'Golf needs to be fun,' says one resort's music-loving pro. want tunes while you play? He rents out speakers in the golf shop.
I'm setting up for my tee shot, and the marshal is not happy. It's late spring 2000, and I'm on the 13th hole at the Rancho Solano Golf Course in Northern California, where I work part-time while in college. The marshal, who's pushing 70, has parked his red cart behind my group. Nestled between my two playing partners is the source of the marshal's ire: a portable boombox playing a particularly profane track from Jay-Z's "Vol. 3... Life and Times of S. Carter." I turn, address the ball, and crack my drive straight down the fairway. I grin. He scowls and barks at my friends to turn down the music.
None of us is exactly surprised. For most of golf's history, players have been expected to strike the ball in meditative silence, followed—if they hit a great one—by a muted "golf clap."
But much has changed in the past few years. A growing number of amateurs and pros are bringing music to the range and out onto the course. A recent Golf Digest reader survey showed 20 percent of golfers 18 to 34 listen to music on headphones while playing. Even more of this age group—37 percent—bring portable music players to the course. Compare that with 22 percent of those 35 to 54 and just 6 percent of golfers 55 and up.
"Golf needs to be fun," says Matthew Hall, director of golf at Hawaii's Turtle Bay Resort. "When I play, it's usually a scramble format, and there's a speaker on the back of my cart where I've got five hours of mixes that I've put together." Hall embraces music as something that enriches the game. He'll often include DJs on the course during tournaments and even rents portable speakers in the golf shop.
Some golfers simply drop their cellphones in the cart's cup holder and hit "play," letting the music resonate off the cart's plastic body.
What about others on the course? Won't your music bother them? Not if you're discreet about it. (See "The sound minus the fury," below)
USGA rules prohibit the "use of headphones or earplugs to eliminate noise or other distractions" in competition, but many tour pros are known to practice with their favorite tunes. (see "pro playlists")
It's not just contemporary players who have used music to help focus. "One of the things Sam Snead used to do is hum 'The Blue Danube,' " says Laird Small, director of instruction at the Pebble Beach Golf Academy. "I think something that creates rhythm helps the player to maintain the golf swing."
Still, not everyone is onboard the music express. "I'm not a big proponent of it," says Don Chelemedos, general manager of San Francisco's Presidio Golf Course. "I think it draws you out of the game." He adds, "Most sport psychologists will say you want to practice in the environment you'll be playing in."
I recently visited the course where I used to work, hoping it had become more accommodating to music-loving golfers. It hasn't. My uncle Mark is a marshal there, and he confirms that golfers playing music loud enough for others to hear will be told to turn it down.
Disappointed, I stopped at the range to hit some balls. Lately I'd contracted a nasty slice and couldn't seem to shake it. Sure enough, I proceeded to hit half a dozen banana balls.
I pulled my headphones from my bag, plugged them into my phone and switched on some Allman Brothers. As the rumbling baseline of "Whipping Post" hit my ears, the racket of the outside world faded out, along with my messy internal dialogue. I smashed a screamer straight down the middle. And another. And another.
GOLF DIGEST'S ETIQUETTE GUIDE
• Unleashing music on a group of golfers you just met? Ask what kind of tunes they're into, then front-load your playlist to correspond. That said, don't be afraid to introduce some artists of your own on the back nine.
• Good rule: Music seems to work best during the parts of a round when you're not hitting shots. Riding in a cart between the holes or raking a bunker? Hit play. But when the situation calls for precision—like on the green—maybe hit mute.
Certain genres seem to work better on the course than others. Good: Black Keys, Mumford & Sons. Bad: Miley Cyrus, GWAR.
• Worried about your tunes being too loud? Take 15 paces from your cart. If you can still hear the guitar riff from "Welcome to the Jungle," you should probably reduce the volume.
• Love thy neighbor and be proactive about your playlist. If you get close to another foursome, roll up and ask if they're bothered by your music. Who knows? They might even ask you to turn it up.
• Reserve the ear buds for the practice range. Golf's a social game—you'll want to easily communicate with your partners.
• Especially if someone is yelling at you to duck an incoming drive.
1. Bose Quiet Comfort 20i
With the 20i, Bose shrank its noise-canceling tech and inserted it into a pair of handsome ear buds. The result? Beautifully nuanced sound and the elimination of all manner of background commotion. $300, bose.com
2. Ultimate Ears Boom Wireless Bluetooth Speaker
The best part of this Bluetooth speaker? It's not the dirt- and grime-resistance. Nor is it the cylindrical shape. It's that you can link two of these speakers to create true stereo sound. $200, ultimateears.com
3. Soundfreaq Sound Spot
This stylish unit would look right in place on Don Draper's desk. It has a 2¼-inch driver that yields impressively warm sounds. The seven-hour battery life is excellent for a speaker of this caliber. $70, soundfreaq.com
4. Cobra AirWave Mini
At 3½ inches tall, this rugged Bluetooth speaker is about the size of a premium stogie. And come to think of it, the price is probably about the same, too. $40, cobra.com
5. Bang & Olufsen
BeoPlay H3 Headphones These decadent Danish beauties deliver dulcet sounds by way of 10.8mm drivers and small tubes (mini bass ports) that serve up serious low-end sound. The tough aluminum construction means they'll endure rain and sweat alike. $199, beoplay.com