Golf is...

© matthew wharton

If you are one of the thousands of industry professionals active on Twitter, then you will be familiar with John Reilly, director of agronomy at The Resort at Longboat Key Club just outside Sarasota, Florida. John goes by the handle @turfmonkeyboy and is widely known for sharing the hashtag #GolfIs.

I recently spoke with John to get his take on what golf is to him, and he quoted Walt Whitman. John says one of his favorite lines by Whitman is, “I am large, I contain multitudes,” and he believes it perfectly summarizes the vastness of golf.

On one recent golf trip, he both stayed overnight in the oldest house at Pine Valley (yes, that Pine Valley, in New Jersey) and the next day drove to Sweetens Cove in Tennessee. Talk about a juxtaposition.

Last month I had the good fortune to attend the 2022 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show in San Diego, California. It was the first time since the 2020 show in Orlando I had the opportunity to interact with my peers, and it felt good.

While in Southern California, I traveled to Oceanside, California, just a few miles north, to experience Goat Hill Park, a public facility popular on social media channels. Goat Hill opened in 1952 and features 18 holes that play to a par of 65. It may well be the most difficult “short course” in America.

The grass at Goat Hill is whatever will grow on that particular spot. My group identified kikuyugrass, Bermudagrass, Poa annua, bentgrass and ryegrass, just to name a few. Sometimes the intermingled species looked like patches on your britches, if you are old enough to remember when moms sewed patches on clothes.

The Poa annua greens are small, fast and most are cut into the sides of the hill, which placed a premium on your shot making, and a bigger one on your short game. In other words, the Goat is no pushover. But the course is not what makes Goat Hill what it is. It is the culture!

It oozes from every pore a stereotypical laidback California vibe. It more closely resembles a surfing community, but these folks are chasing pars and birdies rather than waves. We saw people young and old, with and without dogs. We even saw guys carrying pencil bags wearing board shorts and Vans sneakers while other groups played the tips (4,454 yards) wearing white belts.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers blasted from speakers around the small “clubhouse,” making for a partylike atmosphere around the first and 10th tees, as well as the practice green, range tee and 18th green. Some folks just hung out, conversing around the fire pit rather than playing. Guess it was just another day in their paradise.

A couple days later, when the trade show opened, I browsed the aisles and found a group exhibiting for the first time. The Golf Heritage Society, formerly known as the Golf Collector’s Society, was in booth #2059. It was occupied by president Bern Bernacki and Region IV director Glenn Haueisen wearing plus fours. They were joined by Region IX director Taba Dale and retired golf course superintendent Mel Lucas Jr.

Mel’s father was also a golf course superintendent and Mel is a past president of the GCSAA (1980). He published a wonderful book last year about the history of greenkeeping that was available at the GCSAA bookstore.

As a recent new member of the GHS (I joined Jan 1, 2021), I was excited to meet fellow golf history enthusiasts and introduce myself. We exchanged contact information and I wished them luck with their booth. As I walked away, it hit me.

I realized golf is many things to many people, and as superintendents we need to be mindful of that fact. To some, we may only be viewed as caretakers of golf courses, but I like to believe we are also custodians of the game.

And the game of golf is bigger than all of us. It has been around for centuries and hopefully will survive for centuries more. Whether it is hanging out with friends at a low-budget muni or searching for that next artifact to add to your collection, golf contains multitudes.

John told me that, to him, golf is both the 16th hole at the WM Phoenix Open and the fifth hole at Cruit Island in county Donegal on the western side of Ireland — a blind dogleg on the ragged Atlantic coast — and everything in between.

Whatever golf is to you, I hope you find it and enjoy it as much as possible in 2022.

Matthew Wharton, CGCS, MG, is the superintendent at Carolina Golf Club in Charlotte, North Carolina and past president of the Carolinas GCSA. Follow him on Twitter @CGCGreenkeeper.

March 2022
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