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From the archives

It's Opening Day 2024, and we look back on baseball aces' obsession with golf and their dream clubhouse putting green

March 28, 2024
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The Sporting News

Today is Opening Day of the 2024 Major League Baseball season—if you don’t count two games the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres played in South Korea. (And we don’t.) Hundreds of thousands of fans will make their way to 15 games, many no doubt happily singing along to John Fogerty’s catchy 1994 baseball diddy, “Centerfield.”

The beauty of the baseball season is that it also happens to coincide with the heart of the golf calendar. Golfers are the Boys of Summer, too. When Opening Day once fell sometime in the first week of April, rather than late March, it was symbiotically linked to the Masters. Spring was here, and we had two beautiful things to look forward to watching on lush green grass.

(Golf Digest+ members get access to the complete Golf Digest archive dating back to 1950. Sign up here.)

Golf Digest has done its share of baseball-related golf stories through the years, including a look back on the rivalry on the links between Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb. But for more modern take, we ventured back to our October 1997 issue, in which writer Dave Kindred caught up with the Atlanta Braves golf-obsessed three pitching aces—John Smotlz, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux.

What neither Kindred nor the players knew when the story was written was that, even with these three amazing arms, the Braves would once again fall short of a world championship. In the season after they were beaten by the New York Yankees in the 1996 World Series, Atlanta won the National League East by nine games, but was ousted by the division-mates, the Miami Marlins, in the NLCS. Poor Braves fans.

Anyway, the revelations in Kindred’s story about baseball players and their golf habits are fascinating.

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Smoltz told Kindred that he was the keeper of the pitchers’ little black book of golf course contacts, so as to set up tee times on the road. Those included bucket list courses such as Pine Valley and Cypress Point. “If John lost that little black book, he’d be more upset than if he lost his glove,” Glavine said.

“The perfect day,” Smoltz said, “begins with a night flight to San Francisco. We get a car and drive straight to Monterey. We play the next day and the morning after at Cypress, Spyglass and Pebble Beach. Then we drive back to San Francisco for a game that night.”

Then, at some point, they actually played baseball for a living. Nice life.

Of course, they couldn’t do it without the blessing of then-Braves manager Bobby Cox, a golf lover himself who only restricted the trio from playing on the day before they pitched or the day of. “They need to do something better than sit around the hotel all days—especially the day after they pitch,” Cox said. “They need to get their mind off it, whether they did good or bad, and get ready for their next start.”

The guys had it pretty sweet, too, when they returned home to Atlanta. In the bowels of old Fulton County Stadium, Smoltz took the caps off drain holes for the golfers to putt into. And as the story goes, Glavine began negotiating in 1995 with Braves President Sean Kasten about getting a bona-fide putting green installed at the planned Turner Field venue that would open in 1997. “Win it all,” Karsten told Glavine, “and you get your putting green in the clubhouse.”

Sure enough, Maddux won one game and Glavine three, including the Game 6 clincher on a combined one-hitter, to beat the Cleveland Indians to win the 1995 World Series. True to his word, Kasten included a four-hole contoured putting green in the clubhouse. As seen in the photo that accompanied the Golf Digest story, the green was backed by photo mural of the 16th hole at Augusta National.

“It’s so peaceful,” Smoltz said. “All we need are the birds chirping.”