Belmullet, Saumur and Single Length Irons

This summer Linda and I took a very quiet vacation.  Some vacations don’t seem much like vacations- they are full of activity, travel stress, moving around from one hotel to another, getting up at dark-thirty to go on some cruise excursion.  That’s not to say that those sorts of vacations can’t be wonderful- they can. They also wear you out.

But this year I really liked our plans.  A week in a little cottage on a dairy farm on the Mullet Peninsula in far west County Mayo, followed by a week in a 16th century townhouse in the Loire Valley south of Paris in a small city called Saumur.

Anyone who has read much in this blog or who knows me is aware that I have an unnatural affection for this area of Ireland and am an overseas member at Carne Golf Links outside of the small village of Belmullet.

I have been lucky enough in the past to bring a number of my friends to Carne to play golf.  Every few years, however, Linda and I go by ourselves to play a little golf and enjoy the very authentic rural life of this part of Ireland.  It is stunningly beautiful and remarkably unspoiled.   What do I mean by that? If you go to the Cliffs of Moher, for example, you head into a huge parking lot filled with cars and buses, pay your fee and wander around the cliffs with hundreds of other people.  Don’t get me wrong- it’s beautiful and worth the stop. But out in west County Mayo, on the edge of miles of peat bogs, there aren’t very many people at all, let alone tourists. So when I drive a few miles out to the end of the peninsula at a place called Scotchport and hike up from the rocky shore onto a cliff above the wild Atlantic, I am usually the only one there. Not so good if you happen to slip and fall of the edge, maybe, but if you do that I doubt anyone can save you. True, there were way too many holiday homes built out here during the housing boom a few years back, but that just means that vacation rentals are easy to come by and inexpensive.

This year, we stayed at a renovated cottage on a dairy farm near Corclough a couple of miles outside of Belmullet.  So we had turf fires in the chilly evenings (nothing better) and woke to the sound of either birds, talkative cows or milking machines starting up.  The cottage was owned by Eamon Wilson, a solicitor from Dublin whose father, also Eamon Wilson, owned the farm.  The elder Eamon and his wife Rose (Eamon Jr’s mother) where wonderful hosts, always sending grandchildren over to see if we wanted them to light a fire or if we needed anything else.  This is the fourth self-catering property I have stayed in around Belmullet and they all have been terrific.

We played a few rounds at Carne and I still managed never to break 80 which has become a serious annoyance. The walk at Carne is so beautiful, though, I can’t say that score is ever really that important. I was very happy that before we left I got to play 18 holes with Eamon Mangan who was instrumental in getting Carne built, working with the great late Irish architect Eddie Hackett.  I was sorry to hear that Eamon has stepped back from his duties with the non-profit tourism organization that owns Carne as he has dedicated a good part of his life to seeing this project through. I can only hope that the new directors can keep Carne financially strong while running it with the good-humor and modest grace always shown by Eamon.

This is a golf blog, mostly, so I won’t say much about the second week of our trip where we met friends from Blacksburg, Virginia in the small town of Saumur on the Loire River south of Paris. This is Chateau country and we did visit a couple and tasted the sparkling wine of the region where generous and free samples of even the most expensive wines were doled out enthusiastically, even to Americans!  The theme of a trip to France usually doesn’t stray far from food and wine. The grocery store we walked to in Saumur had dozens of good choices of wine for $5 a bottle and the prices and variety at the cheese counter made you feel extremely deprived to be living in the United States.  Many thanks to our friends John and Susan for hosting us!

OK, time for the latest (and belated) update on my experiences with my Cobra F7 single length irons. My index now rests uneasily at 5.2.  That shows a slow, if not consistent, improvement since I started playing with the Cobras last winter. Lately I have put the sand and lob wedges from the set back in the bag. I didn’t like them when I first tried them and have carried conventional wedges most of the summer. The last couple of rounds, however, I have started making better friends with the single length wedges and will continue to use them until they start treating me badly again.

I didn’t use the Cobras in Ireland as I have an old conventional set that I keep there so I don’t have to schlep my clubs back and forth.  I also deserted the Cobras this summer for a few rounds when I picked up a set of Curtis Strange VIP McGregor blades on Ebay for a great price and re-gripped them so I could try them out for a bit.  Beautiful clubs- and I’ll write about them in a separate post.

I know a few of you have been following my posts on the Cobras and are trying them yourselves.  Let me hear from you.

 

 

 

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My Year with Single Length Irons- Part 5: Continuing Positive Experiences

I was going to wait for a while before I published another post on my new Cobra F7 One length irons, but reader John asked me a couple of days ago if I had any updates.  So here is an update.

After returning from Kiawah Island, I have played 5 rounds here at the Pete Dye River Course outside of my home in Radford, Virginia.  Scores were 76-76-76-81-85 and my index has gone from 7.2 to 6.7.  Nothing to complain about there.  The 85 was a round where I decided to chip with the Cobra sand wedge (7 iron length- though I choked up for less than full shots).  I think that cost me a few up and downs.  On the other hand, I used the sand wedge out of a little pot punker on the 18th hole to a back pin and put it within a foot of the hole for a happy ending par.

The irons remain a little more consistent than my old set and continue to please with the intangibles- meaning I feel good hitting them and like how they feel and how they fly.  I don’t regret buying them and I hope I continue to get my index down to around 3 or 4 by late Autumn.  I switch back the the regular tees in April and that usually helps my index as the course rating is harder by 2.6 strokes.

At some point I need to give some more empirical observations on distances for each club.  So far, I will just repeat what I have suggested in other posts.  I expect summer yardages to be 100 yards for the sand wedge and 150 yards for the 8 iron.  That is just slightly longer (5 yards) than my Adams XTDs that I gamed before the Cobras. My anecdotal observations so far suggest gaps are OK between these clubs, but I really don’t know that for sure. I just know that I usually feel comfortable choosing a club and knowing the distance.  In fact, I have grown comfortable with these clubs faster than I usually do when I switch irons- which is fairly frequently as my friends will attest to enthusiastically.

I guess my advice to other golfers at the moment would be that if these single length clubs appeal to you, don’t be afraid to try them.  They are nice clubs that look and feel good. in my experience, they are not miracle workers- they don’t play the game for you.  But you already know that. But neither are they a disappointment. Quite the contrary.  They are lots of fun to play and talk about. I would love to hear from other single length irons users about their experiences.

A Love/Hate Relationship with The Masters

Like millions of golfers around the world, I look forward to the rite of spring in Augusta, Georgia.  It is probably the only golf tournament that many non-golfers tune in to watch, the blinding green carpets leading to the perfectly placed Azaleas provide an order that is sorely missed in most of our everyday lives.  Surely when we tee it up in heaven, it will be indistinguishable from Augusta National- though perhaps God will have renamed the holes to demonstrate ultimate authority over the fathers of this terrestrial church.  Well, maybe not Amen Corner…

For me, the Masters takes 3rd place among the majors. I’m not sure that has always been the case, but The Open Championship at St. Andrews in 2010 was the first major that my wife and I decided to see in person. I don’t regret that choice, even if a then relatively unknown South African took the title of Champion Golfer that year. The US Open follows close behind, our national championship played on some of our finest courses.  The PGA Championship is great or not so great on a year by years basis, depending on the course chosen and the quality of the play.  So, not that you asked, here are my feelings about the first major of the year.

First, the positives. The Masters is played on the same course every year. This is a great advantage as it gives the tournament a history and continuity that no other major can match. It is played on a beautiful and difficult golf course with many memorable holes.  The players love to come to Augusta, they embrace its traditions, and they cherish the green jacket. All of these things make for terrific television.  The marketing of the Masters is superb, from its pimento cheese sandwiches to the Butler Cabin interviews to the CBS theme music. Turning on The Masters is like coming home after a long and arduous trip- you just feel good watching it.  Despite what I will say in the next paragraph, I would LOVE to play Augusta National- I have been a golfer since I was 12 years old and no real golfer I know would not say the same thing.

OK, so what’s my problem with Augusta? First, my idea of golfing heaven is a breezy seaside course on a cool summer afternoon.  The Masters has to be played in April because it would be brutally hot in Augusta if it was played later in the year.  Of course, that doesn’t matter since the course is closed all summer anyway! Augusta National is a gorgeous venue. Like the airbrushed beauties of Playboy magazine in the 1960s, just seeing it awakens a deep lust that arises from someplace in the primitive golfing brain stem. Yet Augusta is really a terrible role model unless you like to completely dominate nature with unlimited money and technology.  It is a standard that no real golf course can live up- nor should they want to. Augusta National is sort of a golfing Disney World for a handful of carefully selected CEOs. We average golfers have been brainwashed into thinking that somehow The Masters is “our” tournament because we are allowed in the tent once a year in order to generate the profits that allow the “real” members of the club to ignore us the rest of the year.  OK, so maybe I do have a little class anger….

Augusta National is a course that exists primarily for one week in April. Without that tournament, it would just be a particularly nice elitist country club with a dark past of racism and misogyny.  I read somewhere that Bobby Jones wanted it to be a “national” course.  It’s limited membership certainly comes from all over the country, but is that really what constitutes a national golf course? Why not take a month in the hot summer and distribute tee times by lottery like St. Andrews does to golfers from around the world who would love to play this iconic course? Wouldn’t that bring Augusta National closer to being a true national treasure?

Post Masters 2017:  OK, maybe because I got it out of my system or maybe because I’m just an idiot, but I was glued to the television for this year’s tournament.  Congratulations, Sergio!

The Cobras Go South

Usually, there is nothing better than escaping February here in southwest Virginia and heading south.  This year, maybe it wasn’t such a contrast as we have been playing golf here all winter, but it was still nice to pack the clubs and head to Hilton Head, Isle of Palms and Kiawah Island and play new courses with old and new friends.  My new single length F7 irons missed Hilton Head, but they got a good workout at the two courses at Wild Dunes on Isle of Palms and Turtle Point and the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island.

We were at Isle of Palms thanks to our friends Colin and Jan who rent a house there for the month of February.   We eat well, drink wine, talk politics and play golf.  Have I mentioned how nice retirement is?  Colin and I played the Harbor Course first. It’s a nice resort course- lots of riding in carts to get between holes and fairly generous fairways, but it’s no pushover. I’ve played it enough times now that it feels familiar.  The Links course lost the beautiful par 5 18th hole to beach erosion a couple of years back.  It has been replaced by a nice par 3, but it just isn’t quite the same.  I had forgotten what a nice layout the Links course even though there are only a couple of holes that let you see the ocean.

My scores were 81 on the Harbor Course and 74 on the Links Course.  The day on the links course was one of those “in the zone” rounds with several birdies and no major errors. The Cobras held up well.  Short iron trajectories are very high but I am starting to like that.  My Wilson Staff Duo orange balls were sticking on the greens like Pro V1s.  I just wish the Links course wasn’t such a premium over the Harbor Course or I would choose to play it more often.

If you read my post from last year about the Golf or Gourmet package at Kiawah, you will understand why I was very excited that Linda and I were able to book two nights in at Kiawah after Isle of Palms. Even better, this year we paid the extra $100 for one of the nights that is the premium for the Ocean Course. That’s just $50 each extra- a great deal.  If you get a chance to play this world ranked Pete Dye layout, don’t miss the opportunity.  The Ocean Course hosted the 1991 Ryder Cup and the 2012 PGA Championship. This year, in late February, it was in perfect condition with fairways that had lots of run and beautiful, quick greens. Walking is mandatory in the morning which made for a quiet and beautiful round of seaside golf.  They didn’t make us take caddies which made the package deal even more of a steal. Linda and I paid $500 plus resort taxes and fees for two nights at a condo near the Sanctuary Hotel and two rounds of golf, one on the Ocean Course. (Linda gave her Ocean Course round to Colin who drove down from isle of Palms for the 9:20 tee time.)

Linda and I played Turtle Point the following morning. I had played the course many years ago and didn’t remember very much.  It’s a nice and challenging layout with quite a bit of water, alligators and many beautiful marsh birds.  And of course a few turtles..

The Cobras worked pretty well at Kiawah- an 83 on the Ocean Course and an 81 on Turtle Point.  My favorite shot was a classic links 5 iron that ran out over 200 yards and left me with an eagle putt on #7 at the Ocean Course.  Needless to say, I three putted. Linda took lots of nice pictures (mostly birds and alligators). Here is one of them.

             

 

My Year with Single Length Irons- Part 4: On the Course!

The day after I opened the irons, the forecast was mid 40s with some wind- great February golf weather. I was about the only person on the course that afternoon. It was 39 when I started but warmed into the mid forties by the middle of the round.  Too cold to get an accurate ideas of distances, so I didn’t really try.  I just wanted to hit the irons and convince myself that this wasn’t all a horrible mistake.

I started on the back 9 because I thought it might be a little warmer and slightly less windy. I decided to play from the forward tees and hit 5 irons off the tees so I could get some experience with the longest- er, I mean lowest lofted- iron in the set. I left my lob wedge at home so I would have to chip with the 37.25 inch sand wedge.  I decided soon into the round that if I was hitting less than a full shot with the sand wedge, it was OK to choke-up, and I did.

On the second 9 (front) I played from the white tees and used my driver.  I had no fairway woods, however, so I used 5 irons when I would have needed fairway woods or hybrids. I shot a 39-44.  This was not bad considering I have up 5 shots on the second 9 with lipped out putts or poor sand shots. (I couldn’t get used to hitting that long of a sand wedge from the bunker- kept hitting it fat.)  In general, I was hitting the 5 and 6 iron with a pretty good trajectory. I was worried they would be too low, but they weren’t. Above the 7 iron, I was hitting the ball much higher than normal.  This could be a problem, especially on windy days. But the irons felt very good when struck solidly.  Were the “longer” irons a bit more consistent than usual?  Maybe.  Were the “shorter” irons a tad less consistent?  Maybe.  The irons look very nice at address- not too clunky a topline as I feared with this substantial game-improvement iron. I started out hitting all the irons a bit left- probably the effects of the 3 degree upright lie.  A small adjustment on the takeaway took care of that.

It’s far to early to say anything definitive about distances, gapping, or consistency, but I came away feeling good and looking forward to continuing the experiment.

My Year with Single Length Irons- Part 3: Arrival!

I got an e-mail from Cobra telling me my F7s were on the way.  As always happens, they were due to arrive one day after I left for a week of golf at Hilton Head with my friend Peter who generously offered me a bedroom in the condo where he was staying.  By the way, Hilton Head is a great place to go in early February.  I suppose you risk some bad weather, but it was nice enough to play golf almost every day and the island was blissfully uncrowded.

Anyway, the long drive back was made easier by the anticipation of opening the box from Cobra when I got home.  Here are some pictures:

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I give Cobra credit for getting all the wing weights between D0.5 and D1.5.  That is far better quality control than many new clubs I have measured. Fortunately, the lengths were all the same as well. I guess it would be embarrassing to see single length irons and not be able to measure and cut accurately. I can’t measure lie angles, so I will assume the clubs came bent 3 degrees up as requested.  The only glitch was in the actual length of the irons. I had asked them to come +1/4 inch which would make them 37.5 inches.  My Golfsmith club measuring device (you sole the middle of the iron on a moveable metal plate and then measure the tip of the grip) showed them to be 37.25 inches. Could be we just measure clubs differently.  No big deal.  Love the bright blue Lamkin grips.

Next: First time on the course..

My Year with Single Length Irons-Part 2: Conversations with Cobra

My new single length irons are still on order and I hope to have them by the first week of February.  In the meantime, I began to have second thoughts about ordering them with the stock True Temper F7 shafts. So wrote to Cobra to get some information about these shafts and why they were chosen for these irons. Cobra has an efficient and professional customer service department and my questions are almost always answered (via e-mail) within a day or two.

Cobra essentially answered my query by telling me that the True Temper F7 steel shafts (107 grams, mid flex, mid torque, parallel tip) were proprietary shafts that didn’t really match up with any standard shafts in the True Temper lineup. They went on to say that there was nothing unique about the shaft with regard to its use in single length irons (they use the same shaft in the normal length F7 irons).  They do use a flighted KBS shaft (taper-tip) as the stock shaft in the more expensive forged version of the single length irons.  A flighted shaft makes sense as it will be harder to get the longer irons airborne considering the shortened shaft length. Cobra suggested that the True Temper shafts were also designed to launch higher in the longer irons. Parallel shafts are all the same, right? I guess you could tip them differently to create a slightly softer (higher-launching?) tip in the longer irons.  That’s beyond my club-making expertise.  Maybe a reader (if I ever get any) can enlighten me.

In any case, I decided to change out the stock shafts with Nippon 950GH shafts in regular flex. I have used these shafts before and liked their feel and performance. Since the shaft chosen can be fitted in the conventional way (according to Cobra) and doesn’t really affect the single length club characteristics, I figured why not?  They were a no-charge upgrade.  So, at least for Cobras, the heads are where all the differences are with regard to the single length irons. As far as I know, I think that just means changing the weighting of heads to achieve consistent swing-weights with the single length clubs. I know Wishon uses different technology in the heads of the lower irons to create a faster face and make up for potential distance loss from shorter lengths and less hot faces in the short irons to have the opposite effect.  I think Cobra has similar technology in their F7 irons, but I think it is the same technology whether you order single length or standard irons.

The reason for playing with the face speeds is, I assume, to create proper distance gapping between irons. So I sent the following question to Cobra. “Let’s assume a 100 yard sand wedge- what yardages would you predict for each of the irons down to the 5, given your design.”  They answered as follows: The distance gap between your irons would be the same as a normal variable length set, only difference that we noticed in testing was towards your longer irons like the 4 and 5 you may lose about 2-3 yards since you arent swinging those clubs as fast as you would when they are normal length but thats where most players, not everyone, is replacing long irons with hybrids.

Losing distance in the longer irons makes sense, not only because of slower swing speeds associated with shorter shafts, but also because of smaller loft gaps in shorter irons which is the result of almost all manufacturers jacking up lofts in shorter irons to make you think you are hitting their clubs further. This would suggest that in single length irons, something needs to be done both to improve distance in the 4-6 irons and also to increase trajectory. I don’t really see that Cobra has done this in the F7 One irons and that would lead me to predict that I will have trouble getting height on my 5&6 irons and will hit them relatively shorter (in terms of distance gaps between irons).  Maybe that’s why they didn’t actually answer my original question and just told me distance gaps would be the same as a “normal” set. As I mentioned earlier, the consistent 5 degree gaps from 7 iron to sand wedge in my set worry me a bit. Normal gapping (whatever normal means these days is usually around 4 degrees. A wider gap combined with a longer length (all irons are 7 iron length) suggest the distance gaps might be too wide in the short irons. We’ll see.

2017: My Year with Single Length Irons

I just put in a “pre-order” for a set of Cobra F7 One single length irons.  Specs are +1/4” and 3* up.  How did I come up with this? A long, personal fitting session? No, of course not. I used Ping’s online fitting program and that is what came out. I ordered 5-SW at 37.5 inches.  They are going to be a little late as Cobra is waiting for the 3 degree up heads, but I hope to have the clubs by the beginning of February.

Why did I do it?  I have no idea. Despite the fact that I switched to graphite a few months ago to help with golfer’s elbow, I ordered steel shafts- to save some money and because I wanted the set to be as consistent as possible in order to test the one length concept. Besides, I get to see if my tumeric supplement really works!

Many years ago, I experimented with club-making for a while. One of the questions that fascinated me was the possibility of single length irons, but the difficulties of doing it were well beyond my skills.  Like many, I was fascinated when Bryson DeChambeau roared onto the golfing scene with his physics jive and his single length Edel clubs. I looked at Tom Wishon’s single length clubs but they were too expensive and so when I saw that Cobra was coming out with a set that I could pre-order at a discount over retail, I jumped at it. Maybe I should have tried them first? I don’t think that would work.  The only way to see if something as different as this will work is to try them over a long period of time.

The Test: My handicap at the start of the test is 6.9.  The ultimate measure of single length irons for me will be to see what my handicap is at the end of 2017. Besides my Cobra F7s, the remainder of my clubs will stay the same: a Nike Vapor Fly driver, Vapor Fly 4 & 7 fairway woods and Srixon 4 hybrid. I may switch out the fairway woods to my old standby Srixon Q Star 3&5 woods. My putter will remain the same as well- Odyssey Fang 2-ball. I occasionally send this putter to “time-out” and switch in something else. My lob wedge will not be single length.  I am keeping my Scratch digger/driver lob wedge that I love to chip with. I’ll try to use the Cobra sand wedge out of traps but may default to my lob wedge if I get frustrated.

What do I expect to happen?  Mostly, I expect to have fun!  I love to experiment with clubs and swings, so this appeals to me. Beyond that, my expectations are minimal.  In fact, it could be an expensive disaster, since these clubs will probably be hard to re-sell. I have some trouble with trajectory on long irons and this could make that even more of a problem. I like irons that are longer than normal, so I am hoping the extra-length short irons won’t seem that unnatural to me. But who knows?  I worry about gapping and will be very interested in seeing real world lengths I get from each iron. Even more worrisome is an article I just read by club making guru Dave Tutleman who, while positive about the one length concept, seemed skeptical of Cobra’s implementation of that concept. Cobra has 5 degree gaps from the sand wedge to the 7 iron.  Then the gap drops to 4 degrees between the 7 and 6 and only 3 degrees between the 6 and 5 iron. On the surface, this seems to be backwards. The shorter lengths in the longer irons suggest the need to increase loft gaps to make overall yardage gaps more even. The longer lengths in the 8 iron to SW would likewise imply smaller loft gaps to offset some increase in distance coming from the longer lengths.  Cobra may have addressed this issue in the head designs- we shall see. The shafts are the same, as far as I know, so I don’t think trajectory/distance issues are addressed there, though they could be.  The forged versions of the irons do have a flighted set of KBS shafts.  A specially designed set of flighted shafts that flight even lower in the higher lofted clubs and even higher in the lower lofted irons would make the most sense.  It would also, no doubt, add to the cost.  You could use similar weight but different shafts across the set but that runs counter to the single-length philosophy of everything feeling the same across all the irons.

Actually, I think that at the end of the year, I probably won’t have changed my handicap much one way or another.  I have been changing irons often and am used to adjusting. Despite the current wisdom in favor of personal fittings, I find that most decent golfers (decent in the sense of hand-eye coordination) adjust pretty quickly to whatever they are playing. Let’s see if that’s true in this case.

My scoring wedge around the greens is my lob wedge which I use for about 90% of my pitch shots. Since I will keep that club, the effects of the single length irons will be felt most strongly in greens in regulation.  I don’t have historical data so I won’t worry about collecting new data with the single length irons.  I will let changes in my index be the only real number that counts, but I think that number will be most strongly influenced by GIR. Will single length irons lead to more greens hit with my 5-7 irons? If so, that should help, unless the longer lengths in the 8 iron through sand wedge lead to the opposite. My handicap is also affected by my ability to make 2-3 birdies per round. While that depends on putting skills it is also affected by proximity to the pin. So whether I am able to make birdies will also help me decide about the virtues of single length.  Distance control and consistency (both in distance and in proximity to target line) are important.  But with new irons, I can’t be sure how much of either comes from the single length or from the design of the irons themselves (and the stock shaft I am using).  So I will talk a lot in my posts about all of these things but all I can do is report my experiences.

Here are the gaps and distances I would like to see from this set of Cobras:

SW (55*)- 100 yards

GW (50*)- 112.5 yards

PW (45*)- 125 yards

9 iron (40*)- 137.5 yards

8 iron (35*)- 150 yards

7 iron (30*)- 162.5 yards

6 iron (26*)- 172.5 yards

5 iron (23*)- 180 yards

If the short iron gaps are more than 12.5 yards, I’m not sure I will like that and this would point to the logic of a smaller loft gap from 7-SW.  On the other hand, Cobra has always been a leader (for better or worse) in stronger lofts on their irons, so I am not surprised by the specs for this game-improvement set. On the positive side, I really like to be able to hit an 8 iron from 150 yards under benign conditions and this set may allow me to do that even though I am losing some distance as I creep up in age (64).  If so, maybe the larger gaps will win me over.

Initial thoughts on the success of single length irons in the market:

I think there is a big problem for the commercial success of single length irons. Low handicappers won’t adopt this concept.  They are good ball strikers, often more “traditional” and conservative in club purchasing habits,  and confident with what they are already playing. Higher handicappers who have played for a while might well benefit from this concept, but they will be reluctant to put out the money for a new set and likely to get frustrated with trying to adopt to a very different set of clubs. The natural market for these clubs is the new golfer, who could learn the game using single length clubs.  The problem is that new golfers aren’t very aware of trends in golf equipment and are being advised by people the vast majority of whom have never used single length clubs and so have little reason to recommend them.  Plus, they are hard to find and will likely remain that way.  The one thing that could change this dynamic would be a couple of very successful years on tour for Bryson DeChambeau. If that happens, lots of people will be more open to trying single length irons.  I guess that is what Cobra is banking on in hiring DeChambeau as their single length ambassador.

A Terrific Deal

Recently, my wife and I returned from a road trip.  Our destination was a few days on Sanibel Island in southwest Florida. But we didn’t play any golf there- the courses were too expensive considering their quality and we had other things to do.  So this post is not about the pleasures of winter golf in Florida.

On the way down, however, we stopped for a night on Kiawah island. I had been to Kiawah once before, on the way home from visiting my late father in Sebring Florida.  My wife, two daughters and I stayed in a condo somewhere on the island. I arranged to play the Nicklaus course, Turtle Point, which was across the road from where we stayed.  I don’t remember much of that round.  It was a very nice course, but it was in the 30s with a strong wind and I was in a golf cart- winter golf and golf carts do not mix! On top of that, I was suffering from a hernia and by the time I was finished, I could barely walk across the road to get back to the warmth of our condominium.

This year, however, we planned ahead and chose a date to be at Kiawah that promised better weather. Kiawah was offering a package this year called the “Golf or Gourmet Escape.”  For $300 we got a room in the Sanctuary Hotel and two rounds of golf at any of the five Kiawah courses.  The Pete Dye Ocean Course was a $100 upgrade.  Note this is $300 TOTAL, not per person. If you assume $150 for the hotel room, then you are paying $75 each for a round on the Kiawah course of your choice.  Both prices are a bargain. Even the basic room at the hotel was beautiful, with a balcony and a view of the ocean if you worked for it a bit.  We had brought snacks with us so that was enough for breakfast with the free good coffee in the lobby. We had dinner at the Ryder Cup bar at the Ocean Course- a great choice. We got the last table and the bar was mostly still occupied (there was a little daylight left) with golfers.  The last bit of light allowed us to see the 18th hole at the Ocean Course and walk out to the immaculate (even in winter) putting green.  Because it happened to be “restaurant week” in nearby Charleston, I got a 3 course meal prepared at the posh Atlantic Room restaurant next door to the bar for $40. It was a delicious bargain- stuffed quail, grouper and white chocolate bread pudding. Oh, I forgot, this is a golf blog…

The following morning we played 18 holes at Osprey Point, a Tom Fazio design. I’m not normally a great Fazio fan, but this was a very nice resort course.  Everyone was friendly and unpretentious and the course was in terrific condition.  Totally renovated in 2014, the course now has Paspalum fairways and greens- both were excellent. My wife (a high handicapper) and I both really enjoyed ourselves. Houses don’t intrude and there are nice marsh views.  I really want to return with a group of golfing buddies and play three or four courses, including the Ocean Course.

This package is offered November 15-March3. And it gets even better.  If you share a room with a golf buddy and stay at a villa condo instead of the Sanctuary Hotel, the price drops to $200/night.  A round of golf at a great course and a night’s sleep for $100 per person?  Are you kidding me?!  Thank you, Kiawah.

 

 

Osprey Point

Golf is Supposed to Be Fun

I practically lived on my local public course when I was a teenager. I worked there to earn money to play there and I had a set of good golfing friends with whom I played every day, usually more than 18 holes. I met my wife on the same course and her father tolerated me mostly because I liked golf.  By the end of high school, however, I was burnt out. My last year on the high school golf team was a disappointing one and my game wasn’t getting any better.  I was frustrated much of the time when I was playing and so I went off to college and forgot about it. I would play once a year in the summer with my wife and in-laws, but that was it.

But I remembered how I felt on those very early spring mornings when I would go to a local par 3 course in Gambier, Ohio and play in the melting snow and relish every shot and how excited I was when I got my first set of Hogan blades and persimmons for $50.  Before that, I had used borrowed ladies’ clubs from one of my mother’s friends.  In some ways, golf saved me in those days.  I was a moody 13 year old who had been forced to leave all my friends behind and moved to a strange small town in Ohio and then watched as my parents’ marriage fell apart.  Everywhere else I was miserable- but whacking my Acushnet ball around those simple one-shotters was pure joy.

So when I returned to playing golf regularly over 30 years later, I told myself I would not let golf become a miserable chore again, but rather try and keep it that simple and wonderful game that it was in those early years.  I am in my early sixties now and playing the best golf of my life, but I hear the footsteps behind me and watch my older friends struggle to maintain their affection for a game that is increasingly more difficult for them to play well.  My time is coming.  Yet I am pretty sure I will enjoy golf for as long as I can physically play it, especially if I am able to still walk the course.  So here is some unsolicited advice about how to keep golf enjoyable.  It won’t work for everyone, no advice does, but maybe it will help you think about how to find your own way to keep coming back to the links.

1. It’s Not About the Score

I like to play well and I get mad at myself when I hit bad shots. But golf is essentially about walking and thinking.  It’s a contemplative game and sometimes it’s a social game and getting angry and frustrated ruins of all these things which make golf enjoyable.  So when I am playing well, I try not to focus too hard and to enjoy the round.  It’s hard not to think about where you might end up, but when I think ahead too much, it usually brings bad results. If I’m playing poorly, I try to enjoy the other aspects of the game- my friends, the views of the river, the late afternoon light on Pete Dye’s nasty moguls. I also use bad rounds to practice new kinds of shots or make changes to my swing. This allows almost every hole to be a new round- and we all know if you finish strong you feel good about the day even if the score wasn’t so great. In fact, I am making changes to my golf swing all the time and sometimes it is watching the results of these changes or tinkering with parts of my swing that make the game enjoyable.  I don’t practice much- I like to play golf.  Because I don’t practice and because I change swings and irons and putters and wedges with some frequency, I know I will never be “as good as I can be.”  On the other hand, I have become a much better golfer by having this attitude.  I can live with that paradox.

2. Stay Connected with the Game

Discovering links golf has contributed enormously to my love for, and appreciation of, the game.  On a links course you hit the ball, walk a bit and hit it again. Try doing that sometime.  I mean, REALLY try just doing that.  It changes everything. No drawn out, melodramatic pre-shot routines, no searching electronic devices for exact yardages, no walking a round a putt from twenty angles. Try to just make a solid swing that moves the ball towards the green. Remember that golf is a game and see your clubs as toys.  Play. Go out with no woods in your bag and try to tee off with a long iron on every hole.  Putt with your sand wedge.  Find an old set of blades and persimmon woods and put them in a pencil bag and go walk the course on a bad day in November.  Making the game even harder can be liberating and great fun. I know, “but golf is hard enough.” What I mean by making the game harder is letting go of expectations.  When you play in a 20mph wind with occasional rain when its in the upper 40s only an idiot would expect to play well.  That’s why you’re more likely to have fun and bond with the band of brothers or sisters who have chosen to brave the elements at your side.

3. Always Be Trying to Get Better

I know, this sounds like I am contradicting what I said above.  But I do go home after a round like so many golfers and work through the round, trying to figure out where it went wrong. On the course, if I am going consistently left with my irons, I try swing changes to correct it.  Sometimes they work and I have a much better back 9. As my playing partners will confirm, when I have a bad front, I also go to the 10th tee and say “OK, I just have to shoot a 33 to break 80.” I know it won’t happen, but I also know it could happen and it allows me to set a goal and work hard to finish the round better than I started it.  When you “give up” on a round, it shouldn’t be so you can sulk the rest of the day, it should be so you can forget about score and just enjoy playing with your friends and trying out new things.  Usually, when you relax your game will get better and you will end the day  in a much better frame of mind.  Easier said than done, I know.

4. Play Golf Like You Would Play Jazz

I am not a musician, so I will apologize in advance if this metaphor seems uninformed. When I think of jazz, I think of improvisation.  Change and creativity is the goal, not perfection.  Perhaps classical musicians are more likely to strive to play a piece “perfectly” or as the composer intended it.

Professional golfers are mostly classical musicians, using this distinction.  With the help of their coaches, they groove a swing that is repeatable and will always produce the exact same result (in theory) each time they do it.  Perfection. Maybe that is why so few of them look like they are enjoying themselves. Too many amateurs take the same approach to golf.  Maybe that’s a mistake. Make your game a constant work in progress and let it mellow with age.  Strive to be Coltrane, not Bach.

5. Don’t Play Like a Pro!

For the vast majority of professional golfers, golf requires constant practice and a team of coaches, caddies, trainers and shrinks to keep them at the top of their game.  Does that really sound like fun to you?  Even someone like Bubba Watson, who does play golf like a jazz musician most of the time, spends way too much time whining about why his shot didn’t go where it was supposed to or yelling at people for taking pictures with their phones.  (No offense Bubba, I love to watch you hit the ball.) The pre-shot routines of many pros are getting distinctly painful to watch, suggesting deep-seated psychological doubts that need constant attention.  Many look like they just don’t ever want to actually hit the ball for fear that something terrible will happen.  We weekend warriors should relish the near certainty that something terrible will most certainly happen several times a round and, if we are lucky, it will be so terrible as to merit retelling over clubhouse beers for years to come.  Golf is a game for amateurs- don’t spoil a good walk!

6. Enjoy the mental game

Some golfers simplify the game by trying to hit every drive as far as they can.  Or always going for what my friend Doug calls the “hero shot.” There is something to be said for this style of playing.  If you give yourself over to it genuinely and completely, you can have a lot of fun. But most of us can’t do that.  When our long drives slice out of bounds or our hero shots fall into the water in front of the green and the double-bogeys and triple-bogeys start adding up, we get discouraged and throw our clubs and vow never to play this stupid game again. Golf is far from a stupid game, but it can be played in a very stupid manner.

We all know the term course management. Course management involves thinking your way around the course, playing to avoid high numbers and relishing the opportunities for reasonable risk-reward shots that may get you a birdie or save a par.  Even when your swing is less than stellar, knowing that you played intelligently is a very satisfying part of the game. When your swing is feeling good, take a few more risks, when it’s not play smart.