What is it about golf?
Here’s a game that takes at least four hours to play, usually five. Combine that with traveling and warm-up time on the driving range, and you’re talking about a six-to-seven-hour experience, an entire day sacrificed to a game. Then there’s the money. It’s tough to find a game of golf in San Diego for under $20, and that’s without the extra $15 or $20 for a cart — which isn’t always optional, by the way. Not to mention the cash a golfer can spend on equipment, which can range from $200 to.... Well, new limits are being reached every day. How could anyone waste so much time and money on a game? For what? The worst case of frustration you’ll suffer your entire life, in the pursuit of that perfection known as “par."
Millions of men and women (mostly men) all over the world sacrifice hours and shell out money for golf. They’re like drug addicts or alcoholics; life is lived from one round of golf to the next.
I must include myself in this group of golf slaves. Worse, I’m a once-recovered addict who’s backslid into golf addiction. During high school, golf was my obsession. After school, at least three times a week, I was on the local public course (junior rate, $4). On weekends, my brothers and I caddied at a private golf club to support our golf habits and to earn golf privileges at the club. Monday afternoons were spent playing golf for free with my brothers.
I was a terrible golfer. In the vigor of my youth, I tried to hit every shot as far as possible. Control was a foreign concept. But I was addicted, and through sheer repetition, I gradually improved. I was on the verge of shooting under 80 when I went to college. With no extra money and little time to spare, I played no golf. Withdrawal was difficult at first, but by graduation, I felt cured of my golf addiction. I was happy. “Think of all the money I’m saving by not playing golf,” I thought to myself. “I pity the poor fools who haven’t figured out, as I have, that life is better without golf.”
But as Proverbs says, “Pride goeth before a disaster and a haughty spirit before a fall,” and lately the golf addict is growling again. I find myself on the driving range if I have a free hour or two. And when I should be working, my mind drifts to dreams of 300-yard drives down the middle of a verdant fairway or 30-foot birdie putts dropping into the hole.
Curing an addiction starts with understanding its intricacies. What are its symptoms and patterns? What is common to all who suffer from golf addiction? I talked to a few fanatics over a round of golf to get some answers.
“I’ve been a golf fanatic since I can remember,” says Jeff Cooper. “Every time I’ve had the chance to play a lot. I’ve played as much as I could. I’m playing four days a week — at least now — and I’m playing on weekends. The day I have off, I have lessons. I’m hitting golf shots every day. I’m hooked.” Cooper, 29, is tall with blond hair parted and combed into a Bob’s Big Boy swoosh in front. As he drives our golf cart from the first green to the second tee at Rancho Bernardo Inn, I ask him how he first knew he was a fanatic. “When I started lying to my wife about how much I was actually playing,” he says laughing.
John Logan is a 51-year-old retired air force lieutenant colonel. About 5'10“...., he’s portly in build, with big forearms and hands. His round face is darkened by the sun, and his black hair is flecked with gray. Asked if he considers himself a fanatic, he answers, “Oh, absolutely. I play a lot of golf. I play or practice just about every day of the week.”
As we wait to tee off, he tells me, “I knew I was a golf fanatic when I found myself looking through newspapers and magazines for golf equipment ads.
I was reading all of the classifieds looking for clubs for sale and looking at all of the club advertisements in Golf Digest — things like that.”
Obsession with golf equipment is a sure symptom of golf addiction. It comes in two strains. The first type of equipment enthusiast will try anything new hoping it will shave a few strokes off his game. The second type becomes attached to the clubs he has and will not make a change.
Charlie Heylman, 36, is the first type. Heylman, tall with curly blond hair and mustache, says, “We golfers are a funny breed. We’re always looking for the next piece of equipment. One day you’re married to this putter, the next day you’re married to that putter.”
Logan is also this type, but he not only buys golf clubs, he makes them. Along with Heylman and Cooper, he’s a student at the San Diego Golf Academy, a four-semester school in Vista that teaches the business of golf. Through the academy, Logan has become a certified club fitter and makes clubs himself. “I’ve built three sets of clubs,” he says. “I’ve assembled maybe five more. I’ve built seven or eight different club heads because I like shaping the wood, and I like the color of it, the touch and feel of it.”
The tendency to shift from one club to another also makes golf-equipment fanatics of the first type susceptible to advertising. They will pore over ads — especially those that use technical, scientific terminology. An ad for a Goldwin Golf AVDP System driver from Golf Magazine reads: “The AVDP system is a finely tuned system of balancing the weight of the major components of a golf club to create maximum performance with minimal swing effort. The AVDP dramatically shifts the balance point towards the head of the club producing high swing weights of D-7/D-9 versus the conventional club swing weights of C-9/D-1. A golf fanatic, after reading this ad, might lie awake in bed wondering whether his driver had a D-9 swing weight or just a D-1 — without even knowing what that meant.
In addition to magazine ads, TV ads show long, straight shots being hit with a particular club, I recently saw a golf infomercial touting the new Taylor Made Burner Bubble woods and irons. It showed regular golfers (like you and me) hitting shots with their own clubs, then hitting the same shots with the Burner Bubbles — which, of course, were much more accurate. These scenes were interspersed with interviews, where three or four pros ascribed improvement in their game to the Burner Bubble. How effective is this kind of advertising? I was hitting balls at the Stardust Country Club in Mission Valley, and I noticed that 10 of the 15 golfers on the range were using Burner Bubbles. Some even had snazzy Taylor Made golf bags to go with them.
Reading about golf and watching it on TV are other characteristics of the golf fanatic. Says Logan, “There’s constant reading on ways to improve your game and how the ball is hit. There’s literature out there too. You can read about [Ben] Hogan’s career in Golf in the Kingdom, which is very mystical.”
Cooper has the Golf Channel in his cable TV package; he watches it daily. “It’s golf, golf, golf, 24 hours a day and seven days a week,” he explains. “I always turn it on when I come home to see what they have on. If there’s a tournament on, I’m watching it.”
The second type of golf-equipment fanatic is in love with the clubs he owns. I fall into this category. I’ve had the same set of outdated MacGregors since I started playing in 1987. I found them covered with rust in my friend’s attic. He sold them to me for $40; I steel-wooled the rust off and put them to use. An old golfer once told me they were circa 1962 models, but I don’t know for sure. I do know that I can’t make myself use other clubs — clubs that should be easier to hit and more accurate — because they don’t feel like my MacGregors. During my recent slip back into golf addiction, I bought a new set of clubs, just because that’s what golfers do. I tried them for a couple of rounds, but now I’m back to my MacGregors. I just didn’t like the feel of the other clubs.
Cooper’s the same way. “Once I find something that works for me, I stick with it.”
A third type of golf-equipment fanatic could be part of either group. He’s the collector. “I’m not only into golf as in the playing portion of it,” says Heylman, “but I collect things. For instance, I call all the golf courses that have major championships, and I order hats and towels. I have hats and towels that I’ve never worn and probably never will. I’m starting a collection. I’ve got about 75 or 80 items now.”
Like Heylman, Cooper is a collector but more of clubs than accessories. “I own four sets of clubs,” he explains. “One is the starter set my father gave me when I was a kid. Then there are the ones I’m using now. And I knew an old man who gave me two sets of clubs. The irons are really old. One is a set of MacGregor Tour Blades he said Jack Nicklaus played with. Pm missing the 7-iron, but I’ve got a club-finder out trying to locate one. They’re from the mid-’60s. This guy also gave me a set of Peterson cavity-backs. They were the first clubs made with a little cavity in back.”
Fantasy is another symptom of golf fanaticism. Addicted golfers have dreams of golf grandeur. As far as I’m concerned, I’d just like to break 80. But a true fanatic? “My ultimate goal would be becoming head professional at a nice country club somewhere,” Cooper says. “I’d like to go abroad and teach over there. I’m also looking at Hawaii. My dream would be winning the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in the year 2002, when it’s going back there. Yeah, I’d love to go through all of that, being the winner of the U.S. Open. That’s been a dream of mine since I started playing.”
Heylman’s golf dreams aren’t as grand. “I know my limitations. I’m about a ten handicap. I’ll probably go down a little bit more, but I’m more interested in management. I want to run golf courses.”
We know the symptoms of the golf fanatic, but what is the cause of his addiction? What about the game of golf hooked Cooper in the first place? “I’ve always loved this game,” he says, “because it’s a mental game, and it’s a game you play against yourself. It’s a game of honor and it’s a lot of fun. You’ll always get better, but you’ll never get good enough. Also, it’s a good way to meet people and really get to know them.... If you’re out on a golf course, you’re going to be there at least four hours, and you go through a lot of emotions playing golf, so you really get to see what this person is like.
“I think the biggest appeal is the PGA on TV. It’s a popular sport now, and it draws a lot of attention, and people see that and they want to do it."
Cooper also believes in the constant nature of the game. “The game doesn’t change; it’s always been the same. It’s progressed, but the guts of the game are still the same. It’s been that way for 150 years or longer.”
Logan agrees and suggests that golf's natural setting is also an attraction. “Golf courses are beautiful,” he explains. “They treat the environment well, and they usually are a habitat to nature, not only flora but fauna — all kinds of wildlife. I play in Lake Wildwood in Northern California, and there are deer, partridges, pheasants, wild turkeys, and ducks. Early morning, you get out there and you don’t know what you are going to run into right on the course.”
What about the total frustration in golf? If I thought of the ten most angry moments in my life, nine of them would be set on a golf course. Why do I go back and torture myself?
Cooper offers an anecdote from his El Paso, Texas, childhood. “‘The country club we belonged to Lee Trevino designed,” he says. “Every year he had a youth camp, and he hit balls with all the kids. When he was finished, he came over and had a talk with us, and he said something I’ve always remembered: ‘Golf is the most fun you’ll ever have being frustrated. If you can keep that in mind, you’ll never grow tired of this game.’ ”
Logan adds, “You can have 17 bad holes and one great hole, and that’s the one you remember. Laying it on the green in two, or laying it on the green in one and one-putting it for a birdie or a par, that’s what you remember, and that’s what will bring you back the next day.”
I close out our round of golf with a ball in the water and a triple bogey. “That’s one way to cure yourself of golf addiction,” I suggest. “End every round with a triple bogey to leave a bad taste in your mouth.”
“Nope,” Logan shakes his head and smiles, “gives you incentive to come back because you know you can do better.”