Spinning Yarns

What's your best golf story? An assortment of classics from the TGJ community
Spinning yarns

Light / Dark

Trudging through airport security, masked up and wishing for slip-on shoes, I was suddenly transported to Pebble Beach. For golf diehards like us, the mere sight of a logo on a fellow passenger’s polo can instantly conjure our best memories.

My most recent favorite was a trip to the golf-rich Bay Area of California to meet my girlfriend’s parents for the first time. No, I didn’t bring my clubs. Disappearing for five hours didn’t seem like the ideal way to make a good impression. Do I deserve a medal for such self-control? That’s not up to me, but probably yes.

About a week before we left, Mia’s mother called to say that her father wouldn’t be home that weekend due to working security at none other than the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

As chief of police in their small town, he leads a group of Explorers—young people who want to become cops, but aren’t old enough yet—to volunteer at the event. If we wanted to see him, we’d need to go to the course, which I very much wanted to do, but this was February 2020 and the PGA Tour was still fan-less and operating tournaments in a COVID bubble. No dice.

But, the next day, Mia’s mom called back and said her dad had put us down as “special advisors” to the Explorers, and that we’d be able to roam freely through the hallowed—and empty—grounds of Pebble Beach. “Oh, dear, she’s confused,” I thought. She doesn’t know golf tournaments like I do—no way this was real.

She finished by saying, “Bring cargo pants or anything that makes you look like a cop.” Having left all of my cargo pants back in 2004, I stared at my closet, looking for something that screamed “impersonating a police officer,” gave up and threw a pair of black jeans and my darkest high-top Vans in my bag. Officer Wilson reporting for duty.

Even on the morning of the tournament, I still thought this was a big mix-up and at best we’d be directing traffic blocks away from the course. But we breezed through the gates and parked in the main lot, 40 yards from the first tee, like we were pulling up for an evening nine at the local muni. That strict, grueling Tour bubble turned out to be someone pointing a temperature gun at my forehead for .02 seconds. And that’s how I met my girlfriend’s father for the first time, on a restaurant patio overlooking the first tee at Pebble Beach. He handed us Bloody Marys and neon vests blaring the word “POLICE.” The shock of that quickly subsided into a wonderful realization: Holy shit, we’re at Pebble Beach for a Tour event virtually by ourselves.

After watching groups tee off for an hour or so, including Francesco Molinari cold-topping one worse than an early morning swing after a late night, I got to complete an obscure, lifelong golf dream: drive a hoodless golf cart around a Tour event. I was a bushy mustache and safari hat away from going full Slugger White. We drove the eerily quiet property, taking in every breathtaking coastal hole. I was in golf heaven, or, as my girlfriend aptly said, “Oh, so this is like your Disney World?”

The day didn’t end without me having to earn that police vest on my back. I tagged out an Explorer so they could eat lunch and was greeted by a volunteer who explained my job in painstaking detail: “Now, when the flag goes back in the cup on 15, that means they’re done with the hole,” he said. “So your job is to take the rope across the street and block traffic until the players tee off on 16 and walk across.” I smiled and searched for a polite way to tell him I understood the rules of golf.

As the first group under my jurisdiction finished the 15th, I walked the rope across the street; upon hitting their tee shots on No. 16, I untied the rope and let cars pass—completely forgetting to let the players cross first. The look on the volunteer’s face and the way he waved his hands toward me said it all: You had one job!

After my semi-successful shift at keeping the game’s elite safe from passing Teslas, I concluded my tour of duty by turning in my gun and badge (OK, just my neon vest) and profusely thanking Mia’s father.

As golf crazies, we all have these types of stories, the ones we can’t wait to tell when our memory is jogged. So we reached out to our community to gather their favorite golf yarns, because we know anyone who has ever stuck a tee in the ground—or impersonated an officer—has one worth sharing.

—Jeremy Wilson, TGJ Editorial Coordinator

spinning yarns

St. Andrews Sunday Scramble 

My first trip to Scotland, years ago, was a whirlwind 13 days that included 16 rounds of golf. Three of my favorite playing partners and I had meticulously planned it about a year prior to departure. Nine months before the trip, my wife and I found out we were pregnant with our first child and that he would be ready to meet the world a week before I was due to board the plane. After some complicated discussions, we decided I’d still go. I worked hard to convince both myself and my wife that this would be a once-in-a-lifetime trip. (Subsequent trips back to the birthplace of golf have reminded her that “once in a lifetime” is actually five or possibly six times in a lifetime.) When people ask me if that first time was worth the grief, I always reply that it certainly was. And the highlight came on a course where we played only two holes.

It was truly a spectacular golf trip: We visited Kingsbarns, Cruden Bay and four of the courses at St. Andrews, among others. Unfortunately, the Old Course was closed during our visit. Preparations had begun for it to co-host the Dunhill Cup the following week, and we showed up on a Sunday, when the course is used by the public as a walking park. Late in the day, as we strolled toward our hotel, carrying our clubs from an earlier round at the Jubilee Course, we saw the last of the staff and volunteers finishing work on the grandstands and tee boxes.

We’d stopped on the 17th green to discuss the famed shot over the hotel when someone in our group blurted out, “I can’t believe we aren’t going to play it.” We went quiet, looking at each other and fidgeting with our clubs—and then smiles turned into smirks. I knew at that point we were not going to walk off the course without playing two of the most famous holes in golf. So we hustled over to the 17th box and teed up. It didn’t seem like a problem at all.

We hit our shots over the hotel, then hit our approach shots, and even took our time on the green putting at the hole from almost every conceivable angle.

A few people looked at us, but no one said a word. On our way to the 18th tee, there were discussions about playing these holes in a loop until dark.

The hole is surrounded like a stadium by the buildings on the edge of town and the Royal & Ancient Clubhouse, often lined with onlookers. “What’s the worst that could happen?” someone in our group ominously asked as we all hit our drives. We crossed the famed Swilcan Bridge to reach our approach shots and noticed a bit of chatter. There were a few older gentlemen gathering along the road. We pretended as if we didn’t see them and collectively went to each of our balls and hit our second shots. As they landed on the green, we heard someone yelling. We ignored him. But we started walking faster. We could not hit our putts fast enough.

As the last ball rolled in, we heard a man shouting, “You! Stop right there! Nobody plays the Old Course on Sunday!”

I quickly removed my hat and sweater and walked the other direction, toward a local crowd using the course as a park. One of our playing partners left his unique and very visible argyle sweater on. They went straight toward him. I saw him being accosted by the locals, who laid into him about playing golf on sacred ground on a day the course was closed. The look on his face as he just stood there and took it is still one of my most vivid memories on a golf course. He shamefully put his head down and walked away to catch up to the rest of us. If An Idiot Abroad had a golf episode, this would have been it.

—Rick Salzer

Spinning yarns

A Little White Ball Lie 

My wife and I were touring the Canadian Rockies by bus and it was the last leg of our trip, at a large national park. We got off, checked into the lodge and went for a walk. 

There is a beautiful lake and golf course next to the lodge, so we decided to check it out. As we walked down the path, we saw two balls about 50 feet away from the green. There wasn’t a soul around the course, and we weren’t really thinking, so we just kicked the balls into the hole. Just messing around, you know? 

About five minutes later, we heard a tremendous amount of screaming. Four guys came over the hill behind us, losing their minds, hollering that two of them got holes-in-one on the same hole. What were the odds of that?! How amazing! They were so excited about it that I just couldn’t burst their bubbles. I mean, I’m no golfer, but I know a hole-in-one is a stupendous thing. I just couldn’t face them about it. 

This was about 50 years ago. I figure now they have probably passed on, because they were much older than us.

I guess we gave them a hole-in-one experience of a lifetime.

—Caller to TGJ Customer Service
(name shall remain anonymous)

’Tis I, Lord of the Idiots

I desperately wanted to get into something called the Global Leadership Scholarship Program in college. How impressive would that look on my résumé? Tossing “global” in front of anything makes it sound 50% better.

As a finance major, this program was critical for my post-college career path. All that stood between me and the GLSP was a group interview with the dean of the college, a high-ranking professor and the program’s student leader. From what I understood, my fellow student was the one I really needed to impress. After 45 masterful minutes, the three complimented me on my maturity and professionalism and said they’d let me know within a week.

The day after my interview, I played a round of golf at our cheap, scruffy, go-to college course, Pine Lakes—the kind of place that gave such an outrageous student discount that it’s no longer in business. You’d be hard pressed not to bump into someone you knew during a round, and that’s exactly what happened to me.

At this time, Seinfeld was at least as important to me as golf. I had been bingeing the show as one did in the pre-streaming era: with DVDs Netflix mailed to my house. One of my favorite episodes was the one where George Costanza is stressed out while working for the Yankees, so, to help him blow off some steam, his boss, George Steinbrenner, sends him to an interleague game against the Houston Astros. He meets these guys from Houston, good ol’ boys who say things like “You son of a bitch!” and “What’s up, you old bastard?” but in a friendly way.

So I started saying “What’s up, you old bastard?” to everyone. It became my standard greeting—you know, something only a college student would think is funny.

Back at Pine Lakes, I heard, “Hey, Steven!” from a few holes away. I couldn’t quite make out who it was, but I could tell they were a student.

What did I shout back without any hesitation?

“What’s up, you old bastard?!”

As he got closer, I realized this “old bastard” was the student leader of the GLSP. My heart sank. We made brief small talk about our round, or at least I think we did—hard to remember details when your soul has left your body.

When I returned to my cart, I put my face in my hands. “I’m never getting into this program,” I thought. “Why would I copy George Costanza, lord of the idiots?”

A week later, I received an acceptance email from the GLSP. Through this program, I was able to study for a semester at Oxford in England with my close friend, where we took weekend trips to six of the Open Championship venues and battled for our own made-up cup. Years later, this cup competition has expanded to include a group of friends that I still take an annual golf trip with to this day.

Looking back, I like to think it was the GLSP that made all of this possible, but there’s really only one person I need to thank: the old bastard who took my ridiculousness in stride.

—Steven Thompson

The Game Abides

I almost felt sorry for Stan as he walked to the first tee with his bulky Ben Hogan bag and bucket hat. He looked to be in his late 70s and understandably hesitant to approach us. “Wanna join up?” I asked, knowing it was a tall order considering our group consisted of me, my three boys, ages 2, 4 and 7, and my 8-year-old nephew, Walter. 

He smiled, shrugged and replied, “I don’t see why not.”

When you use a stroller for a pushcart and mainly play short courses with multiple children under the age of 8, random singles are often best left alone. But on this humid and sweaty Sunday at Harpeth Valley’s short course in Nashville, Tennessee, our rambunctious crew crossed paths with the right person at exactly the right time.

My eldest son, Jack, fell in love with the game during the pandemic’s golf resurgence, and, due in large part to my father-in-law being a teaching professional, the boy adopted a gorgeous golf swing. This launched us into the wild world of junior golf tournaments, and we couldn’t get enough. Family trips were adapted to include afternoons in a golf cart. While most families went to the park, we loaded up for practice rounds.

On the first hole at Harpeth, Jack did his best Rory McIlroy swing impression, Walter following with his dead ringer for DJ. Stan exclaimed, “Whoa, those swings are something else!” When Jack put his approach to less than a foot, Stan looked at me, laughing, “That boy has some game.”

Over the next few holes, the boys continued their pin assaults and Stan and I chatted while I made sure my 2-year-old didn’t fall out of the stroller. We shared Little League baseball coaching in common; he once led a Middle Tennessee team to a No. 3 world ranking. He was a good man and went on and on about his children and his grandkids. 

Stan had a beautiful swing, but I could tell he was rusty—far too rusty for the middle of the golf season. On the fourth tee, I asked if he played much. He paused and said he used to all the time. But since his best friend of more than 25 years had passed away from complications from a stroke on New Year’s Eve, “It just doesn’t seem right or fun or worth it anymore.”

It was Stan’s first round since his playing partner had died.

But his sadness was swept away by cheering on my boys’ good shots and laughing at the crazy ones. On the fifth green, after Jack lipped out a 30-footer, Stan looked at me and said, “Watching these boys play is the most fun I’ve had on a golf course in years.” There may have been a spark in his eye, but it was obscured by a few tears welling up.

After wrapping up on the sixth green, Stan firmly shook hands with Jack and Walt and told them he couldn’t wait to watch them on TV on Sundays in 15 years. He then shook mine and thanked me, saying those boys are what the game is all about.

As Stan teed it up on No. 7, we headed back toward the clubhouse and range, which looked straight out of Tin Cup, and Walt yelled, “Good luck, Mr. Stan! Play good!” Stan waved to us, with a pep in his swing that wasn’t there an hour earlier when he’d sauntered to the first tee.

—Joseph Williams

Spinning yarns

Hoop Dreams

As a student-athlete at Stanford, reminders that you are surrounded by the world’s best are constant. One summer, swimmer Jenny Thompson was one of my housemates; she ended up winning eight Olympic medals. On a simple walk through the quad, you’ll likely pass a Nobel Laureate, or possibly the person who will go on to discover the cure for cancer.

My most memorable brush with greatness on campus is hardly that noble. But it does involve Eldrick Woods. 

I played basketball at Stanford from 1991 to 1995. We were wrapping up one of the final practices of my senior season when the back door of the gym swung open. The door was tucked away around a corner, and no one really knew about it but the team. Everyone glanced over, but the person stayed hidden in the shadows and was clearly waiting for us to finish.

After practice, showers prevailed over curiosity, and most of the guys headed back to the locker room. I stayed behind to shoot free throws and forgot about the visitor. Then I heard a hard clunk on the court. That was no basketball.

I turned around and saw none other than Woods at half court, Scotty Cameron in hand, rolling putts. I made my way over to the then-freshman and asked what he was up to.

“I’m getting ready for the Masters,” he said kindly, but with the tone of someone deep in concentration. “I’m trying to get a feel for what a fast green might play like.”

I stayed to watch him hit a few more. We were both in awe: I of him, and he that the ball just wouldn’t stop. I quickly realized this was no goofy experiment; he was going to be there for hours.

I wished him well on my way to the locker room and could barely hear him say thanks over the dimples clattering on the hardwood.

That ended up being the first of a few interactions with him on campus. We shared a class together and would exchange the occasional head nod on our way in and out of the lecture hall. 

But to hear my friend Gary tell it, we were ride-or-die best friends for life. And that was enough for him to approach the man himself. Gary attended the 1995 U.S. Amateur at Pumpkin Ridge in my hometown of Portland, Oregon, and early in the tournament he got close enough to Tiger—which, knowing Gary, means he was within 200 yards—to strike up a conversation.

“Hey, Tiger! I’m a family friend of Todd Manley’s! He was on the basketball team at Stanford,” Gary said. This could have been a disaster.

“Oh, yeah, I remember Todd,” Tiger responded. “What’s he up to?”

Gary explained that I was finishing school, and Tiger actually handed him a business card with an address of his future agent on it. 

“I’d love to hear what he’s up to,” Tiger said. “Have him write me a letter.”

I’m not the kind to bother anyone, but after some poking and prodding from Gary, I wrote Tiger a brief letter. I signed it, sent it and didn’t think anything more of it.

About nine months later, I got a certified envelope in the mail from none other than Tiger Woods. The contents were two publicity headshots of Tiger, one of him holding his putter and looking at the camera and the other an action shot. Both were signed with “All the best, Tiger.” I framed the pictures and haven’t corresponded with him since.

But if you ever attend a Masters, consider popping into the basketball court at the local YMCA just to see if my old college buddy is there.

—Todd Manley

Maybe Not a Small World

Getting to play the Old Course with my dad was an experience that no rain or poor play could spoil—and they tried. I expected crossing the Swilcan or shaking hands on 18 to be our standout memory of the day, but I should know by now: Surprises are the wandering golfer’s rewards.

Dad was walking down the second or third fairway with our authentically local caddie, and I overheard some of the typical get-to-know-you banter. 

“Where are you from?” the caddie asked.

“Philadelphia,” Dad said. “Or outside Philadelphia, in the suburbs.”

“Right. Where do you play?”

The caddie was probably hoping to hear Merion or Pine Valley, but Dad modestly replied, “Oh, you wouldn’t have heard of it. It’s a course outside the city, called LuLu.”

“Right,” the caddie said. “LuLu, in Glenside.”

Dad stopped. He would not have been more surprised to find that this caddie was a long-lost brother. 

“Yes!” he said. “LuLu, in Glenside! How—”

“Is Jonny Rusk still the pro?”

Dad was near speechless. This Scottish caddie whom we all might have assumed had never left East Fife somehow knew LuLu! And Glenside! And Jon Rusk!

“Yes!” Dad explained. “Jon is there! He’s doing a great job, really fixing the place up.”

They talked about the state of LuLu for a bit until Dad finally followed up with the question I’d been waiting for: “So, tell me, how the hell do you know Jon Rusk and LuLu?”

The caddie cocked his chin and thought for a moment. “Aye. I don’t know a thing about either. But I can read your bag tag!”

—Tom Coyne, TGJ Senior Editor

A full Twitter thread of golf yarns, started by college football reporter and golf enthusiast Brian Floyd

(Some tweets edited for grammar and readability):

@BrianMFloyd
What’s the funniest bad round of golf you’ve been a part of? I watched a playing partner start 1-under through 5 before carding a 94 in a round that had 4 birdies, two of which were legit eagle chances

@alanmstein
I was a kid. Saw a grown man in a foursome hit a bad shot, curse loudly and throw his whole bag in the lake. Landed near the bank so he can go get it. He does. Unzips a pouch, pulls out his cigarettes, and throws the bag in the middle of the lake.

@azmadoc
Tournament in college where you could subtract a stroke for every beer you drank. Winning score was 65. Winner then crashed his car into the Gamma Delta house. That was the last Adelphian open.

@KVanValkenburg
Brian, I once took an edible on the driving range thinking it would calm me down and leave me chill and mellow and instead I had a panic attack and felt like I couldn’t breathe but somehow scraped together a back-nine 42 to win a match even though I was inexplicably crying at the turn.

@Troginator
I played with someone who shot a 161

@Colin_J_White
McCormick Woods circa 2006. Slow twosome in front of us. Got ahold of one and hit into them on 2. Was going to ask to play through on 4th tee. It was Clyde Drexler and Bill Russell.

@afield7
Playing with a buddy who chunked a wedge 5 feet and then skulled it over the green into the water. He then proceeded to slam the wedge into the ground until it bent and then tossed it in the water. That’s when I noticed he was using my wedge.

@hawkize
I lipped out an ace on 16 at TPC Deere Run run last year. Hammered the 2 footer home for birdie. Shot 124

@JasonLisk
In college we were doing a scramble, our D golfer hadn’t hit one more than 50 yards all day. We came to a 220-yd par 3 and told him to go ahead and get his done, as the group in front was finishing. He smoked it, it rolled within 5 feet of the pin, and they threw it in the water.

@WMUJeff
My dad is not a good golfer. His only “hole in one” came when he topped a driver, the ball hit the women’s tee marker, ricocheted behind him, and went into the hole he just finished.

@JustinRayGolf
Brother and I got grouped with two singles. One guy said nothing for 11 holes, then tomahawked his putter into the woods on 12 and drove off. Other waved at an imaginary gallery after shots & took his shoes off to hit from bunker. I shot 79.

Illustrations by Christoph Abbrederis (abbrederis.com)

What’s your best golf yarn? Share it with the community: brokenteesociety.com or @golfersjournal