Time Management

I’m on a flight to San Francisco. My clubs are freezing to death under this aircraft. I’ve ordered golf balls to be delivered to my hotel. And I have a round with a friend scheduled for Saturday morning.

While up here, I’ve been writing my workplan for my job. I’ve been going back and forth between that and a few other projects, checking my email, skipping through music, and preparing for tomorrow and Friday. It occurs to me that I’ll be working harder over the next few days than I usually do. So, working until 9:00pm my time doesn’t seem sustainable. It’s time to update my blog.

But, before I get into the meat of it, I want to share with you my two goals for the year:

  1. Update this blog more frequently; and
  2. Play in at least one qualifying tournament for a USGA championship.

Both of these are heavy lifts for me because 1) I don’t have a lot to say that’s interesting to me, much less anyone else, and 2) I’ll have to continue playing my butt off over the next couple of months in order for my application to even be considered. I’ll worry about that another day.

Today… Time for Nine

The golf powers that be, in an effort to increase participation in golf, have begun promoting several ideas that will,  hopefully, change the way old fogies like me think about how we play. The Tee It Forward and Time for Nine programs, unlike the While We’re Young campaign, ask golfers to change some fundamental philosophies on how golf is to be played. I’ve long been for playing from the appropriate tee box (and, let’s be honest, you probably should be playing from the one just in front of the one you think is appropriate) and for moving away from the “ladies” and “seniors” tees terminology that prevails, to this day, on golf courses. Time and time again, I’ve spent hours behind a foursome that proudly plays from “the tips” because either they “want to get their money’s worth” or they think they’re Greg Norman and then get frustrated when they can’t reach a par three. It sometimes drives my playing partners crazy when I say that I’m playing from the middle tees – especially since I’ve never played better than I am right now. But, no, it’s no fun for me to hit 3-irons into every par four. So, I tee it forward…

And yet, playing nine was a much more difficult sell.

It wasn’t always like that. Me and my dad used to go out on Sundays and play a quick nine while I was learning the game. I know we had to have played a full 18 on occasion but I don’t remember doing that until I was in high school. We’d go out to Cleveland Country Club (which, I’m sad to say, doesn’t exist anymore) after church, buzz around the course in our cart, and be home for the evening service. Now, it helped that CCC only had nine holes but there was the option to play 18. We didn’t take it, though, because there were other important things to do that day.

But, then, I started playing golf by myself and with friends. We’d go out on Saturday. We had a full day to play. And we’d take it. The only reason we would play just nine was if we it was too hot – and it was never too hot – or if we had a date – and we never had dates. In high school we would play as much as we could until the sun went down. Sometimes that was 12 or 11 or even 10, but never just 9. Playing nine holes was for old men and kids. Not us.

Then came college golf, a time when more is more, when playing golf was a mission and there was no way to play too much. But, on a short day, we’d play a “cut nine” (holes 1-5 and 15-18) only because we spent part of the day on the range – never ideal.

This same attitude towards playing only nine holes remained (remains?). I love playing golf but, just like those guys playing the tips, I only want to do it if I can get a full round in. That is: until last year.

I went out to play with some beginners on the White Course at East Potomac Golf Course in DC. It’s a short course of par fours and threes, the longest is probably 360 yards. Not much of a challenge but it’s a lot of fun. We got nine holes in and then went to the club house to have a burger and beer. It was a blast! I learned that I enjoyed getting around the course quickly and having some time in the day to do other things. I think I even went to Lowe’s afterwards just to look around.

Then I played Langston, one of my favorites, and had time to just barely get in nine holes before I had to be somewhere for a friend. Got nine in and then spent my afternoon helping her out.

I played a quick nine when I went home a few months ago. Then I played tour guide of my hometown with my girlfriend, something that was very important to me.

I started a round out at Glade Valley in early January. It got too cold and I had no problem at all leaving the course sitting pretty at 1 over.

I’m getting a bit didactic here, but I want to make sure that you know I’m starting to practice what I preach. Life is perfectly fine if I just get in nine.

Now: Obviously, I’m a die-hard golfer – there’s really not much I’d rather do – and I’ve learned that playing nine holes is a god send for a busy schedule. But, there’s a catch.

It works well only if you’re actually busy afterwards. Beware the resentment trap. Don’t get discouraged that you lost time to doing nothing when you could have been playing golf. Schedule something right afterward – or else, play 18. Playing nine is something you can do; it’s not something you have to do.

The USGA is on to something here and golf courses around the country are making it possible to pay for nine holes again. It’s not going to solve the slow play issue, but it certainly will make it possible to get in more golf each year than you might have. And that’s a good thing.

Here’s a list of courses that Golf Digest has put together that offer nine hole options.

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It’s Your Turn

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to get a round in at the PB Dye Golf Club in Ijamsville, MD. It’s a gem of a course – plush fairways, smooth rolling greens, variety of tee boxes, ample PB Dye marketing, and a great clubhouse to grab a dog at the turn and a beer after the round. That’s the focus of this post: the turn.

The turn is the transition from the front nine to the back nine; hole 9 to 10. It’s one of the most overlooked parts of a round. It’s the halfway point – a milestone or benchmark, if you will – that is given a lot of words but not much time for consideration. “Made the turn at 2-over. Finished with an eighty-eight.” “The Masters doesn’t really start until the turn on Sunday.” “Think we got time to stop by the car at the turn?”

I view the turn in a slightly different light. It’s an opportunity to relax a bit between nines, to grab a dog, maybe a beer, apply some sunscreen, wash the hands, and get ready for the next nine. It’s also a time to meet new people, take a break with your group, and take an already social game to the next level…

A big complaint in golf, right now, is that it takes too long — play is slow. This is true. Every player walking off yardages down to the inch, taking five practice swings before every shot, reading putts from every angle, marking their ball when they have a six-incher, and going back-and-forth about who’s away, guarantees at least a 5 hour round. Once in a while, though, it’s worth setting aside a few minutes to enjoy the company of the group you’re with.

A few months ago, a friend of mine had the brilliant idea of starting a Facebook group of golfers – friends, co-workers, strangers – for the purpose of setting up tee-times over the spring and summer. We put together two foursomes to go out to Langston on a freezing Saturday morning. We were basically the only people on the course. On the front nine, each of us plotted our way around, barely speaking except to say, “It’s cold.”

At the turn, however, we spent a solid twenty minutes updating each other on our work, families, jokes, memories, and everything in between. Yeah, we could have just grabbed a dog and made our way out but, instead, we took some time to know each other better. Cold, though we were, we made our way back into the elements and enjoyed the rest of our round. I’m not suggesting that every group, every round, needs to take twenty minutes with their playing partners in the grill. I’m just suggesting that, if you’re going to be out there, get to know the folks you’re going to spend another two hours with. I promise the back-nine will be much more pleasant. You’ll probably play better, too.

Also, this…

I was chipping in my bed room on Friday night before my round at PB Dye. As I mentioned in a previous post, this is a great way to get the feel for chipping after a long winter season. I noticed that I was gripping the club like I would grip a putter — too much club in the palm of my left hand. I was losing accuracy and distance in a big way. I fixed my grip.

When I got out to PB Dye, I was hitting everything longer and straighter. What’s the problem with that? I wasn’t used to it. I shot a pretty decent 41 on the front. My friend and I took a 15 minute break in the clubhouse at the turn, talking with the bartender, and discussing how impressive the greens were even though they’d recently been aerated and sanded. In my mind, however, I was thinking, “club down and aim at the pin…club down and aim at the pin.”

On the back nine, I shot a one-over 37. Shockingly great play given my previous several rounds.

That would not have happened if I just went straight on to the 10th hole as soon as I was done with 9.

The point: take some time at the turn.