The economics of golf courses in this day and age make it more profitable to open overblown, overpriced, over-hyped tracks designed by big-name players, and almost always with a real estate development attached. Not long ago, I defied anyone to play an upscale daily fee in the Atlanta area without hearing the sound of a pneumatic nail gun or power saw in the background. No one was able to rise to the challenge.
Upscale daily fees have their place in the golf economy, I suppose. But the shame of it is at the other end of the spectrum, where municipal and Mom-and-Pop courses and ranges used to fulfill an important part of the process of golf development.
Its simple: You could hang out there.
Unless youre deep in the cash, you cant just hang out at, say, the TPC at Sugarloaf outside Atlanta. And if you have that much money, youre probably busy earning more. On the other hand, thousands of golfers have stories of childhoods constructively wasted at town courses all over America.
One of our producers here at TGC used to pick the range at a New York area course. He got in a lot of practice time, learned the gentlemanly habits of the game, and felt the glory of summer afternoons on the turf.
Of course, he also played roofball with the caddies. After the sun went down, he and the caddies would bet dollars on who could catch a ball when it suddenly rolled down into the remaining light after being thrown into the darkness of the clubhouse roof.
Our own Rich Lerner is a treasure chest of golf course memories, many of which concern the inimitable northeastern Pennsylvania pro, Frank Stockey. He also recalls range-picking, and having to get out of the cart to hit balls away from the fence and back into the range. What with all the shotmaking experiments, that job could easily take three hours.
You wouldnt know it was ever in the genes, but my late brother was a scratch player. He was a regular at the muni course in Mt. Lebanon, Pa., the Pittsburgh suburb where we grew up. Ill never forget the day he ran across the front yard toward me with a big smile on his face and a scorecard in his hand: 34. Even par for the first of many times in his life. (Mt. Lebanon was a tight little par 34, 9-hole track.)
Fred Couples was a range rat. So was Mark King, president of TaylorMade-adidas Golf. Wally Uihlein, Titleists chief, grew up in Haverhill, Mass. and was slapping sleeves of balls and pouring beers in the clubhouse when most of his peers hadnt even had their first jobs yet.
I wont contend for a moment that expertise in roofball added greatly to a young mans education. But it was part of a chance to be around golf. Through long exposure, experimentation, and example, a generation of golfers learned to love the game and treat it well.
Nothing against organized programs such as the First Tee. On the contrary, Ive declared my support for those efforts time and time again in this space. But some of that informal stuffwell, thats gold.