Golf Amid the Pandemic

 

Up until right now, I’ve been relatively quiet on my stance when it comes to playing golf amid COVID-19. Before continuing on I need to make one or two things abundantly clear.

  • I’m not an Epidemiologist
  • I love golf. It’s why I write, live, play, and breathe the game
  • If you live in a place where golf has been deemed safe to play, I’m Masters green with envy.
  • Respective governments are much smarter than I am

Chances are that if you’re an avid golfer, you’re likely going to hate my opinion and that’s okay. But in my opinion, golf is “not essential” and nobody should be trying to make it out to be. Period!

Do you know want to know what makes me laugh? The image below where people are trying to compare grocery shopping to playing golf. There’s a basic difference here and in identifying the difference, allow me to ask this. Which one of these two is considered to be essential? One puts dinner on the table and has a pharmacy for medications and one doesn’t? People even suggest playing golf is no different than walking a dog. In 8 years, my Labrador Retriever has defecated a total of 3 times in his yard. He won’t do it, so taking him out is essential. Besides a walk might last 30 minutes, versus 3 to 4 hours for a round of golf (18 holes).

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You see, I’m in a very funny place in the midst of the arguments. In typical Canadian fashion, I’m a bit of a fence-sitter and I see both sides. Regarding my views, I come from a family of nurses. My mother was a nurse as were two of my three siblings. My mother was an Emergency Room nurse, while my one sister worked in the ER and ICU Departments respectively. Once upon a time, she was also on a pandemic team. I know and fully comprehend what our healthcare workers on the front line are facing with this “thing”. It’s brutal, and whether you believe that COVID-19 is a hoax or not, that’s entirely up to you. To draw comparisons to SARS, H1N1 and Influenza A (the latter I had in ’02 and almost died from it) those viruses didn’t spread like a “wildfire” in the midst of a drought. Secondly, due to my Diabetes and Coronary Disease, I’m also firmly entrenched in the “high-risk category”. So because of a deeply-rooted love for nurses and my own health history, perhaps, I’m a little sensitive to the potential for unnecessary burden for our healthcare workers.

Nobody in the world wants it to be “kosher” for golf courses to be open again more than me. I’m more than a golf fan. In my case, like many others out there that work in the industry, it’s my source of income and my livelihood. Courses not being open for play right now has taken an income source away from me and others, which is another argument for the “pro-golf” side of the argument. To elaborate on the importance for me here’s a cute little factoid. Working during the golf season supplements my income of a whopping $758/month that I collect on Canada Pension Plan – Disability. That amount isn’t nearly enough to cover the rent every month. Not to mention other bills like medications, hydro, groceries, etc. I literally NEED that income. Factor in that I love to play the game and that much of my content for this website comes from being on the golf course. MY “need” for golf courses to open is much greater than a guy or girl that just wants to play golf or a member that wants to get their money’s worth.

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The 18th at Scenic Woods Golf Club. I can’t wait to get back.

For many, including myself,  playing a round of golf is a form of release. Golf is a chance to get away from the rigors and stresses of everyday life. I’ve used those same words too. Golf is a release for me and I find it quite cathartic. Heck, I’ve used the term “sanctuary” and said often that golf has saved my life because in a way, it has. I suffer from depression and I have been suicidal too many times to count, but ultimately, I guess I’ve “chickened out” on those occasions. Or maybe I found a will to fight. Golf helps me get through things. But sometimes it’s not enough.

Golf courses that have opened, have taken precautions to keep golfers safe and I applaud the efforts. Including but not limited to inverted cups, not touching the pin (or pins being removed completely), one rider on carts (where applicable), contactless transactions, and maintaining physical distancing. But if there’s one thing that I’ve learned through working the golf industry (golf course operations) over the last decade is that golfers (not all) inevitably will screw this up. Pins will be touched, and the “Six-Foot Rule” will be breached. On the best of days, golfers don’t adhere to simple rules like keeping the cart 30 feet away from greens (electing to park on the collars instead) and 90º or Cart Path Only signs being ignored just to name two examples. These examples are offenses that I’ve observed by avid golfers. In fact, members that play more than 100 rounds per year.

As we speak, golfers from all over are signing petitions urging their respective governments to open golf courses. In Ontario, it’s no different. In some cases, it’s the golf course owners or National Golf Course Owners Association(s) that are lobbying so hard to re-open. I have no issue with golf courses being open when it’s safe to do so. I also agree that when it’s safe to do so, golf courses should be near the top of the list of services/attractions to re-open.  Let’s not kid ourselves though. Golf courses don’t want to re-open to let you enjoy the air, seed, and grass. Golf is a business and it’s all about their bottom-line. Owners associations will try to convince the government that they can help with unemployment rates. But I have a question. How does this help in the case where clubhouses are closed and no pro shop or restaurant staff is required?

It’s one thing to be a golfer and enjoy the game and it’s another thing to actually work on the golf course operations side of things. Golfers on social media have mentioned going with “no staff”, contactless pre-paid times. Theoretically good ideas, but from a practicality standpoint it’s foolhardy. Many courses offer their Starters and Marshals golf privileges in lieu of their services. Now we’re entrusting our health and well-being on these “volunteers” to wipe down the carts with sanitizer wipes. Many don’t even do their job correctly in the first place without the additional “work”. So “Walking Only” you’re suggesting next?

With no staff in place, imagine a golfer out there suffering a cardiac arrest or a massive stroke with no employees in place. Oh, the liability issues that would ensue. Even if you have a cell phone and it’s a playing partner of yours (or you stumble upon someone that was out there by themselves that shouldn’t be). You’re a twosome and someone needs to get out to the parking lot or clubhouse. Why? They need to wave down the first responders and then direct them out to the spot on the course where the person suffered the attack. During this time, the victim is left unattended and valuable time has been wasted which could be instrumental in their survival and/or recovery. Believe it or not, golf courses have these sort of contingency plans in place but they’d never work with insufficient staff. Find me an insurance company that would insure a golf course with no staff in place. Sign a waiver? Sure, but good lawyers will find a loophole when there’s a multi-million dollar lawsuit on the line.

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If this isn’t okay, how could golf be? A conservation authority operates the access here.

Here’s another angle that I’m emotionally invested in. In Ontario, as it stands, fishing is okay. Why would fishing be okay and playing golf isn’t? Well, I have a simple answer to that riddle. Fishing can potentially place dinner on the table. However, access points run by conservation authorities like the one pictured above are closed. Riddle me this. With a fly and fly line whipping through the air, who the heck is coming near me? This picture was taken last fall and I was literally the only one on the stream. Much like the current situation with golf, I don’t like it but it’s just how it is.

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A sign of the times.

Golfers aren’t the only ones “suffering”. If anything, in many ways, golfers are showing themselves to be “entitled”, “elitist”, “tone-deaf”, and “above” everything. This is a bad optic to “outsiders”. To me, at this point in time, it’s the children who can’t play in a park or use a skatepark while maintaining physical distancing that are suffering. It’s important in their development both physically and psychologically. Suffering are our first responders, frontline, and healthcare workers working long stressful shifts more than is typical. My wife, Crystal, just started a new job working at a grocery store and that too, is no easy ggi at the moment. The elderly and infirm living in long-term healthcare facilities or those living in palliative care who can’t see their families, they’re suffering thus affecting their mental health and well-being or een will to live.

If you think that playing golf could be considered practicing physical-distancing I would tend to agree, IF everyone was to abide by the rules. In a perfect world, everybody would but this world is quite imperfect. One day, the freeze will lift and we’ll all be back on the golf course again complaining about the pace of play, ball marks that aren’t fixed and so on. For the record, with nothing but speculation to base this on, I have a feeling that golf in Ontario will resume mid-May. Take care, stay safe, stay home and stay healthy.

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The frost of golf ceasing will rise. Photo taken October 18th, 2019 at Scenic Woods Golf Club.

Until the Next Tee!!

#fightandgrind #seeuonthenexttee

 

 

FFS! Just Stop Already!

Golfers having bad tempers is not a new fad. We get it, the game is utterly infuriating and it was British nobility, His Royal Highness King George V who once said: “Golf makes me so damned angry”. Sir, you were so correct and truer words have never been spoken. But legends of our game, the professionals that many of us look up to were no exception.

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King George V strikes a ball at Royal Lytham and St. Annes

Tommy Bolt was known for his bad temper. The man who inspired me to take up the game (Mr. Palmer) was notorious for coloring the air “blue” around him. Although, he wasn’t excessive about it where an entire golf course and surrounding counties could hear him. John Daly, yes he had a pretty bad temper too and he’s had his moments. It makes me wonder if the Dali Lama himself uttered a few cuss words during his round with Carl Spackler. The reality is, outbursts have long been around the game.

There’s a difference though between now and then. PGA TOUR, European Tour, and LPGA TOUR players now have a lot more cameras around them during tournaments. Not to mention of course, that everyone and their uncle has a cell phone on them at all times. Much like regular news, social media and cell phones have made catching the next news story more plausible and easier than ever.

I’ve always said that if you want to be a celebrity or a professional athlete you need to be prepared to have your life examined under a microscope. It’s the price of fame and fortune. The current crop of PGA TOUR players is no exception. I won’t beat the “dead horse” Sergio Garcia because he’s been doing his thing for what seems like an eternity now. But we’ve seen Rory toss his clubs, and Tiger Woods, of course, is definitely not null and void from this conversation. Heck, even as recently Bryson DeChambeau damaged the course and then he was caught again this week at the WGC – Mexico Championship damaging a green. I like Dechambeau but this sours me on him more than the Kuchar nonsense. It just seems like the anger and outbursts are reaching a near epidemic.

Guys taking out their piss poor shots that they made on the greens, bunkers, and fairways. Seriously, for all of the TOUR professionals that take part in this crap just STOP!! Honestly, the ones partaking in this behavior you’re ALL acting like a bunch of entitled, spoiled little brats. Primadonnas. It isn’t you who stands out in the sun making sure that there isn’t a blade of grass out of place week in and week out during your jet-setting stops around the world. It’s the Superintendent or more specifically the guys and girls that work under him or her. For the most part, you guys and gals are guests playing a course that has to be shut down for a period of time. Let’s not lose sight of that. Oh yeah! One other thing. Take a look around you! The people in the galleries who buy a ticket to stand or sit in the gallery and clamber at an event for a selfie, autograph, golf ball or a glove. Sometimes, they just want to catch a quick glimpse of their favorite player. But likely, more importantly, they’d rather be the ones in your shoes playing that course or be the one “inside the ropes”.

 

As much as I’m going to point my finger at the player’s themselves to exhibit a little more self-control I’m going to point my fingers at the respective commissioners. Jay Monahan (PGA TOUR), Keith Pelley (European PGA TOUR) and Michael Whan (LPGA TOUR) the onus is on you to get a control on your players. I love the fact that the three of you are forward-thinkers with great new ideas and you are doing some great things. But you have a problem. Your players are making it ever increasingly difficult to watch golf. This coming from an individual who breathes and lives golf and writes about it for nary any sort of remuneration. Quite honestly, I’m not necessarily talking about issuing fines because what’s a fine to a player with a bankroll of millions of dollars. I’m talking something more punitive. Penalty strokes or perhaps a little more of enforcing Rule 1.2A (Serious Misconduct). What’s the difference between a TOUR player intentionally damaging a fairway, bunker or green (no I’m not talking about divots as the result of an actual stroke) or an adolescent getting caught spray-painting graffiti on a building? There isn’t! No… Wait there is. The adolescent has to atone for their actions and sometimes it may involve them cleaning it up.

Huh?! There’s an idea, make these guys go out and do some grunt work. He or she who ruins must repair. Get out there and spend time getting your hands dirty. It’s respect and accepting responsibility for one’s actions. Maybe then they’ll just stop… FFS!

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The only Tortoise err… Turtle that I want to see on a course. More Hare action.

**** Commissioners.  I nearly forgot. My recommendation for fixing another epidemic. Slow Play. Just start giving two-strokes to an entire group with no opportunity to appeal after the round. The players will govern themselves. Your players are the ones hurting the game. Who the Hell wants to watch 6-7 hour rounds? I played in Mini-Tour events that went like that and it destroys the game in both a literal and figurative sense.

Until The Next Tee!!

#FightAndGrind #SeeUOnTheNextTee

The Ben Hogan Golf Equipment Company

In the history of the game there are certain names that need to be a part of it. Names like Old Tom Morris, Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer and Ben Hogan. Every one of them no longer amongst us but their names and legacies still live on.

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I want to talk about the latter of that legendary list up above. Ben Hogan. We know a lot about him. Of course, his swing is what we recognize mostly and perhaps his driver’s cap. We also know him because he came back after a horrific car crash and would later win the 1950 U.S. Open some 11 months later. However, what we often forget was that he was an entrepreneur and that he wanted to start a golf club equipment company. That very thing would happen after Mr. Hogan would “pen” a letter confirming rumors stating his intentions. That letter seen below was dated October 5th, 1953.

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That letter was the beginning of something beautiful. Mr. Hogan would create some of the most iconic irons that we’ve seen to date. Models like the Apex, Apex II, Medallion, Edge, and Radial to name a few. Mr. Hogan would pass away in 1997 and what was once a maker of the finest golf clubs simply strayed away and drifted into the fading sunset. Eventually to all but disappear from the golf industry. The brand saw a carousel of ownership that included Top-Flite and it was in 2003 when Callaway Golf bought the name. In 2012, the name would be sold to Perry Ellis International who produced apparel, accessories and golf balls under the name. The name lived on but the premium golf equipment did not.

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Ben Hogan Golf Equipment as we know it in 2019 surfaced when a long-time admirer and fellow Texan Terry Koehler (formerly SCOR Golf) approached the president of Perry Ellis about purchasing the name. Mr. Koehler was intent on starting a line of equipment bearing the name. The transaction took place, the name was resurrected and the company launched in 2014. At the 2015 PGA Merchandise Show it became official. Like a “Phoenix” rising from the ashes Ben Hogan Golf Equipment was back bearing a line of beautiful irons (Ft .Worth 15) and the TK 15 wedges. The following year the company brought along the VKTR hybrid, PTX irons and the Ft. Worth HI irons. I was more than happy to cover all of the above in 2015 and 2016. These irons were gorgeous and performed. Mr. Hogan himself would’ve been delighted that these clubs would bear his name.

This background leads us to what the real point of this article is about. As I’ve elaborated  in other articles…golf is at a weird crossroads. Instead of it truly being about the products themselves the equipment has gotten to a point where the retail prices have become somewhat astronomical. It seems that prices are a large part of the golf dialogue. To seal the deal regarding the high prices you have to factor in that your local shop pays a wholesale price per product and they have to see a profit on the goods. It’s business. Depending on where you live and what kind of course it is the mark-ups for profit margin can be anywhere from 15% on some things to as much as 35%. I kid you not because having been management and a Director of Golf Services at a course I’ve budgeted for Pro Shops and seen the wholesale prices. This is where the beauty and genius of Ben Hogan Golf Equipment enters the fray.

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If you were to walk into your local golf retailer and wanted to purchase a Vokey SM7 wedge what would that cost you? Maybe $150.00 USD (more in Canada with the exchange). How about a new Mack Daddy wedge from Callaway Golf? Likely about the same and what about a new Cleveland Golf RTX-4 wedge? It’ll be a tad less… say maybe $135 USD. Out of the wedges that I just mentioned how many are forged? Now you have a case like the Ben Hogan TK 15 wedges or the Equalizer wedges. These are forged from 1025 Carbon Steel. Right away you have higher quality materials for manufacturing. They feature high quality steel shafts (KBS) and top of the line Lamkin Grips. One other thing, about the Vokey, Mack Daddy or RTX-4 mentioned above. What if you wanted graphite shafts? There’ll be a slight upcharge. With Ben Hogan there isn’t because steel or graphite will cost only $75 for TK 15 or $100 for the Equalizer. So I challenge you to find wedges of the same quality for that price. But…How do they do it?

***No retail mark-up!!!

Ben Hogan Golf Equipment only sells to consumers. There is NO middleman (hence retailer) and they are only available on-line. Instead of paying for profit margins and excessive marketing campaigns golf consumers get high-quality golf equipment from Ben Hogan at factory direct prices. Ben Hogan Golf Equipment knows all too well that the cost of purchasing equipment has gotten too expensive. Because their costs are less so to are their prices. For example, the VKTR hybrid is $135 USD. A 7-piece set of their Edge irons for graphite or steel is $735. Remember these are forged irons!! The classy and elegant PTX irons are a little bit more at $770. Now compare these to any of the others in the industry and you’re paying several hundred dollars more. Almost to the point where you could buy the set and add in 3 wedges and maybe a hybrid for the same price or less than what you paid for the Mizuno, Bridgestone, Srixon or Cobra irons.

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If you’re really concerned about your needs and fitting don’t be. Maybe you already know your specs. So if you need them adjusted 2* flat or a 1/2 inch longer it’s not an issue. With all Ben Hogan Golf clubs length, lie and now loft customizations are available at no charge. Another advantage to Ben Hogan Golf  is that their clubs are all handcrafted with no mass production. If you don’t know your specs there are resources on the internet or visit your local fitter. Either way, you can feel safe and secure knowing that one way or another you can be fit into a set of clubs without breaking the bank.

Ben Hogan Golf. I absolutely love the direction that you’ve taken. I also love what you’re doing down in Texas. Your model is a fresh breath of air.

I sincerely hope that more golf consumers look at Ben Hogan Golf. Their equipment is classy and timeless and is at the highest of quality. All of this at the lowest price point in the industry. Stay tuned for more on Ben Hogan Golf as I’m in the process of testing the Equalizer wedges for review. So far I cannot say enough complimentary things about them.

Until The Next Tee!!

#FightAndGrind #SeeUOnTheNextTee