2004: Club Life - When tagging along, it’s best to avoid the host from hell

Of all people in golf, none are quite so revered in some circles as the fellow who belongs to the very best clubs in the land and is only too happy to share his great fortune - and his superlative courses - with his friends.

Call him the golf host.

You know the person, the one who through business success, family connections or sheer luck has managed to ensconce himself on the membership rolls of, say, an Augusta National or a Cypress Point. And for the vast majority of golf slobs like myself, they are our only access to such hallowed grounds.

Experience tells me there are two kinds of golf hosts. One is the good friend with whom you would play even if his only membership was to the rattiest goat track in town. Not only is he fun to be around and exceedingly generous when it comes to inviting you for a game, but he also has the class to suggest you fill the foursome with a couple of your best mates.

Many times, that member is only too happy to pick up the green fees and even buy lunch, expecting no more in return than some good manners and your taking care of his caddie. To be sure, he anticipates – and no doubt deserves – more if the outing entails an overnight stay as well as dinner, wine and who knows what else afterwards. But that’s taken care of by splitting the final bill among all participants.

These types of golf hosts clearly love the game, and they delight in showing newcomers around their vaunted clubs. And the more oohs and aahs the better, because the golf host truly appreciates how much the guests appreciate being let in the door.

The second type of golf host, however, can be a bit dicier because he is generally not someone who 1) you know very well, or 2) is a person with whom you would normally tee it up. And that can lead to problems, most frequently in the form of a guy who never seems to let you forget he is doing you a big favor and clearly expects you not only to pay all of your expenses but his as well. There also is the distinct possibility that the person is the worst kind of horse’s ass on and off the course and the sort of character his admissions committee would gladly blackball if it could do it all over again.

Now, some observers would say that lining up with a buffoon like this is an occupational hazard of the golf mooch and his quest to play the very best, but I hate to think my friends and I are so shamelessly desperate as to sink to that level. But then again, what wouldn’t most of us do to get on Merion?

Besides, the real focus of our attention should be on our behavior before, during and after the much-desired round, and not necessarily that of our host. And there are several ways to go in that regard. For starters, the golf mooch should make sure he dresses properly and knows what to wear throughout the outing. Gifts of thanks are a good idea as well, but don’t fill the shopping cart in the pro shop a la Rodney Dangerfield in “Caddyshack.” (One box of naked lady tees certainly will suffice.) Leave the cell phone at home, let the host set the game and bets, and generously praise his shots – and hospitality. But try not to sound too much like Eddie Haskell buttering up Mrs. Cleaver. Tip members of the club staff when appropriate, and over-tip if warranted.

It always is important to be on time, something a friend of mine once found impossible on a trip we took to Pebble Beach. Our host graciously took us to Cypress Point three days in a row, and my golfing partner was so consistently tardy when it came time to leave the house in the morning that he soon was dubbed “The Phantom.” We ribbed him hard about that for most of the trip, and the kidding was mostly good-natured. But you could tell our golf host was getting annoyed after three days of constant waiting, and the line he uttered when we left – “I filled your car with gas so I’d make sure you guys got out of here today” – spoke volumes.

Finally, be a good sport, even if you are playing the worst round of golf in your life. Hosts rarely take kindly to club throwing, and part of the focus of the golf guest during a trip should be on getting invited back. Have plenty of cash on hand (the great clubs do not have ATMs in their pro shops), and pay whatever bills you receive for the trip on time. And write a thank you note. Immediately.

Many of the best golf hosts have a wonderful habit of establishing regular trips to their clubs, and it is not at all unusual to see those types of groups at places like Pine Valley, good friends coming back year after year to relish the camaraderie and the golf in such an enviable setting. It also is a fairly common occurrence to see those gatherings break up due to the tragic passing or gradual physical demise of the fellow who traditionally led the expeditions. Nothing is quite as chilling in the mind of a good golf mooch as the demise of his favorite host, and that not only carves a heart-wrenching void in his life but also leaves him very much in the lurch when it comes to that regular outing at Seminole.

The only thing he can really do when that happens is start a semi-tasteless search for another golf host, and another way in the door.

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