BOO-YAH! Wipe that frown from your face. Golf is about enjoying yourself--and we're here to help you make it happen.
1. INVENT YOUR OWN RULES
When my club's Sunday-morning four-ball ends in a tie, we have a playoff on the putting green--although usually not by putting. Once, we chipped from the tops of beer cans. Another time, we threw balls onto the roof of the clubhouse so that they bounced through the flower bed and onto the putting surface. Another time, we hit lobs from the plastic liner in the bed of Nick's pickup truck, which he had backed up to the fence. Another time, we played foot wedges from under the big rhododendron. For that one, you had to look around, all furtive-like, and then kick your ball onto the green. Recently, we had a playoff partly in the clubhouse. There's a window just above the urinal in the men's locker room. Hacker (real name) noticed that if you leaned over the urinal and stuck your arm out the window, you could toss a ball past the fence, over the patio and onto the green. So that's what we did, closest to the pin. --David Owen
2. LIGHTEN YOUR LOAD
Fourteen is far too many clubs. They're too heavy, and they make the game boring. I recently competed in a limited-club challenge where we played with one to five clubs and got additional shots above our handicap accordingly--12 extra shots if you played with just one club, eight shots for two clubs, five shots for three clubs, two shots for four clubs and zero shots for five clubs. I went with a hybrid and a 9-iron, and it was the most fun. It's liberating to stroll unencumbered down the fairway with just a couple of clubs over your shoulder and a spare ball in your pocket. On top of that, having fewer clubs forces you to be inventive and create "shots" rather than simply "swings." --John Barton
3. PLAY FEWER HOLES
When golf starts to get tedious, I do it in smaller doses. I'll play nine holes, or maybe 12.
A dozen is ideal: Think of it as two six-hole "nines." You don't get caught up in your usual scoring benchmarks, like breaking 40 or 80, and can just enjoy the game. At the very least, it'll give you less time to beat yourself up. --Peter Morrice
4. THROW OUT THE SCORECARD
The no. 1 thing I do to make the game more fun is to stop keeping score. I'm so results-obsessed that it's very therapeutic for me to throw away that little pencil and rip up the scorecard on the first tee. It takes a lot of will to do it--and during the round, I constantly have to stop myself from adding strokes over par in my head. But once I get there mentally, it completely liberates my game, which is crazy fun. --Stina Sternberg
5. TUNE IN, DROP OUT
Lately my father and I have been listening to music when we play. We usually take his iPod and plug it into a small battery-powered speaker and leave it in the cart. It's loud enough so we can hear but soft enough not to disturb other golfers. The playlist is set to shuffle, and we'll listen to everything from R&B to disco, soul, reggae, hip-hop, country and classic rock. We find that the more random the playlist, the better. It's not for everyone, but I've found that it helps my tempo, keeps me relaxed and makes those long rounds more enjoyable. --Christian Iooss
6. GO IT ALONE
I have great fun playing golf alone. Those are the times when I play out a little fantasy, like having to par the last three holes to win a tournament. I constantly drop balls around the putting green, go into Walter Mitty mode and pretend I have to get up and down for some title, or give myself a bunch of eight-footers that have to be made. I can make it real enough that I'm fighting choking. When I'm playing alone, I might stay on one hole for 45 minutes.
7. TRY A NEW BET
A new gambling game is my favorite way to liven things up. Here's a great one: The Walk. I have no idea why it's named this, but here's the game: If you think someone is going to three-putt, you tell him he has "walked" before he putts. If he three-jacks, he owes you $5. If he two-putts, he gets $2. If he makes it, he gets $20. Set the bet at any amount you want. What makes it fun is that anyone in the group can walk a player--even your partner, which is hilarious. In my regular foursome, nothing elicits more hooting and hollering than a "parade," which is when all three guys walk the putter. --E. Michael Johnson
8. SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP
Golf becomes more fun for me when I show a little improvement. It doesn't have to be a lot. Just a stroke or two better than my usual score, and I'm happy. So when I get the golf blahs, I spend $60 on a lesson from Don, the pro at my club. He's not a super-technical guy, and I've never seen him near a video camera. He'll watch me hit a few balls, talk about my swing a bit ("Get your belt buckle turned at the target--like that!"), watch me hit a few more, and we're done. It's basic stuff--but it always lifts my golf mood. Last summer I went to Don in the midst of a slump that had me shooting five or six strokes worse than my average. Within a month, I was playing well enough to qualify for the club championship. (OK, so I got knocked out in the first round, but it was a lot of fun while it lasted.) --Peter Finch
9. SAY GOODBYE TO STROKE PLAY
When i joined a golf club last spring, I was ecstatic about taking up the game again after several years away from it. But within just a few weeks, the monotony of stroke play began to wear on me. I wasn't improving as fast as I'd hoped, and the holes became a blur of bogey, double bogey, a par ("whooo!"), triple bogey. Luckily the 18-hole women's group at my new club reached out to me. Their inclusion, encouragement, humor and, most important, their many different formats, put the fun back into golf for me. We played Two-Ball, Four-Ball, Sixes, Team Match Play, Stableford, the Callaway System (who knew?) and countless others. The Pinehurst/Chapman format was my favorite. You and your teammate switch balls after the tee shot, pick the better ball after your second shots, and play alternate shot until that ball is holed.
I love the way you become a team after that first shot, strategizing together, helping recover from your partner's bad shot, or being the hero. The truth is, I enjoyed them all. Each format emphasized a different goal or aspect of the game, introduced me to new and different playing partners, and not least, offered escape from golf's inevitable subtext: The Imperfect Self. --Susan Reed
10. GO CROSS-COUNTRY
When a course is empty, maybe on a rainy day or late in the evening, try playing cross-country golf: going from the tee of one hole to the green of another hole. When I was a kid, on caddie nights at Vermont's Ekwanok Country Club, one of my favorites was to play from the seventh tee to the 12th green. There were lots of ways to navigate the roughly 700 yards, but anyone who could reach the green in four shots was a player. In cross-country golf, you'll sharpen your recovery skills as you shape shots over trees and come into greens from odd angles. But the real fun is in creating new holes. It takes some experience to begin accurately predicting par 7s and par 8s. Once you get the hang of it, it's like finding a new course in the one you already know so well.* --Max Adler*
11. MOVE UP A SET OF TEES
One day after hitting my usual four greens in regulation, two of them with hybrids, I did a little research online. I learned the average tour player hits his driver almost 300 yards, and the average amateur maybe 240. On top of that, the tour player hits his irons 20 yards longer than the amateur. So let's assume your course has 10 par 4s. At 60 yards a drive and 20 yards an iron, the tour player has 800 yards on you. Throw in the par 5s and par 3s, and we easily get to 1,200 yards or more. If you play from 6,700-yard tees, this is the equivalent of the tour pro playing from roughly 8,000 yards. Guess what: He wouldn't, and neither should you. Try the 6,200-yard tees, play faster and have more fun. That unusual score? It's called a birdie. --Barney Adams, founder of Adams Golf
12. MAKE PRACTICE A WALK IN THE PARK
I don't have a lot of time for practice, and I've never thought it was much fun anyway. But I always keep my clubs in my trunk with a shag bag of limited-flight practice balls. These balls--the brand name is Almost Golf--look and feel like regular golf balls, but they travel about a third of the distance. It's great because when I've got a few minutes, I can pull over and hit balls in the park near my house ... or really anywhere with some open space. I'll hit everything from 8-iron through wedge. Sometimes I'll create golf holes of my own--like from here to the garbage can is a hole, then over to the bench, then to the basketball court. It definitely helps my short game, and it's a lot more fun than going to the range and hitting a bucket of balls off a mat. --Ken DeLago
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13. ENJOY THE ART OF NEGOTIATING FOR STROKES
You're using a new set of irons for the first time and haven't played in months. Some joker at your club posted three fictitious low scores under your name, dropping your USGA Handicap Index two full strokes. Oh, and your partner has a world-class hangover. These issues are cause for rediscovering one of the game's lost arts: negotiating for extra strokes on the first tee. Here's my three-point plan, good for at least one full handicap stroke and excellent back-and-forth banter as you dicker to get it.
Change the game. Switch the format and terms to a game in which it would be a shame for you to not get more strokes. If you reflexively play a nassau bet, switch to three six-hole matches and point out that in one of the six-hole stretches, you receive one stroke less than in the other two, so you need another to make it fair.
Slope is fallible. Never mind that Indexes are designed for "portability" and that course handicaps supposedly adjust based on course difficulty. You still should make a strong argument for more strokes when (a) it's your opponent's home course, (b) your Index is trending upward or (c) the course is brutally difficult.
Know your limitations. Never claim a physical ailment unless an ambulance was involved. Never lie. And don't be greedy. You're looking for an edge, not a handout. The idea is to make your opponents pay with a smile. --Guy Yocom
14. FREE YOUR MIND
Once, about 10 years ago, I attended a golf school led by Chuck Hogan, a sport psychologist then working with Peter Jacobsen and Mike Reid. You think Hogan, you don't tend to think fun, but Chuck was a different kind of Hogan. As we warmed up, he gave me his first piece of instruction: "Hit a few shots over that fat cloud over there."
For two days that's what we did. We hit balls over clouds, under airplanes, into volcanoes and the mouths of beasts. We got putts rolling on imaginary toy-train tracks and allowed them to be sucked into holes by vacuum cleaners. If you mistakenly hit a shot into the water, Hogan would say, "Great shot. You thought water, you hit water! Now imagine the green is a pond." I remember preparing to hit a short-iron shot picturing a plum blasted high into the sky and landing on a huge pumpkin pie. I watched my plum fly up, saw it plop into the filling, felt the splash, and knew that my real shot would fly with the same trajectory and land exactly the same way. It did. With Chuck, you hit a lot of shots and smiled.
Shortly after that weekend, armed with Hogan's silly visualization, I shot two-under 68 at a very good course in Connecticut, the only time I've ever broken 70.
That was fun. Remind me to get back to that. --Bob Carney
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15. FOCUS ON MAKING MORE PUTTS
I've always enjoyed putting, especially on fast greens where touch and feel become the determinants of line and pace. Is there anything more satisfying than judging the break perfectly, then watching as a putt curves into the center of the hole? There's the noise, too, as ball meets cup--golf's most welcome sound.
Putting well, they say, is all about imagination and "seeing" the ball going into the hole. Maybe. I think back to when I was a scrawny kid who couldn't reach many greens in regulation but who putted "like a demon," as my dad used to say. For me, creating that long-ago feeling is about elimination rather than imagination. The key is never thinking about the next putt. Only holing the putt. Making, not missing--now that's fun. --John Huggan
For a story on the joys of a putting course, see "The Lovely Lumps" of St. Andrews, page 98.
16. YOUR WARDROBE: KICK IT UP A NOTCH
I always dress colorfully on the course. It's just part of my fabric, so to speak. But when my game needs a lift, I turn up the "brightness" even more than usual. Invariably it adds a little extra spring to my step.
If you're tempted, I suggest you pick just one item--pants, shirt or sweater--and go for it. I love red or orange pants, but with a red or orange shirt I'd look like a highway safety cone--or Rickie Fowler--until I took the club back. So I'll wear a white shirt with bright pants or maybe blue or tan pants with a brightly colored shirt. My final piece of advice: If you have to stand in front of the mirror for more than 20 seconds, go change!* --Marty Hackel*
17. TAKE A TRIP DOWN NOSTALGIA LANE
Much like tasting an exotic spice, playing a new course can be a thrilling, memorable experience. But comfort food is best when you're feeling blue, which is why I like returning to a familiar course when I'm in a golf funk.
In college I spent countless hours at the Birdwood Golf Course, home to the University of Virginia's golf teams. Not only does it hold great memories--a teammate got engaged on the ninth green as we all watched, I made my first par-4 eagle from the 13th fairway--but by now I know the course like the back of my golf glove. The yardage on the third fairway is wrong, for example, so I always take one more club. If I don't aim left of the target laying up on the par-5 15th, my ball will bounce right, into the nasty hazard. Knowing its nuances as well as I do, I usually post a lower-than-average score when I play Birdwood. That's fun, for sure. But it's reliving the memories--and thinking about all the great new memories ahead--that really gets me pumped about playing the game again. --Ashley Mayo
18. GOLF IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN?
Fun? Fun is snickerdoodles and hopscotch. Fun is not golf. Golf is torture and agony surrounded by fleeting blips of moderate satisfaction and bemusing blind luck. At its best, it is the sensation that you are bleeding from the mouth like Lee Marvin at the end of "The Dirty Dozen," bruised but not broken, as you walk to the 18th green. The evil beauty of this game, its perilous joy, lies in staring down the constant fear of failure and achieving something that passes ever so briefly as success. Wanting to subject yourself to that sort of psycho-trauma every day for all the tomorrows you have left--that's what's fun about golf.* --Mike Stachura *