Golf is cool? I mean for me, Golf has always been cool. And, I like many others during the pandemic have found myself on the course at an alarmingly high rate. But even now, with things returning to relative normality I have noticed that more and more new faces are showing up at my home course.
I mean sure Golf has its idiosyncracies. This year alone the Golf world has been embroiled in the great hoodie debate. It’s a game that has deep routes to its history and tradition. Every few years when someone does something that’s outside the norm the Golf world goes nuts. See Bryson Dechambeau or anything written about Tiger Woods in the early 2000s.
I think Arnold Palmer puts it best “Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated; it satisfies the soul and frustrates the intellect. It is at the same time rewarding and maddening – and it is without a doubt the greatest game mankind has ever invented.” And, it seems that more and more people are falling in love with it.
I put a call into all the courses in my hometown (10 in total). And, I asked them all one simple question. “Have you guys seen an influx of new members?” 9 of the 10 courses all said yes.
The one that said no is incredibly expensive and by invitation only, so that checks out.
A trip down to a well known local golf retailer cemented my suspicion even more. The showroom looked bare, and the pro behind the counter said that Golf’s become so popular the club manufacturers can’t keep up with demand.
It’s interesting, I heard several older members at my club complaining about how busy the course is. But I think it’s brilliant. In Australia, golf has been on a steady decline for quite some time. Seeing more people becoming obsessed with the game and getting to know their stories, backgrounds and frustrations with the game has reinvigorated my love for it too.
So, this week since it’s Masters week, I wanted to change speed (and sports) and share with you my golf story.
The way my love affair with Golf started is probably not dissimilar from others. It all started with a cut-down golf club that my Grandfather gave me. But before I get to my story I’d like to tell you his.
My Grandfather in his day was a well-known local golfer. He was a scratch golfer right up until he was about 80 years old.
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Since it’s @themasters week. Wanted to give a shout-out to my Grandpa Harold Maddigan (left) pictured here with “The Pymble Crusher” Kel Nagle (middle) before a round they played together in 1958 at the original @royalcanberragolfclub which now sits at the bottom of Lake Burley Griffin.
The golf historians among you may recognise the man he’s standing in the middle. His name was Kel Nagle and a few years after the photo was taken Kel would win the Open Championship. My Grandfather is standing on the left.
As the story goes he was put in a group with Kel in a Pro-Am competition at the old Royal Canberra Golf Course (which now sits at the bottom of Lake Burley Griffin). After the round, Kel asked if Grandpa had ever considered becoming a professional. That wasn’t something that ever interested him.
I’m not saying he was against professional golf (he loved Greg Norman), but when he was in his prime professional golf wasn’t a very glamourous pursuit. He looked up to players like Bobby Jones who famously rejected becoming a golf professional.
As a result, he would often stress the importance of maintaining your amateur status. I remember once I won a voucher to a local department store in a junior golf tournament. He was concerned that I may have given up my amateur status by accepting it. Turns out I hadn’t, and I have a letter from my local club professional to prove it.
But that was the kind of thing that made my Grandfather, my Grandfather.
My Grandfather and Me
I’m the 2nd youngest of 6 grandchildren (my sister is the youngest). He’d made attempts with the 4 grandchildren prior getting them to play golf but I was the first one to take to the game.
He gave me a club that he’d cut down and gripped himself. I started hitting a plastic ball around his and my parents’ back yards, eventually being able to hit the ball over the washing line. By the time I was about 10 I had a full set of (albeit mismatched) clubs and a little carry bag.
I probably spent the most time with my Grandfather out of all the grandchildren. Growing up my family lived next door to my Grandparents. This meant I had unobstructed access to my Grandfather whenever I wanted. We’d go to the airport and watch the planes take off and land, we’d go and watch the local AFL teams play, we’d set-up and pack down his sailboat in the backyard, we’d play board games with my Grandmother, we’d go to the aquarium to watch the fishes swim, we’d go fishing and, my favourite activity, we’d play Golf.
My parents would often ask me what we’d talk about on our adventures together. My answer was generally “nothing”. They’d usually laugh. But it was true we didn’t speak much, we had our own unique way of communicating, we just kind of loved hanging out together, we didn’t need to talk.
At a young age, I demonstrated a dislike for school, this meant “sick days” usually consisted of me walking next door as my parents would head off to work. The day would start in the lounge room with my Grandfather watching cartoons for a few hours. When the cartoons finished we’d head out to the driving range to share a bucket of balls. Then, we’d put in some work on the putting green and finally, hit the three practice holes.
Before I was allowed out on the practice holes, however, I needed to have a sound understanding of golfs rules, sportsmanship and etiquette.
The group of guys I play regularly with think I’m a bit of a stickler. I believe (just like my grandfather) it’s essential to understand the rules and the etiquette and why we play the game a certain way.
He also stressed the importance of doing the simple things well, control the things you can and don’t let the bad shots ruin the good ones.
As I entered my teen years I was beginning to become a decent golfer. My handicap was moving in the right direction, I was playing junior pennants and was beginning to develop a good feel for the game.
My Grandfather would get diagnosed with dementia during this time. This meant he could no longer able to drive on his own. Limiting his time of the golf course to once a week when the nurse would visit. Eventually, this extended to him being unable or operate independently, it was a slow and steady decline. But even with his mental capacity dwindling he could still post a -3 on the practice holes, hit the ball 250m off the tee and shape it any way he wanted.
And maybe that’s the ultimate endorsement for the game? The game is so exceedingly simple that a man who sometimes would forget where he was, what day it was and even what year it was, could still play the game.
What Goes Around Comes Around
Not long after, I went away to boarding school and I didn’t play any golf during this time. There were girls, parties, road trips, rugby and exploring the streets of Sydney. It didn’t leave a lot of time for Golf.
My Grandfather’s condition continued to steadily decline. Being away for extended periods of time meant each time I would go and see my Grandfather it was less and less likely he’d remember me. I got older and to him, his grandson was still a child. As his dementia progressed he forgot he had grandchildren. He once said to my mum “wait you’re my daughter? But you’re so old!” It’s a terrible disease, but we had to see the humour it helped us deal with the pain.
When I would visit him, we didn’t really talk, we’d just sit and watch TV together. Just like we did when I was a Kid.
When he passed away, my cousin and I decided we’d start playing Golf (again), but it didn’t stick. I was early in my professional career and his business was just about to explode.
Another 8 years would pass by before I would finally refind the game.
Fast Forward to 2020
Like many, I went to work one day and suddenly found myself with a whole lot of spare time on my hands. As did the group of people I worked with.
So, when the golf courses opened back up we started playing. At first once a week and just 9 holes, then, 18 holes, then twice a week and before we knew it we were playing 4 times a week.
Initially, I was really struggling to get my swing back. So I did what most weekend golfers do, I went to youtube and started changing my swing. But, each time I changed one thing it would highlight another problem that I’d need to solve. Then, all of a sudden I started hearing my Grandfathers voice “chest over the ball”, “swing from the inside”, “generate power from your hips” and all the other simple golf advice he gave me as a kid. The improvement wasn’t instant but it was rapid. I started making all kinds of shots and my confidence grew with every round.
I realised in those moments that Golf allows me to stay connected with my Grandfather. I’m reminded of him each time I step out onto the course.
I like to think that when I play he’s caddying for me reminding me to stay calm and helping me pick the shots I should play. Reminding me to keep a level head and to remember a few simple swing queues. Maybe that’s crazy but it seems to work for me and it keeps me coming back.
So is Golf cool? I don’t know. And I know that’s not really helpful and kind of a lazy way to end this column. But, it does make me happy that it’s becoming more popular. And I hope that when I have kids I can pass on the game to them. And, if that doesn’t work pass it on to one of my own grandchildren.
Who knows maybe this column will inspire someone out there to give it a crack, or refind the game after some time away? Or maybe you’ll read this and think it’s a complete load of s**t. But you are reading it!
So, let me finish with this. Just give it a try, and I don’t mean go to the range. Go to your local course, hire some clubs and play 9 holes. You’ll find it incredibly frustrating, and you’ll wonder what you’re doing out there. And then, without warning, you’ll play the one absolutely perfect shot. It’ll feel amazing off the clubface and you’ll watch it sail through the air and land exactly where you aimed. That one shot will be enough to get you back for a second round and before you know it you’ll be hooked.
So, just give it a try and let’s see if we can make Golf cool once and for all.