Cole Swindell picked up golf at 9 or 10 years old and hasn't stopped playing since—except for a brief stretch in college when someone stole his clubs, and he couldn't afford to replace them.
That wouldn't be an issue these days. Winner of the Academy of Country Music's Best New Artist award in 2015, he has eight No. 1 singles, including “Chillin' It” and “You Should Be Here.” His song “Break Up in the End,” which appears on his third album, “All of It,” was nominated for a Grammy. He's also written No. 1 singles for a number of other country artists, including Thomas Rhett, Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line.
Swindell, 35, squeezes as much golf into his schedule as he can. Drummer Chris Marquart and guitarist Joel Hutsell play, and sometimes guys in bands they tour with do, too. “Golf is my main thing on the road,” Swindell says. “People think it's glamorous, but it gets lonely. I'm just sitting there with the same view on a bus unless I get outside and find something to do.”
A West Coast tour last year brought him to a trifecta of special courses: Pebble Beach, Spyglass and Cypress Point. But his favorite golf experience remains Augusta National, which he describes as “what I imagine heaven looks like,” after a few rounds there.
We caught up with Swindell, who carries an 8.3 Handicap Index, in January at the LPGA's Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions outside of Orlando. He competed in four rounds with Danielle Kang, Ariya Jutanugarn, Shanshan Feng and Moriya Jutanugarn, posting respectable scores in the 80s each day and finishing with a birdie on the tough par-3 18th. He came away highly impressed with the LPGA players. “I'm glad I'm a pro at something else,” he says with a laugh. “They're amazing.”
It was Swindell's late father, Keith, who inspired him to take up golf. As a kid in tiny Bronwood, Ga., “I played a lot of sports, but I remember him telling me when I was growing up, ‘You always better play golf.’ What a wonderful game. I'm lucky to have learned it at a young age,” Swindell says.
In addition to playing the game, Swindell's a big fan of the pro tours. “When I get home, I'm so tired on Sunday, all I want to do is lie on the couch and watch the golf tournament,” he says. Of his favorites to watch, Tiger is up there, as well as Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas. “It'd be fun to go hang around those guys, play some golf, have a few drinks, tell stories,” Swindell says. “They're fun to watch. I'm pulling for them.”
As for his aspirations, Swindell is mainly happy to be playing and checking off courses on his bucket list. “I'd love to be a lot better at golf,” he says. “I'm competitive. I don't like not playing well. But I get to do what I love for a living, and golf is just something I enjoy. When I get on that stage at night, I know that's what I was born to be doing.”