A good walk

Columns - america’s greenkeeper

© matthew wharton

I recently returned from a wonderful trip to Ireland, where I walked 99 holes of golf over six consecutive days. I honestly cannot tell you when, if ever, I played golf for six consecutive days, let alone walked. It was heavenly.

My first taste of links golf came earlier this year at the home of golf, the Old Course at St Andrews. Walking across the sacred ground previously tread upon by the game’s founders, legends and greats sent shivers up my spine and I’ve never felt more at peace or serene.

In Ireland, it didn’t matter if it was pouring rain at 9-hole Spanish Point or if the wind was howling nearly 40 mph at Carne. All that mattered was we were in the moment. More than 3,000 miles from home, work and all the other distractions that come with day-to-day life in America seemed a distant memory, even if only for a short while.

I managed to play Lahinch with one ball, whilst losing several at both Carne and Rosapenna. It took me six attempts to extricate my ball from the deep, revetted bunker guarding the front left of Doonbeg’s 18th hole. We all had a good laugh! And when my wife’s caddie at Enniscrone shouted an expletive in his native accent across the adjacent fairway to another member in our trip, we nearly laughed ourselves to tears.

Guinness and thick, hearty vegetable soup with brown soda bread warmed my bones following each round. I’m happy to report I didn’t gain one pound whilst away — the power of walking between eight to 10 miles each day over, between and around the dunes.

I recently listened to Episode 99 of “The State of the Game” podcast. Just before the seven-minute mark, Rod Morri references a comment made by Derek Duncan, who hosts the “Feed the Ball” podcast. Derek says, “When you play a golf course in a cart, you almost never approach the green from the front, from the fairway, cause you’re always parking to the side to go and putt. When you walk the golf course, it’s a completely different experience because you approach all the greens from the front.”

I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve probably played greater than 80 percent of my lifetime rounds with a cart, and never thought about it in the context of Derek’s comment. He’s right and it makes me wonder if this plays a role in the number of unrepaired ball marks routinely seen on U.S. courses. If golfers are approaching from the sides of each green, do they fail to walk past where their ball first struck the putting surface?

Another thing that struck me about my experience in Ireland is how Americans in general are willing to accept the quirkiness often found on old links courses (blind shots, severe slopes, pot bunkers, etc.), but are quick to chastise those features when at home. I personally do not mind blind shots and find them to be thrilling, plus good friend Rick Tegtmeier, CGCS, MG, told me that Pete Dye always says, “they’re only blind once.”

My game isn’t as sharp as it once was. My most recent GHIN update stated I’m now a 6.0 index. My personal best was 1.2 and the days of 2.0 are now a recent but distant memory. The self-imposed pressures of work continue to mount each season and Mother Nature continues to find new ways to frustrate me and prevent me from playing.

I resolve to do better. I fell in love with greenkeeping because I fell in love with golf first. I fell in love with my wife because we met on a golf course and love to play golf together. Ireland showed me despite our efforts to enjoy life we haven’t made enough time for ourselves. We’re not getting any younger and each year our skills and abilities deteriorate, but links golf is suited for all ages.

I don’t know exactly when or where golf in America went too far astray from its roots in Great Britain and Ireland. After having experienced golf twice this year in the homeland, I believe it’s something we need more of in the U.S., and I can’t wait to return across the pond to experience it again. There is something to be said about a stroll across a links course, whether it’s with your clubs on your back, pushing a trolley, or with a caddie by your side. It’s a good walk!

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