Taking Golf Cross-Country
Every morning, like insanely avid golfers everywhere, I start the day by cranking up my iPad and clicking on GeoffShackelford.com. He's the cream in my coffee. Today, for example, he had me laughing with a video clip of Charles Barkley teeing off in a pro-am with his stop-and-shop swing and the comment: "I'm sensing an encore season to the Hank Haney-Charles Barkley smash Golf Channel show." Typical Geoff: He slays Haney, Barkley and the Golf Channel in one shot.
Shackelford is our newest contributing editor, and his sharply opinionated website is in partnership with golfdigest.com. The 39-year-old author of 10 books works in course design and collaborated on the restoration of his hometown Los Angeles Country Club's North Course. He wrote the bonus piece in this issue, "Tait Bait," about the legendary Freddie Tait winning a bet by playing 3.2 rugged miles from Royal St. George's, the site of this year's British Open, to Royal Cinque Ports in 32 strokes.
"My fascination with cross-country golf began as most of these things do: in my misspent youth," Geoff says. "My dad [former UCLA basketball star Lynn Shackelford] joined Riviera when I was 16, and I was one of those fortunate kids who got to whap it around one of America's 100 Greatest with not a care in the world. Back then Riviera was more of a club, and so there were a lot of juniors my age. We had a really nice junior program that included one of my regular playing buds, Carson Daly, who also enjoyed little stunts like cross-country play. In the late-summer evenings, we'd invent holes and have competitions, the best being around the clubhouse where there were fewer trees. A particular favorite was playing from the 18th tee to the world-famous 10th green. It was quite the risk-reward par 5!"
If I may interrupt Geoff's storytelling, golf began with made-up holes on the coast of Scotland long before Donald Trump's ancestors eventually laid out a proper course. In 1830, someone known only as "the Gold Medal winner" of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews is said to have played from the first hole at St. Andrews to Cupar, nine miles away, "in 200 teed shots." That's about 80 yards per stroke, not counting lost featheries, which I find pretty believable. A little lower on the credibility scale is the American who allegedly played from the Pacific to the Atlantic from Sept. 14, 1963, to Oct. 3, 1964, in 114,737 strokes: 3,511 golf balls over 3,397 miles. Nevertheless, golf always had this rich tradition of off-the-beaten-path games, from Dan Jenkins' Goat Hills to Alan Shepard's Moon Shot.
In researching his piece, Shackelford discovered that a modern-day band of golfers tried to duplicate Tait's feat, but club officials were not forthcoming with details. "Cross-country golf appears to be taboo," Geoff says. "I chalk this up to golf taking itself a little too seriously and losing touch with the childlike sensibilities that drew our forefathers to the game."
Readers of his blog know that Geoff keeps pushing the scorecard: "As far as I'm concerned, every course not hemmed in by overplanting of trees should have a cross-country competition. Perhaps in late fall or winter with putting necessary only on the final hole. Or maybe it's the way they kick off the club invitational by having a derby to play from one point to the clubhouse in the fewest strokes possible, alternate shot, with a gallery getting to watch, enjoying the camaraderie and laughs. As the gents at St. George's showed, half the fun is in the planning and debate to plot the best route from Point A to Point B. And though kids surely still do it in the late evenings when no one's looking, I'd love to see junior tournaments or college events weave it in as a fun wrap-up competition. I could also see it as a great way to raise money for charity by having people pledge dollars for every shot hit. Maybe it's time to return some of this whimsy to a sport that takes itself too bloody seriously!"
I think I see a smash Golf Channel event in the making.