2005: Sensibilities lost

My friend Jenkins had just returned from a 10-day golf tour of the British Isles, and he was depressed. His mood, however, was not an accurate indication of how his trip had actually gone. The courses he had played were first-rate, and the weather uncharacteristically calm. He also had managed to find his “A” game along the way as he developed a newfound appreciation for single malt scotch and a closer connection to the other members of his traveling foursome.

So why was he feeling blue?

“Because I cannot believe how far from the sport we have gotten back here,” he said, referring specifically to his club in the Northeast as well as golf throughout the United States.

“I was home a week and suddenly wished I could just return golf to where it used to be.”

The thing that initially set off Jenkins was a confrontation he had with a member of his club before the jet lag had even worn off.

“This guy started complaining that our greens were not running at some ridiculously high number,” he recalls. “And I got to thinking that in all the times I have been to Ireland or Scotland, I’ve never heard a person complain about slow greens, even though that may have indeed been the case. They were what they were, which was fine for us, and an occasional bit of sluggishness did nothing to detract from the overall experience.”

So instead of being able to savor that sojourn for any amount of time, Jenkins had to contend with an ill-informed knucklehead pining for Augusta-like perfection and putting surfaces that were slicker than toboggan runs.

I understood my friend’s dismay, as I have seen and felt the same deterioration of sensibilities, with caution and modesty thrown far too often to the wind. It is a dangerous development that saps the enthusiasm of even the most ardent players and loses touch with what the sport is all about. It also damages the economic health of clubs and courses trying to keep up with the high maintenance whims of a golfing public that seems to want to make the game as ludicrously over-the-top as a Las Vegas hotel.

I also have a problem with pull carts. Not those old-fashioned trolleys you still find at tracks such as Connemara or North Berwick, mind you, but rather the modern models whose high-tech designs and hefty power batteries make them appear as fully loaded as a Ferrari and entirely capable of completing the Rabat-Dakar rally with only one recharge.

As a rule, I think “pampering” is fine in a spa, but I don’t understand how anyone figures we need that at the golf club. Yet there are no shortage of so-called “valets” and “concierges” at clubs and resorts all over this country, hopelessly officious people who scramble from car to car and everywhere in between, grabbing bags and shoes and anything else they think you might need for a round. Personally, I am only too happy to carry my own Burton to the pro shop and really don’t need anyone else to assist me other than a locker-room attendant who is nice enough to shine my shoes while I am playing and a bartender who will draw me a nice ale afterward.

I am only looking to play 18 holes, not get a Golden Door seaweed wrap in a Bonsai garden.

But simplicity is a hard thing to find. I notice clubs that run enough electricity through their halfway houses to light Shea Stadium just so they can offer a sumptuous selection of hot food from a menu as well assembled as the one at Le Cirque. I also rue the trend toward clubhouses the size of the Palace of Versailles and wish we would celebrate instead those delightfully diffident retreats found at clubs throughout the Old Country.

Sadly, this list only touches on all that has gone wrong. I know of places where members cancel club tournaments if the wind is blowing too hard, or the course is slightly wet. Problem is, it matters not one bit if the track is still open to play for everyone else; they’ll be damned if they have to play in anything but perfect conditions.

And playing a simple four-ball, it seems, has gone way out of style, and you need a professor of mathematics to discern from your annual schedule of tournaments when it is possible to play a simple Nassau match with your friends.

Jenkins shook his head as he and I discussed these many concerns, and then he got a call about just one more.

“Why don’t we get a new television in the grill room?” the member said in a tone that made his words sound more like a demand than a request. “I think we need one of those plasma TVs with a big screen.”

My friend could not turn back his clock fast enough.

– Check out Charlie Rymer’s sometimes irreverant and always amusing column at www.golfweek.com

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