Pop singer, golf devotee, and Broken Tee Society member Ben Rector presents your monthly Dirty Groove playlist: “This was carefully curated to ensure an ideal round on the golf course. I dare anyone not to smile as the opening riff of ‘What A Fool Believes’ pumps through the speakers. These are all the songs you didn’t know you needed that will keep good vibes and low scores abundant for your cart. Play well out there.”
Ben brought his typical good-natured honesty to the TGJ Podcast a few months back, and we’ve edited and condensed that discussion below. Dive in for his thoughts on the intersection of creativity and great golf, the best cities for golf and live music, his short-lived cover band Newy Lewis and the Hues and much more.
Tom Coyne: Let’s start with me reading a lyric of yours, and you tell me which golf course you think of when you hear it.
Ben Rector: Wow, OK, let’s do this.
Left Portland in the morning, headed for the coast
Feels like middle of nowhere winding down this road
And then I see it
This can’t be real
I’ve never seen a greener green than that
The sea salt air I’m breathing brings life back together
We’re alive and free
Holding hands on the beach
And I remember what it is to be
It was so green
I’ll shoot you totally straight here: That song took me to Bandon…but my friend wrote that part. He said, “I’m kind of messing with this,” and I was like, “Whoa.” I thought about it while you were reading—I could just go along with this and say I wrote it about Bandon, but my friend wrote that part. But it resonated with me because I’ve been there.
It’s so interesting listening to you because you sound just like one of my golf buddies. It’s funny that you live in Nashville and have this rockstar life. How would you classify your genre of music?
It’s pop, but probably more like what pop was in the ’70s. Pop, singer-songwriter, flavors of folk and country and a little bit of rock. But the easiest way to say it is pop. Anything deeper feels too explanatory.
What’s the golf scene like in Nashville? Do you have a group of musicians that you play with?
Musicians are way more into golf than most people probably think. There’s a lot of overlap there. To me, golf and music are very similar. I am probably more naturally skilled at music, but it’s the same thing—doing something over and over and trying to make it more efficient. Smooth out the rough edges.
The process of working on a song is very similar to working on your swing. And when you’re in a really good zone, music and songwriting can feel almost accidental—like you’re just finding something. And to a much lesser degree, I feel like when I’m in a good zone during a round of golf, it’s fun and easy.
I think people talk about creativity like it’s a magical thing. To me, it’s very similar to athletics. There are parts that do feel magical, but really it’s more about developing a skill set so that when inspiration strikes, you have the tools to carve it into what you want it to be. All the songwriters and artists that I know are marathon-runner-level disciplined in their craft. I think people assume that it’s people just reading poetry and waiting for lightning to strike, and really it’s people grinding it out.
Does golf help your songwriting? That time alone in your head?
I’m not great at resting—I feel like my mind is always running and it’s hard for me to sit still. What I love about golf is that I’m actively working on something. I’m getting to sharpen a set of skills and feel like I’m doing something, but it’s not taxing in the same way that music is. It helps me relax and rest. It’s lovely to get some steps in, walk around a golf course, feel like you’re doing something but also feel like you’re relaxing.
It feels like your shows are like a big party with all your best friends—you’re connecting with everyone. Your music has a vulnerability and an intimacy. Is that a natural thing, for you to be able to connect with 4,000 people, or do you have to be a showman?
It’s a little bit of both. There’s a little bit of showmanship involved. Some people have the “I’m so cool and mysterious, watch me” card to play. They have that magnetism. And I don’t have that as much, and so the best card in my hand of performer cards is to be more relatable. It’s not really that I devised a plan to seem that way, that’s just the only way I know how to exist on stage and be entertaining.
If you had to plan “The Match” between musicians, who’s playing?
I want to see Kenny G and Huey Lewis. Huey Lewis is my hero.
Is it true that you had a Huey Lewis tribute band?
As an April Fools joke, I made a series of videos where I re-recorded Huey Lewis songs and I played all the parts. I said I was going to quit my music career to become the world’s best one-man Huey Lewis cover band, called Newy Lewis and the Hues. I wore different colored pastel Oxfords. Some people got it, but most people were like, “Oh, we’re really sad to see you go, best of luck with this new venture.”
“You gotta do what you gotta do…”
Exactly. Sarcasm on the internet. But I love Huey Lewis, I think he has the best voice in pop music. So Kenny G and Huey Lewis, West Coast guys, and then we’ll take it to Nashville. Vince Gill is a great golfer, and then Jake Owen is also very good. We did a joke long drive competition, and I got mine out there pretty good. [Owen] hit his 345 yards. I was like, “OK, respect. Gonna just concede this one.”
Right, like, you turned it over, mine was a bit of a fade.
Exactly. Hit the cart path, then hit the sprinkler head, so….
Those guys, I imagine the banter would be good. Jake’s good at trash talk. Vince is a little quieter but he can throw some barbs in there, and I would just listen to Huey Lewis tell stories.
Who are the best golfers of your musician buddies?
I think Jake is probably the best musician golfer that I know. He’s proper good.
If you’re planning a tour, give me four spots that are best for a combination of golf and rockin’ out.
I think Atlanta is way up there. There are a lot of great courses there, and they also have some really great rooms. There’s a place called Tabernacle—I think Rolling Stone ranks the best music venues in America, and either that or 9:30 Club in DC are always up at the top. I think The Tabernacle is the best venue of its size in the country.
San Francisco is probably No.2. The golf is obviously incredible, there are a lot of music venues with a lot of history there. Raleigh has some good venues and then we’re close to Pinehurst, Mid Pines, all that stuff. Last time we played Raleigh, my friend hopped in the bus and we played Tobacco Road that morning, and came back and played the show that night. That was a great day.
Good choice. Big fan of Tobacco Road.
It’s so imaginative and grand but it doesn’t feel too hokey. It’s just a fun golf course. And I get that some people might think it’s kind of hopped up, but to me it’s just fun, man. OK, I need one more. This is a great question and I want to give you a good answer. I haven’t played a ton of the courses in Philly but I feel like Philly would be not a bad answer. Good venues, and it’s an embarrassment of riches golf-wise.
Another good choice. OK, what’s your favorite course?
I’ll preface this by saying that I’m not trying to be name-droppy, but my honest answer to that is Cypress Point. It’s so good, man. And I say that with the understanding that there may be some eye-rolling from the listeners.
You shoulda said ‘This little nine-holer down South, in Nashville.’ You started out so humble, then you big-timed us with Cypress.
But I wanted to give my honest answer!
And you’re right—Cypress is insane. It’s bonkers. Is there anywhere you want to play that you haven’t?
If you’re going by the name game…Pine Valley, obviously. But I really want to play the Strantz course at Monterey Peninsula. I loved Tobacco Road so much, and I love that part of the world so much, that seems like a really interesting combination.
I just want to get that shirt with the logo, the sea dragon.
I feel like sometimes there are some great courses with bad logos. Not always, but sometimes.
Right. Last question. As a musician who plays golf, what’s your take on music on the golf course? The bluetooth speaker: Are you pro or con?
This is going to be a hot-button issue for some people, but I don’t love it. I think some people would assume, “You like tunes bumpin’, right?” Whereas to me, it feels like if you’re playing music on the course, you’re saying, “We need to bring some fun out here.” When I’m out there, I’m having all the fun I can have! I just want to hear the wind, and the trees and talk to people I like and hit these shots. I don’t need any extra vibe, I guess.
Well said, and I agree. Golf has an entire sound, rhythm and cadence.
Exactly—that whole aesthetic, that’s what I’m here for. There’s a little bit of just like, we gotta do something fun, because we’re out here golfing. And it’s like, no, man, this is it!