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18 Essential Golf Experiences

1. Rock the Cradle

“Say,” exclaimed Sam Snead when he first eyed the sacred swath on the edge of St. Andrews, “that looks like an old, abandoned golf course. What did they call it?” We all know the answer, and no golf life is complete until it’s joined the long march through time across the Swilcan Burn and back, a journey every great champion from Old Tom Morris on, save Hogan, has taken. But St. Andrews, golf’s Eden on the Eden estuary, is more than the sum of the Old Course’s parts, though some of those parts—the Road Hole and its bunker, the Valley of Sin, the Principal’s Nose, Hell Bunker, Granny Clark’s Wynd, the Spectacles, the Beardies, the Coffins, the adjacent Himalayas putting green and the feel of your pulse reaching warp speed as you approach the first tee, in the shadow of the R&A clubhouse—top every golfer’s greatest-hits list and should be honored. No, St. Andrews isn’t just a place. It’s a blissful state of mind, something that, in assaying the city and its unique atmosphere almost a century ago, Bernard Darwin identified as “that utter self-abandonment to golf.”

2. Do Augusta Right

April, Augusta and the Masters. Talk about sensory overload! So do the experience right. Inhale the bouquet of Magnolia Lane as you enter. Eye the carnival of azaleas. Taste the tang of pimento cheese. Take in the pre-Toonamint par-three competition. Marvel at the skill it takes for even the best golfers in the world to skip shots across the water on sixteen in practice. Stake your claim to a spot early in the opening round and watch the groups come through for several hours, then on Friday and Saturday follow your favorites over several holes, especially as they navigate the perils of Amen Corner. If one of those favorites is Tiger, even better: how sublime to watch the best of all time in his prime on one of the game’s most storied outposts. On Sunday, pray for a charge, and keep attuned for the roars, for although Sunday at the Masters may make for perfect television, in person it satisfies our Jones for the game even more.

3. Work the Ball

What’s the difference between a slice and a fade?A hook and a draw?Control—and lots of practice. What a sense of accomplishment to see a ball obey its master’s whim, to watch it turn uncannily in the proper direction to best access a tough pin position, or stay low to cut through wind, or hug the ground near the green to take advantage of the topography. Comprehending the physics behind how and why the ball flies the way it does makes any golfer a smarter golfer. Yet at every level of the game, the overall emphasis on length over finesse has turned the deft shotmaking skill of magicians like Bobby Jones and Lee Trevino and Severiano Ballesteros into an endangered species. Even Tiger, who works the ball with genius (his own Nike One Platinums are built to spin so he can maneuver them at will) rues the trend, but understands it. “Most of today’s young players,” he has said, “never had to work the ball growing up because they were more concerned about distance.” Buck the trend. Throw straightness a curve.

4. See the USA

It’s impossible to imagine a lifetime itinerary that doesn’t include a fair sampling of America’s great resorts. Pebble Beach?Atop everyone’s checklist. Bandon Dunes?Naturally. The American Club?Check. Pinehurst?Check. The Greenbrier, the Homestead, Sea Island and Sawgrass?Check, check, check and check. Kiawah?Check. The Broadmoor and the Sagamore?Check. Kapalua and Princeville?Check and double-check. Check one, check all. Each is a veto-proof line item in itself, with Pebble adding the allure of the photograph no golfer should pass up: sitting on the fence at the eighteenth tee, thoroughly Jacked on simply being there.

5. Play Away

Far away. No other game overflows with such fabulous landscapes in such distant destinations. The likes of Royal Melbourne, Barnbougle Dunes, Kingston Heath and Moonah Links in Australia. Cape Kidnappers and Kauri Cliffs in New Zealand. Nirwana in Bali. Hirono in Japan. Mission Hills in China. The Ho Chi Minh Golf Trail in Vietnam. Durban and Fancourt in South Africa. The wonderful world of golf keeps expanding—and beckoning. And as Alan Shepard demonstrated, many decades ago, even if we can’t yet swing on a star, there is always the moon.

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