As the PGA Tour follows the sun with a couple of stops in Hawaii, up through California, hop scotching across southern Florida, on to Texas and back to Georgia for the first of the big show case events, it occurs to me that playing professional golf might not be fun.
In days of yore, as shadows lengthened, we enjoyed multiple “crazy season” events when our favourites earned whacky money for one-day events.
We polished our shoes with saddle soap and cleaned our clubs for winter storage. The long wait began, softened by NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl.
Most of the shootouts, team games and cajoling are gone now, replaced by 12 months of continuous PGA tour events all vying to attract support. When you analyze the individual tour events, you quickly realize that each draws patrons for a different reason.
Forget about the wrap-around issue for a moment and concentrate on the part of the tour held beginning in January, when normally most of North America is in a deep freeze.
The only thing that could be better than watching the world’s best players cavorting and frolicking with their families in the balmy trade winds and high surf of Hawaii is if you could be there yourself.
Nobody here is too concerned about the quality of golf, opting instead for photographing paradise/
The desert courses offer a different appeal, with their gorgeous, sprawling mountain vistas, perfect weather.
Then, we troop onward to San Diego and Torrey Pines, 36 holes of absolute splendor perched atop rugged mountain arroyos that provide acres of steep slopes covered by wiry mesquite trees and brambles bordering the Pacific Ocean.
Back home in the ice and snow we envy the band of nomads who compete there, but I have played both courses and can honestly say they are the most difficult holes to recall after you leave the course. Everything looks the same.
Next stop: Phoenix.
TPC Scottsdale is the site of one of the most controversial promotions in golf, the stadium hole. A collection of rag-a-muffins, over-indulging, hilarious, boisterous, crazed, polar opposite to patron-like, exuberant, containers of fun surround the 16th hole.
As the gladiators enter the forum they are greeted by cat-calls, cheers, humour, howls of encouragement and noise, lots of noise. Every monastery moment in the history of golf is thrown out the window. The traditions, the customs, the dignity and reverence all vanish.
The thought of solitude, peace, tranquility and marshals waving placards requesting “Quiet Please” are non-existent.
This is golf? No, this is the pit.
Only two rules exist – spectators may not run out onto the playing surface and although some beer is ‘accidentally’ spilled in coincidence with a poorly played shot, no one may throw objects at the players.
The whole atmosphere has made many people put the Waste Management Phoenix Open on their bucket lists.
On the other hand, there are critics, who admonish this boorish behaviour citing the rules as written by the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (see Rule 14: Thou shalt not perform an outward display of fun whilst playing golf).
But, hidden behind a cloak of malevolence, sin and debauchery the organizers set attendance records, with charities the benefactors.
And then, Pebble Beach, the Crosby clambake.
A bunch of Bing Crosby’s movie mogul friends playing some golf and partaking in a few of life’s pleasures gave birth to this fine event.
Huge waves roll against the rock break-wall lining the 18th fairway, smashing sea mist high into the arid air. Sea lions and whales lie in the sun as seagulls twist like kites against the clear blue sky.
This is the Monterey Peninsula, land that once sold for a song is now virtually priceless and so is the invitation to spend $15,000 to play in the amateur portion of the AT&T Pro-Am.
Within the captivating beauty of the surrounding property is an appeal for golfers and non-golfers to see the rich and famous removed from their work clothes reduced to mere mortal status.
We see them struggle as we all do to make a little white ball verify our worth as human beings while walking the holes in an environment of complete opulence.
It is at this point that I wonder, “What impact does all of it have?”
Hawaii is only a myth to millions of people living paycheque to paycheque. The California coastline is one of the most beautiful places on earth. In Phoenix, energetic fans take part in the antics in the stadium on Super Bowl Sunday and entertainers are entertained at exorbitant prices at Pebble Beach.
But do these events grow the game?
Do they bring new players from places never before tapped? Do they do anything to change some of the long standing anti-golf attitudes?
In fact, the cost of a green fee at Pebble Beach is next to $500 U.S., not exactly the place to initiate a new player.
The major contributors in the golf industry have tried desperately to solve the perceived problem of stagnant growth.
We/they have appealed to some the smartest people to look for the holy grail all to no avail. As written and sung by Bob Dylan “the answer my friend is blowing in the wind”.
The truth is golf is full of fun, but fun is in the eye of the beholder. Let the rich spend their money at Pebble Beach. Let the fun in Phoenix carry on. Enjoy every course and every tour event for what it is and that’s entertainment. Stop trying to figure everything out.
I’ve played Pebble Beach, attended the Masters, competed in tournaments and played golf with Ken Venning. They were all fun but each for a different reason.
If I knew what that was, I’d bottle and sell it.