Member-guest season is upon us. It's an event many golfers look forward to for months, and one you want to fully enjoy. I know this because mine just concluded, and my partner, Golf Digest senior equipment editor Mike Stachura, spent hours losing balls around the chipping green while trying to find a short game.
He and I have had some success in this event, winning the whole shebang twice since 2011 and making the horse-race finale several other times.
This is not an accident. There is an art to fully enjoying—and winning—the member-guest. Here are a few tips that we’ve picked up along the way that might have you holding the crystal at the end of yours.
Pick your partner carefully
In most best-ball events you can endure any clown for 18 holes as long as he’s got your back when you snap your tee shot into the lumberyard. The member-guest, however, requires a different skill set. Yes, you want someone who is a compatible fit competitively, but you also need someone you can tolerate for three-plus days during painfully slow play, someone who doesn't make you want to stab yourself in the eye with a letter opener. The drunken friend is a bad choice. The husband of your wife’s friend is even worse. The coworker who likes golf as much as you do and rarely plays competitive golf is a much smarter play. They’ll appreciate the event no matter what, plus you can always talk shop when the going gets slow. And because your entire office knows you're playing, you’re less likely to be bothered by work. Also make sure you don’t bring the lunatic who takes things too seriously. Yes, it’s a golf competition, but you don’t want to be asked the next year if you’re bringing back “that guy.” Such as Mr. Super Serious Scratch Player—you know, the dude who wears long pants (with the requisite ankle slit near the cuffs) in 95-degree heat. Leave him off the list. Bonus points if your partner doesn’t drink. The bar bill for the week will be significantly less, plus he can drive you home.
Having a good time at the Member-Guest begins before the event even starts. That’s because you have to get into the event to begin with. At many clubs the M-G is the golf social event of the season, and if there is a field limit, it can fill up quickly. At my club this year it filled up in three days, leaving a few people hoping for someone to twist an ankle or have a business emergency come up. Be aware when the sign-up day is approaching and make sure you have all your partner’s info ready (name, club affiliation, GHIN number), and when the email shows up in your inbox, reply immediately. The member-guest is like the lottery: You have to be in it to win it.
Manage the handicap, maybe . . .
For the hard core, this one occurred to me the other day when I got my July 1 revision (the last one before the M-G) and saw my Index was 0.1 from getting another stroke—golf’s equivalent of a bad paper cut. Should I have tried to squeeze in one more round and see what happened? Odds are, I wouldn’t shoot anything so disturbingly low to erase a full shot, and if I played about how I’ve been playing, perhaps it would have kicked out a lower score. To be clear, I’m not talking about intentionally tanking here, as that would be beyond wrong. But knowing where you stand is as important in the handicap game as it is on the course. A little fugazy? Let your conscience be your guide.
Play a practice round
Even if you’ve had your guest to the course many times before, make sure you get them out there to play before the big event. You want to get them comfortable with the course, remind them where the trouble is, how the greens break and at what speeds they run. Not to mention reminding them where the locker room, bag room and range are. In short, you don’t want them sensing any unease of where to go or what to do when they arrive for Day 1. Feeling comfortable is an important aspect of being able to play your best.
Take it easy the night before
Most member-guests have some sort of stag night the evening before play starts. By all means, go and have a good time. Just not too much of a good time. Roasted meats are wonderful (as my buddies can attest when they watch me tear through a rib eye like a lion that hasn’t eaten in days). But 22 ounces of roasted meat the night before, coupled with a couple of extra adult beverages could make that first match at 7:30 a.m. a bit of a struggle. Have a nice meal, a couple of beverages, place your parimutuel wagers (because you don’t want to have that hanging over your head the next morning when you should be warming up) and call it a night. If you leave and half the field is still there, you’re ahead of the game. Bonus tip: Resist this being the one night of the year you have a cigar. Your body is likely not going to respond well to that.
Get up early the next morning
Face it, you probably haven’t had a great night’s sleep anyway because you’re all fired up about playing. But don’t just lounge in bed tossing and turning. Get up a full two hours before play and start moving. Shower, shave, get dressed and maybe peruse your emails or something else. In short, get your mind activated. And if you’re a coffee drinker, make sure you have that cup a full 45 minutes before tee time. Then get to the course plenty early. The last thing you want to do is arrive half asleep with your hair on fire because you’re late. A leisurely warm-up, a few practice putts and you’re ready for battle.
Simple stuff, really. Have the raingear, rain gloves and extra towels ready if bad weather is possible. If it’s warm, put a couple bottles of water in the cart. Make sure you have plenty of ammo, tees, etc. Mark your ball when you get to the course and not in a “Oh, darn, forgot to do it” moment on the first tee. Preparedness breeds confidence. Helpful hint: If it’s really warm, take a small towel, soak it in cold water and keep it around your neck the entire time except for when you hit shots. It’s amazing how much it keeps the heat off you.
Know thy opponent
Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your opponent can come in handy. Are they shaky on three-footers? If so, be stingy on the concessions. They like to race around the course? Feel free to slow it down if that’s not your pace. Knowing some social tendencies can help as well. In one crucial match a few years ago, our opponents were a father-son duo where the dad was a scratch drinker, and his son not too far behind. A couple holes in, they ordered a couple of cocktails from the beverage cart and were mildly complaining about the pour. Sensing an opportunity (and being a board member at the time), I authorized a heavy pour for the two. Junior was shot a couple holes later. Dad held firm for most of the match but finally succumbed at the end. Dirty pool? I don’t think so. Just giving the fellas what they wanted.
Know where you stand heading into the last match
In many formats, points are accumulated, including decimal points for extra holes won. Knowing what you need to do to win your flight or perhaps earn a wild-card spot into the horse race (a shootout for overall champion) is key. Often, winning is not enough. You need to win by two or three holes, and the last thing you want to realize is that you cozied up that 10-footer to tap-in range on the final hole to win, 1 up, when you needed to win 2 up to get into the horse race. The math isn’t always clear, but look at the board—and not just at your flight.
Holding up in the Horse Race
This kind of goes to knowing your partner. Does he need to be coddled, or do you need to go to the whip? The horse race is different than the event because in all likelihood you have some 50 people watching you play golf while they drink and smoke cigars. Some people thrive in this arena. Others tend to take divots while they putt. Embrace the atmosphere. Have fun with it. Joke with the hecklers. Let everyone else be so tight that you couldn’t pull a pin out of their rear end without a tractor. Also, know—and practice—the likely chip-off positions during your practice round.
Attend the after-tournament party
OK, we get it—you’ve been grinding for two or three days, and you’ve had enough of your guest and possibly everyone else in the field. But there’s nothing that ruins a great member-guest more than not having a significant ending to the event. The after-party is not only a fitting bow to tie it all together, but come on, man, your wives have let you be away all weekend. The least you can do is let them join in a little bit of the member-guest fun you’ve been enjoying for days.