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Here’s a Concept: Play Real Golf

In praise of 18 proper holes

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Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, California
All 18 holes at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, California. One can even post a score there too. Photo: Kohjiro Kinno

When I was told about the “concept course” direction of this issue of The Golfer’s Journal, I immediately groaned and my mind jumped to my father. Dad coached my basketball teams between the third and sixth grades, and while we focused on winning our league and end-of-year tournaments, my old man would use pre-season holiday tournaments to play everybody evenly. I hated it. I would plead with him to treat them as “real,” to coach to win the game (cue Herm Edwards). But he never would, and each year we would bomb out early in the tournament. These experiences ingrained within me a deep hatred for exhibition sport: spring-training baseball, all-star games, even the Wednesday Par-3 “contest” at the Masters—I loathe them all. It is such a waste of time and energy to go through the motions without the core tenet of sport: competition. And so many of golf’s new concepts feel squarely in this category for me.

For reasons too numerous for this column space, I never played competitively outside of one season of JV golf in ninth grade. To scratch that itch, I compete against myself on the course (with expectations usually akin to the Harlem Globetrotters, but my unfortunate reality more the Washington Generals—another on the list of exhibitions I detest!).

So while there have been plenty of new ideas about the game in this issue, here are four decidedly old ones by which I live my golf life.

We’re keeping score. 

Without a score, what’s the point? We might as well be playing “golf swing,” and with my move, no thanks. I’ve read the Zen golf musings on the freedom gained by not keeping score; I’ve even tried it. And you know what? It stinks. I don’t want to walk around a field swinging a club; the whole point is to count the strokes. Let’s play golf, damn it.

I’m not going to PLAY9.

With apologies to the USGA’s program, I can’t abide the idea of only nine holes. I rarely warm up on the range, so I don’t have an idea of where the ball is going until the fourth or fifth hole. Since about 1882, golf has commonly been understood to involve 18 holes. Therefore, I want to play all 18. Afterwards I want the simple, unadulterated joy of submitting my score into the GHIN. And don’t even get me started on three-hole or six-hole loops. Hell. No. 

Pitch ’n’ Putt? No thanks. 

It’s golf’s equivalent of grab-ass. One meanders around, alternating between trying to thin a gap wedge 130 yards and choking down on it far enough to flag a 48-yard shot because you’ve likely left all your other clubs in the trunk. Yeah, thanks—hard pass. What’s the only thing worse than nine holes of pitch ’n’ putt? Eighteen holes of it! 

I want to play my ball. 

I know I’m not very good. I’m going to hit the ball into some weird places. But, at the end of the hole, that’s my double bogey. I earned that six. I want it on the scorecard because, again, the score is the thing. So no scrambles, no alternate shot and, while we’re here, no, I don’t want to switch tees mid-round to play a par 3 back or a par 5 up. I don’t want to “hit another,” I don’t want to “just drop one anywhere” and I don’t want to “pick up.” I will do these things, mind you—I’m not a complete sociopath—but a small part of me dies each time I do them. 

All I want is to play a proper round of golf. I want to hit the bottom of the hole 18 times, hear that sweetest of sounds, count up my strokes and know exactly where I stand in the futile, never-ending battle against myself.  

Phil Landes also goes by the nom de plume Big Randy with No Laying Up. He’s a seeker in life and golf, though admittedly of what he’s not always quite sure.