Voices
September 01, 2020

An open letter to new golfers, from the rest of us

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Ted Levine

New golfer,

Hello. We are thrilled to hear you have taken up the sport. Our game is one of endless joy and incessant frustration. If that sentence doesn’t come off as a paradox, congrats, you’re in the right place.

Let us begin with an apology. We wanted to write this sooner, as golf has been inundated with new faces this year. However, much like frosted tips, planking and America’s infatuation with British cooking shows, we thought this might be a passing fancy. Yet fall is around the corner and it remains easier to pole vault with a toothpick than to book a tee time, so … welcome!

With any new endeavor things are bound to be foreign, and as you may have noticed, golf seems to have an inordinate amount of curiosities. On what to do, how to do it, where to play and when, and why everyone has a strong opinion on someone named Bryson. Our goal is to answer your questions while also showing you the ropes in order to make you feel at home. Before we dig in, no, we don’t get the fondness for argyle, either.

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For starters, the starter. That’s the man, likely retired, guarding the first tee box. He is either a saint or drill sergeant; there is no third persona. If it seems like he’s taking his job a tad too seriously, well, he is. That’s OK! That job is to keep things running smoothly. Our advice is to treat him like you treat a bouncer: Make eye contact, no screwing around, don’t speak unless spoken to. Weird, yes, we know, but like a bar, be willing to put up with a moment of uncomfortableness for hours of fun.

On to playing. You might be nervous, feeling the pressure to play well, especially if you are paired with strangers or good players. Let us ease your worry. Golfers do not care about your score. If you stink, no worries. Almost all of us stink! Even the ones who don’t stink still kind of stink, because that’s why they’re playing with you and not on TV. We’re merely hoping you’re an interesting person or good hang.

That thing with the beat-to-hell AstroTurf mats is the range. We go there with hopes of trying to not stink, or stink less, or at least attempt to stretch so we don’t pull a muscle on the first tee. All are Sisyphean struggles. Same goes for your efforts on the putting green. You will make all of your practice putts then fail to make anything past six inches on the course. This is why courses sell alcohol.

A few other quick hits:

Dress code: As you may have noticed on the PGA Tour, players are wearing hoodies and joggers and collarless shirts now. How it hasn’t given Jim Nantz a stroke is beyond us. Despite this relaxed dress code, it’s not a bad idea to play it safe with a polo and dress shorts in the short term. And while we would never, ever try to body shame anyone, there’s a specific figure, and station in life, one needs to have to wear a collarless shirt. You don’t have it.

Equipment: You get 14 clubs. You will hit none of them consistently, blame the poor results on said clubs, buy new clubs, and hit them just as bad, if not worse. This may spur you to seek instruction from a golf teacher, but in all likelihood, you’ll just buy another set of new sticks. Adjust your financial planning accordingly.

Rules: They are unclear, but not as unclear as they used to be! There are a lot of them, but playing the ball as it lies will keep you out of trouble. Unless it’s in Mrs. Havecamp’s backyard. Technically that’s out-of-bounds … but if you don’t see her, swing away.

We good? Good. Because our intention with this letter is not entirely altruistic. There are a few things we expect of you, even as a newbie. Especially as a newbie.

You see, many of us view golf as a loved one. In fact, many of our actual loved ones think we love golf more than them, and to that we plead the Fifth. This may explain why you’re receiving the same type of coldness you get from your girlfriend’s father. In short, you need to prove you’re worthy of joining the family.

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Your primary responsibility: Do not hold anyone up. Slow play is the bane of our existence. If we could, we’d put the worst offenders in stocks by the clubhouse to be mocked and pelted with driving range balls. To reiterate, it’s OK if you struggle. Just don’t be deliberate about it. You get one practice swing. Despite what you see on tour, you don’t need to read your line on both sides of the cup. Forget what the wind is doing; your shot likely won’t get high enough for the wind to affect it. Be ready when it’s your turn to hit, and if you’ve surpassed triple bogey on a hole, pick up your ball and head to the next hole. Deep down, we are a considerate bunch, but patience is not one of our fortes.

Also, etiquette. The game is not short on civil graces, so we aren’t anticipating you know all of the dignities and guidelines. There are, however, a handful of basic “don’ts.” Don’t talk in someone’s backswing. Don’t talk about another person’s swing. (Yes, we know it’s past parallel. As we already mentioned, we stink.) Don’t hit into the group ahead. Don’t walk through your partner’s line on the green. Don’t be overly crass. Don’t spend 10 minutes trying to capture the perfect Instagram photo. Don’t sulk about a bad round. Don’t get angry at a bad round. Don’t do anything but laugh at a bad round, because, again, we all stink.

Oh, and above all else, definitely don’t flirt with the cart girl. This is her workplace, and she’s already been hit on 50 times before she reached your group. Treat her like a human being.

Basically, if it’s something Michael Scott would do in an episode of “The Office,” don’t do it.

Look, we get it. This is a lot and it may read like a syllabus, or worse, a “Stay off our lawn” sign. But we want this game to remain special, and that’s making sure beginners know why it’s special. For all the above, you will quickly realize there are few things better in life than a pured 7-iron or a smoked drive or sharing a drink at the clubhouse with the rest of the Thursday night league (something to look forward to someday when we get through COVID) or standing on the first hole with nowhere to go and all day to get there. Whether your round is good or not (and we mentioned we all stink, yes?), those are moments that make the sport so damn enjoyable.

So again, welcome to our beautiful game. And if you don’t mind us asking, where do you stand on the distance debate?