Stopping By the 7th Tee on a Snowy Evening

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I wonder how many of you have a ritual like this.
 
Each December while we lived in Chicago, I made a quiet pilgrimage to the muni I played every weekend of the summer. I would look in at the pro shop, ask if it was O.K., and then walk out to the course, chuckling at the Whatre-you,-screwy? look I got from the old guy behind the counter when he looked up from his Golf Digest (What was he doing there in December anyway?).
 
But he didnt really mind, and neither did anyone else, if I wanted to crunch over the snow that covered the course most years. So along I would go, hole by hole, reliving triumph and ignominy. A 40-footer on the second green for a birdie on a hot June day, a four-putt to the same hole location after a thunderstorm in August. A drive that finally cleared the ridge on the long, par-4 fifth; a hundred others that leaked more oil than your first car. Hole-out from the bunker to the right of 18 with everyone watching, hitting from the other side of the path behind where they keep the pull carts after over-over-clubbing on the same hole ' with everyone watching.
 
So goes a golfers annual retrospect. I had intended to do my usual year-in-review column this year, glibly recounting the biggest business stories of 2002. But you know what they were, both of them. And while the controversies over coefficient of restitution in drivers and whether a woman should be a member of Augusta National Golf Club have much to teach us as they evolve, I have broader things on my mind, things you might think about while walking alone on a snowy golf course.
 
What will golf look like in this country in 10 years? Who will be playing, and how often? Ive heard so much talk about how weve got to grow the game, and seen so little measurable progress, that Ive given up waiting. If it happens, great. If the project dies on the vine while the private sector tries to figure out whos going to pay for it, also fine. Ill still play, and so will a lot of other people. But golf would then become like fly fishing, which more than any another sport is like a good, out-of-the-way restaurant: People who know about its charms dont want word to get out, so they keep to themselves and sneer at newcomers.
 
I hope golf wont go down that path. But this isnt Scotland, where the game is a broad thread in the national fabric. Golf will be a secondary participation sport in the U.S. for a long time, at least for as long as we all live.
 
What should Tiger Woods do about Augusta National? Should we expect social activism from our top athletes? Why would we have that right? Or did Tiger place himself in the arena when he began his career by saying he wants to make golf look more like America (which is about half female)?
 
Is the constant tension between equipment makers and regulators a good balancing mechanism for golf, or just bad public relations for a game that desperately needs players? In a game that is famously difficult for all but a small group of people, can we reasonably ask engineers to slow innovation, assuming that could even be done? On the other hand, isnt there a fundamental rightness to the U.S. Golf Associations passionate desire to make the game recognizable from generation to generation?
 
Better to air out these thoughts on a golf course, because theyre the kind that would otherwise have you staring at the ceiling in the middle of the night, if you care at all about the game. But there are other good reasons to end the year with a winter course walk.
 
The educated nose can smell grass clippings through the snow. The golf-educated mind can embrace memories that filter up through that same blanket. Now, when the year is done and the work is behind us for a few weeks, is a good time to let the games regenerative powers take over. Take a break from designing, promoting, selling, competing (and yes, writing and broadcasting) to reflect on why we have the best jobs ' and hobby ' man or woman could devise. Rest, and look forward to the not-too-distant day when the bloom will return to the rose, your down move will return to your right side properly, and your ball will return to the air.
 
Those lie-awake problems will keep until we get back to them in a few weeks. For the season of redemption, lets just love the game.
 
Happy holidays, everyone.