Practical tips for enjoying the (game) of golf
The game at one point—seriously—involved a stick and a rounded lump of coal. The game reportedly evolved from the Netherlands (Dutch word kolf means club) to Scotland, where it was refined to a stick and a leather ball. Even Romans played a form of the game with a bent stick. English nobility played “gowf,” which by the 17th century was “colf.” King James II of Scotland prohibited playing of “gowf” because of its distractions. The game in 1592 was listed as a pursuit to avoid on Sundays. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews is recognized as one of the first organized clubs but is pre-dated by the Musselburgh Links golf course in Scotland (around 1600). The (British) Open Championship played this year at Royal Birkdale Golf Club just completed its 146th tournament. Ultimately golf is a hybrid of cultures and innovations, and whatever was lying around or could be pulled from trees to adapt.
HOW IT WORKS
Golf’s novelty is amazing. Players walk (or ride carts) on a huge tract once endowed to cattle or magpies, today soaked with people in funny clothes. Holes on the course are normally screened by landscaping or natural barriers, and almost always in direct line with your shot. Birds and other critters offer the only distractions, but those are mild and even relaxing after the wash of everyday noise. Here’s the fun part: You get to smack a small and dimpled ball around the parcel with a mallet, hoping to place it in a hole in as few strokes as your skill allows. The goal is to refine your game to the point that you match―heaven forbid, even fewer than allowed—the number of strokes assigned to each hole. Golfers traditionally end the round, head to the 19th hole to celebrate, share tall tales, exaggerate, all in great fun. Millions of weekend golfers experience the highest of highs, heartbreaking lows. It’s called a game for just that reason.
A golf course traditionally is 18 holes, but it varies from place to place. Bonita Bay in Estero, for instance, has five different 18hole courses, elegant amenities even King James II of Scotland would have applauded. But the traditional course is 18 meandering holes boxed into a couple hundred acres, insulated by natural “hazards” such as cart paths, empty water jugs, random dogs running off with your ball, plodding foursomes and the loudmouth on a cellphone parked in your fairway. Most private courses are member-owned, meaning players want a challenge but enough cushion to allow competitive scoring, or the socalled “member bounce” play. But that’s not always the case. The so-called executive course traditionally is nine mostly par 3 or short par 4 holes, meant for quick turnaround and back on the road to make the noon sales call.
Keep in shape! A real handicap is not having the endurance or flexibility to enjoy a round. Be prepared by stretching, practicing your golf swing and listening to what your body is saying. It’s especially important for older golfers to stretch in advance, loosen the lower back and glutes. Nice-and-easy fluid motions result in a healthy swing and a great round of golf. The surefire calamity in golf is tightness coupled with trying to “kill” the ball. Keep your head still and swing easily. And drink plenty of water during your round. Hydration, hydration, hydration! Learn to slow down and enjoy the moments in paradise.
Ultimately golf’s charm is a few hours with your buddies, co-workers and, hopefully, with a spouse, son or daughter. There’s nothing like a round of golf for strengthening friendships.