One of my favorite rounds—ever—was at the Stadium Course on a day like the one they had Friday at the Players Championship. It was about 10 years ago.
I’d been in St. Augustine representing Golf Digest at industry meetings, under the umbrella Golf 2020, an initiative aimed at “growing” our game. There are tons of great ideas, but we knew that we were up against a huge problem that might never go away: People were too damn busy to play as much as they once had. There were too many other activities to pull them away, the Internet proving a lot of them. At the end of the two days I’d asked some fellow attendees who were friends if they’d like to play a round at the TPC before they headed back home. Not surprisingly, if a bit ironically, most were too busy. Golf seemed a luxury they couldn’t justify that day, which I think was a Friday.
I had one taker, however, and changed the reservation from four to two. Then, early Friday morning, my partner, seeing a dismal forecast, backed out. He was from the south. He didn’t have to play in such conditions.
Back then we used that mantra, Play Golf America! That morning I realized that if I was going to grow the game it would come down to Play Golf Bob! And so I went for it.
When I got to the TPC for a 10 o’clock tee time it was raining steadily, but the course was open. “It drains well,” smiled the assistant behind the desk, hoping to make me happy or make the course one more fee, and I paid the fee. No one else was going out at this point, and he suggested I join a group on the third hole. “They’re from up your way. Buffalo, I think. Close enough, I thought. They’re hungry for golf, too."
On the par-3 third I met the Buffaloans who were not daunted by the weather. As we finished the front and moved to the 10th the rain grew heavier and puddles began to appear here and there. By the time we finished 15, they were everywhere. They paused under a shelter near the 16th tee, hoping the rain would soften and the puddles would recede. But anxious to get to 17, I played on, around and through small lakes on the 16th fairway.
As I putted out, I heard a shout from the 17th tee. “C’mon join us!” It was a young man and an older one, father and son it turned out, waving me over, and from the grins on their faces it might have been 80 degrees and sunny. They were having loads of fun. “It’s my dad’s 50th,” said the younger man. “This is his present. Isn’t it the greatest! Play in with us.” I don’t remember taking any photos then, I’m not sure our phones could do that. And it was too wet, anyway. The son was down to 13 clubs at that point, he said, because one had slipped out of his hands and flown in a pond on an earlier hole. They thought that was hilarious.
We played 17 and as I recall we all hit the island green. We took more putts than regulation, I remember that, too, but no one cared. I’ve never seen two people more enjoy playing a golf hole in my life, not in 60 years of playing.
We played 18, hugged to celebrate our mutual love of the game, and went in to get a warm drink. I opted not to play Nos. 1 and 2. Both they and I were soaked.
For all the time we’d spent puzzling about ways to build our game back then, nothing ever inspired me, or showed me what golf to mean to players like that father and his son, laughing and swinging in the rain at the Tournament Players Stadium Course. They ought to dedicate a Players Championship to them one of these years.