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Golf: Casual Players and Serious Competitors

Originally Posted: June 11, 2007

Lon S. Cohen

"Do you play golf?" To be honest, I'm pretty sick and tired of that question. So much so that I almost feel guilty when I have to say "No," like I'm breaking some secret code of ethics or something.

In my personal experience, people who play take golf as seriously as they do a heart attack. They take golf so seriously because it allows them to conduct business while spending a day outdoors, supposedly relaxing. But I have also found that the golfing personality runs a spectrum from casual and low-key to serious competitor, who will regularly snap titanium shafts on the course.

When the subject of golf comes up in conversation, I start fading into the background. I don't know a birdie from a bogie or a slice from a shank. These words are foreign to me. Everything I know about golf, I learned from "Caddy Shack." So you can see how enlightened I am about the sport.

In an effort to join those "in the know," so to speak, I have engaged in some very strategic golf-related adventures. Surprisingly, golf is not as common a sport as it first seems, despite the fact that everyone I know seems to play. I have some serious doubts that these people actually play as much golf as they claim, seeing as there are not that many places to play. Or to put it another way, there are not too many places to play that would let the likes of me even get a sniff of the manicured grass cuttings that they dump into the mulch pile.

I figured the best place to start my foray into the golfing world is with my father. (Dads generally play golf. It's on all the TV shows.) I asked about the Shinnecock Golf Club so close to our home.

"Shinnecock is where the U.S. Open is played," he said. "You, my son, can't even drive by with your car windows open."

Father knows best, and that may be true on a normal day of the week, but last year I happened to snag three tickets to the U.S. Open. I picked up two of my buddies who know a thing or two about golf and we were off. When we arrived, it turned out that it was not the authentic U.S. Open, but practice for the U.S. Open and the whole day didn't count for a hill of beans. Just to my luck and great embarrassment. No matter though, because there were hundreds of other poor schleps in our situation and it seemed to me that practice was an event all its own.

So, here is my conclusion about golf: (Or at least watching practice golf at Shinnecock.) Watching golf is like drinking beer. Let me rephrase that. Watching golf IS drinking beer. At every hole there was a beer stand. I got soused walking around the great old course. By the time we left, we spent hours trying to figure out just where the heck we parked the car. There was not a corner, green, rough, hole or out of bounds that didn't have a beer stand.

So I'm thinking, I kinda see the point to this golf thing. These guys are getting bombed out there on the golf course. The game of golf, I don't necessarily understand. Drinking beer, I definitely understand.

This year, I decide that I'm going to attend the Putting Contest at Old Vine Golf Course. Just walk right the heck in there and start watching the event. I'm thinking to myself about how much fun I had at the U.S. Open, so this should be a Kegger in comparison.

Actually, that's not true. I got into the place and saw some guys bopping golf balls about fifteen or twenty feet, but none of those dramatic long drives at the U.S. Open. And not a beer tent to be found! It was just a bunch of guys standing around dinking balls into cups. For charity, no less! Sheesh!

"Another exclusive club is The Bridge, in Bridgehampton," my father went on to tell me. "It's the site of the old car race track."

Racecars? Now we're talking. My first introduction to golf was at the Mini Golf and Go-Kart Center as a kid. This, I can sink my teeth into. I arrived at The Bridge ready for action with a pocket full of quarters. It turns out that The Bridge doesn't have any Go-Kart racing anymore, if it ever had any at all. I saw some guys driving around in little carts but nothing like what I remembered. In any case, I didn't get very far as they have these guards who patrol the grounds looking for undesirables. Apparently you can't get even close to the Mini Golf unless you have a membership. A membership? Mini Golf is nothing like I remembered. From what I did see of the course, they didn't even have a windmill, which was my favorite part of Mini Golf.

I had to ask my father about this membership thing.

"The course that is on the other side of Cold Spring is Sabonac," my father told me. "It was designed by Jack Nicklaus."

"That's cool," I replied.

"He's a golfer."

"I didn't know that," I said.

"He's not the same guy who played the Joker in the Batman movie," Dad replied sarcastically.

"Oh," I said, disappointed. It was the most exciting thing about golf I'd heard so far. "What does it cost to play there?"

"I think the membership fee is about $400,000, plus yearly dues."

"What do I get for five bucks?" I asked.

"You might get a bottle of water," he answered.

"Small or large?" I asked.

"Definitely small," he said.

Used to be the day when I could take my girlfriend out and play for hours at the Mini Golf for just five bucks. With no yearly dues and no membership fees that are ten times my current annual salary. (OK, twenty times my current annual salary.)

"Many other clubs are available," my father went on to say. "There are plenty of public courses. I think one is now under construction in Wading River. Or you could just go up island to find a County course."

I got the feeling that he was being snarky at that point so I gave up on the whole idea of ever becoming a golfer. The next time someone asks me if I play golf, I'm going to off-handedly say that I only play at my own club: Sabonac. That'll shut them up!

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