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18 Essential Golf Experiences

12. Ace a Hole

What’s more divine than hitting one shot—and only one shot—then marking a vertical digit on the scorecard?Though the odds of making a hole in one are in the neighborhood of one in 12,500, that neighborhood is open to all, and boasts an impressive population. It goes back to Young Tom Morris, who scored the first recorded ace, on the eighth at Prestwick in the 1869 British Open. Tiger notched the first of his eighteen when he was just eight. Elsie McLean, the oldest acer in the books, had to wait until she was 102. And in the space of just two hours, Doug Weaver, Mark Wiebe, Jerry Pate and Nick Price all marked ones for their efforts on the sixth hole at Oak Hill in the ’89 U.S. Open. No course on Tour has yielded more than Riviera, and no player can boast more than California amateur Norman Manley, whose fifty-nine aces include ones on back-to-back par fours in 1964. You never know when it’s your time, so be prepared. Bring a hopeful heart to every par three—and a witness.

13. Win Something That Matters

Skins and Nassaus have their place, but they aren’t commemorated on trophies or clubhouse winners boards. A weekend victory among friends, no matter how gratifying, can’t compare with winning an organized competition. “There are two distinct kinds of golf,” Bobby Jones insisted, “Just plain golf and tournament golf.” They are not the same, and the boards and assorted hardware are testament to valuing the difference. Tournament golf, as Jones well knew, is “terribly hard work.” It is golf under punishing pressure, a constant test of nerve and nerves, and triumphing beneath that rubric deserves recognition, both for the self-satisfaction and for the respect of others it engenders. It hardly matters whether it’s the Claret Jug or a plate from the third flight of a member-guest. What does matter is its message: tournament winner.

14. Know One Course Intimately

“About this one course in the world,” conceded Bernard Darwin, “I am a hopeless and shameful sentimentalist and I glory in my shame.” We should all be blessed to be so enraptured as the writer was of Aberdovey, the links on the west coast of Wales that he returned to throughout his life. But like any deep romance, this one takes work to sustain and seeks regular renewal. To truly know a golf course, embrace its history, discover its secrets and learn its nuances. Feel it through your feet. Annotate a personal yardage book. Get the long and the short of it from each set of tees. True, the course you love may not always love you back, but that’s life. At least you’ll appreciate the finer points of a complicated relationship.

15. Collect to Connect

All golfers are hyphenates, and the descriptive that fits most comfortably in the second position is “collector.” Wherever we wander to test what passes for our game, we generally bring back shirts, hats, pencils, logo balls and whatever else isn’t structurally reinforcing the pro shop. All are tangible—even useful—reminders of where we’ve been. But one of the joys of golf is the variety of extant artifacts that have no use at all anymore other than to be held in our hands and admired as reminders of where the game has been and how we fit into its gloried and continuing procession. Collectibles come in all shapes and sizes—old hickories, gutties, trophies, art, books and autographs—and are peddled in myriad ways, from reputable dealers to eBay. The most coveted objects are pricey. The National Gallery of Scotland paid some $2 million (the pinnacle for a single relic) in 2002 for The Golfers, Charles Lees’s iconic 1847 painting of a match played at St. Andrews; a featherie ball can fetch four figures; and a single long-nosed putter from the early 1700s was recently gaveled down at Sotheby’s for $181,000 (with no cure for the yips included). Still, clubs from Old Tom Morris’s shop, turn-of-the-last-century balls with curious cover patterns, and classic first editions can all be found for less than the price of a round at Pebble. Expensive?Sure. But purchasing even one item you’d otherwise have no business splurging on makes a statement—a personal homage to a personal passion—that no one but you needs to appreciate or understand.

16. Shoot Your Age

It’s a remarkable accomplishment whenever it comes about, but the younger we are, the better our game has to be. Fifty-nine is the standard, recorded, just once, by a player that age (more than thirty years ago). But the route through vigorous longevity has much to recommend it, too, not the least of which is vigorous longevity. Sam Snead regularly slammed into and through his age, even on the PGA Tour, but he didn’t live long enough to cover the spread by twenty-one, the way Canadian Ed Ervasti did in 2007, carding a seventy-two at age ninety-three. The secrets?Good health. Continued exercise. The right clubs and ball to maximize distance. Plenty of practice. A decent overall game to provide hope, and a short game solid enough to save precious strokes. All of which is definitely worth shooting for.

17. Hail the King

Imagine golf over the past half-century without Arnold Palmer. Impossible, right?So thank him personally. But he’s Arnold Palmer! Precisely. In a game built on relationships, we’ve all at least imagined some kind of personal relationship with Arnie—credit his blue-collar roots, his go-for-broke style, his genial TV presence and the grace with which he’s aged. What’s so astonishing about Palmer is that he’s also maintained a remarkable relationship with us, in large part because he has always seemed approachable in ways that the two giants who’ve followed, Jack and Tiger, never have. The Army may have decamped, but the King holds court regularly at his Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, home of the annual Arnold Palmer Invitational. You may run into him there, and if you do, shake his hand and get a grip on what’s so royal about the royal and ancient endeavor.

18. Pass It On

If you have introduced a child (your son, daughter or nephew, perhaps) to the game, there will come a day when he or she trumps you over eighteen. It’s not your loss. Rather, it’s a rite of passage. Be proud. Be happy. Realize that long after you’re gone, your presence in the game will play on.

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