Monday, 16 September 2013

Country clubs for a day? No way

Perhaps the toughest thing a golfer has to endure each year is the seasonal closing of his club and course. As bad as winter weather gets up north and as depressing as short, cold days often are, nothing is quite so frustrating as your regular retreat being closed. To be sure, you still can get in your rounds during those months. But the games almost always are played at faraway resorts, and no matter how good the layouts, the experience is never really the same.

That’s partly because of a lack of familiarity with the courses and a lack of camaraderie around places that aren’t quite home. There are, however, other factors:

Take footwear. One of the pleasures of belonging to a club is having someone take meticulous care of your golf shoes. At my place, cleats are replaced promptly; new laces put in when needed; and leather shined, polished and conditioned after each round. Consequently, even the lousiest duffer can look like Beau Brummel when he struts to the first tee, his saddles shining in the early morning sun.
But forget about that at most resorts, where golf shoes are the subject of more neglect than a middle child. What that means for the club player is that his FootJoys and Nikes become as ratty as the work boots worn by a highway paver. That’s why the first thing I do at the start of each season is haul in the different shoes I have been wearing all winter to our trusty locker room attendant, and with a crisp twenty in hand, ask if he would please bring them all back to life.

Another issue, of course, are my street shoes, none of which would ever get buffed and polished (at least from May to October) if not for that same fellow. No one at the resorts I visit seems to know how to work a can of Kiwi black and a good brush.

Cleaning is a problem that can extend to irons and woods as well, and there are few, if any of those “pay to play for a day” retreats that do quite as good a job as your own club. I also like the luxury of my bag waiting for me when I get to the pro shop and not having to haul it in and out of the trunk of my car, or to and from my room, every time I want to play.

It also seems that at many resorts, you spend whatever time you are not on the course handing out dollars to whomever is handling your bag, as well as to starters, beverage cart drivers and assorted “valets” and “concierges.” After a while, you look and feel like Rodney Dangerfield in “Caddyshack,” peeling ones from a big roll of bills to anyone and everyone who walks by. Back home, it’s $5 to the shoe guy every week and whatever I think the caddie deserves.

Actually, there always is something disconcerting about the money a club member has to pay for an individual round of resort golf, and everything else that goes with it. A first-rate course, for example, costs $500 for a day, a price that includes the green fee, a caddie, a snack at the halfway house, a couple of tips and maybe some lunch and a drink afterward. That may be only slightly more than the per-round cost of a golfer paying $7,000 per year in dues for a club at which he plays, say, 25 times per year. But having to cough it up for each 18 you play just seems more expensive. And even if it is comparable financially, it rarely is emotionally, because it is not your place.

Then there is the concern of whom you play with. Unless you are foolish enough to sign up for an out-of-the-hat scramble, club golf ensures that you go out with people you generally like and enjoy. But visit a resort with anything other than your own foursome, and you are at the mercy of the draw and golf’s version of a blind date. Harvey Penick’s credo to the contrary, just because someone plays golf does not make him, or her, your friend.

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