miss a game or two on any given Saturday and in pro basketball it is even more the case. The second season is all I am really interested in following with that sport. March Madness? OK, admitted, I won’t miss many, but there it is one and done if the team loses. Now let’s take a look at golf. Every Thursday through Sunday matters. Every tournament is a make or break for some player on the tour. The honor of playing on the PGA tour is not one easily come by, and the need to make the best of every starting opportunity is very real and very testing of every nerve fiber. It is the one player against the talent of so many others. The golfer’s teammate? – his caddy and a few close friends outside the ropes. The time to think from shot to shot, the ability to wait patiently while your playing partner searches desperately for a ball in a forest of vegetation separates this sport/game (I prefer sport) from the likes of tennis, most track and field events, snow and ice sports and ping pong. It is a game of mental toughness and sheer determination to keep one’s focus even if that means intentionally drifting one’s mind from the golf course. The variables that are involved in the equation of winning a golf tournament are abundant to say the least. Almost every week we see a new winner and that winner is ecstatic. Winning one of over a hundred basketball games is far less meaningful. The player will play again the next night in basketball, but in golf -fall too low in money earned on the tour, and you may not be invited to next week’s tournament. That stress also makes me a big fan of the Nationwide Tour. At all levels there is just a string of pressure drives, pressure bunker shots,and pressure putts that make this a unique “stand alone” sport. How one keeps all the adrenaline and pressure under control is truly an art.
Last, let us talk of the fans of golf. Just as golfers themselves would be extraordinarily unlikely to engage in any physical confrontation with a fellow golfer so we as fans are equally predisposed to maintaining relationships rather than straining them. Yes, we have our little wagers, our personal favorites and some have their hated villains, but in the big picture we are viewing golf as folks who respect and admire the artistry of the game – every aspect of it. I love to watch golf with friends. We all marvel at the shots we can only dream of making. We imagine together, we laugh together, we respect the game together.
I am happy that golf is now practically a year long event. Could I live without the blessing of golf to view - pretty sure I could, but that can be said for most of the things we value. However, I would sorely miss the knowledge that on just about any given weekend I may be able to put aside some time to be calmed, excited, entertained and educated just by the flick of a remote.