Or how to pack a new four-wheeled family member and a rare golf adventure into a busy calendar
Words by Travis Hill
Light / Dark
Editor’s Note: This is the part four (read part three here) of a year-long series tracking our editor as he attempts to reach a 10-handicap. As Harvey Dent once said: “The night is darkest just before the dawn.” – Casey Bannon
Casey Neistat, a successful entrepreneur and YouTube personality, has been quoted as saying, “Free time is the enemy of progress.” No shit, buddy. It’s one of those proclamations that sound lofty but don’t really mean anything. Who the hell has free time? The real enemy of progress is finding time.
In related news: I played my first 18 consecutive holes of 2021 last week.
After a wild day, I left disappointed yet somehow hopeful. Progress, as I’m sure myriad other self-help blogs and pods have correctly pointed out, is not linear. Driving away from Oceanside Country Club in Ormond Beach, Florida, I shook my head, thinking about the roller coaster that was the last three weeks…
Another nine holes at The Yards, another frustrating 42, another urge to slam my head in a car door. What a game!
Back to the buckets. Mike, my coach, had a busy April so I would be mostly on my own. While I knew that would make things tougher, I’d grown to enjoy the range. Even if I’m hitting it poorly, I’ll always take 30 minutes of forced time to myself, in the sun, earbuds in. (If you must know, the current rotation includes: Kaytranada, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Benny the Butcher and, of course, multiple Dirty Grooves.)
We bought a golf cart. Places I have already driven our golf cart: the golf course, my neighbor’s house, a different golf course, around the block joyriding with my girls, Publix, the liquor store next to Publix. My transition to true Florida Man is complete!
The only downside so far is golf-cart jealousy. Golf-cart ownership in Northeast Florida is an arms race, and mine came straight from a nearby course, divot mix still attached. I now eye my neighbors’ carts with a biblical envy. (Look at those tires! Wow, that’s a pretty blue paint job. Is that a fishing rod holder on the roof??) But I am not worried. My father-in-law is the Yoda of golf cart owners, or at least the Dale Earnhardt. In his retirement, he has had time to focus on what really matters, and now his cart is splashed in the Alabama crimson of his alma mater and pushes 40 mph in the straights.
I may not get to a 10-handicap, but I will damn sure have a sweet ride by year’s end.
A confession: I cheated on my home course. I had to! The Yards is closed on Tuesdays and I needed a range session. (The fact that I—a man who in previous years would wander onto a first tee and boast of not having hit a ball in months—made time for an extra range session is a minor miracle unto itself.)
Palm Valley Golf Club is a 1,300-yard nine-holer consisting of seven tiny par 3s and two short par 4s, about 15 minutes west of Ponte Vedra Beach. (No, I can’t drive my cart there. Yet.) Opened in 1990 and wedged in between two horse pastures, Palm Valley is a true people’s golf course. Scruffy at its very best and closed because of flooding at its worst, its salt-of-the-earth staff welcomes every jorts-and-t-shirt wearing player it can. It’s where beginners go to figure things out safe from judgement, where teenagers carrying bags stuffed with Coors Light learn how to hit it straight after a few pops, and where my friends and I honor a loved one who passed too early by playing as many holes as possible every Masters Friday.
The seventh tee has been a mat for going on a decade now. Some days your 6-foot par putt will stop after 4 feet, no matter how hard you hit it. But with the possible exception of Goat Hill Park, I’ve never seen a golf course with a more consistently diverse group of players.
In between efforts to pull my hands and hips through on time, I watched an older gentleman take a group of five kids off the first. He was tending to one who needed some help. One of the boys had a good little swing, so he helped a few of the girls who were just learning. Another little dude just sprinted to the green with his putter. They were all having a blast. So was I.
Look, I’m not here to condone any clandestine golf course affairs. But I did figure something out on that dusty range. Since we rebuilt my motion, I’d been struggling to find the correct rhythm. Mike hammered it into me to essentially throw my backswing out away from my body, then do the same thing coming through by tossing my hands out after contact.
Apparently all I heard was “THROW THROW THROOOOOW!” This, as you might imagine, led to a swing motion akin to a 7-year-old playing Whack-A-Mole. After a massively frustrating start to the range session, I had to walk away. Fuming next to my bag, I watched these two cool old guys amble up to the range. Ambling, for them, was top speed. Well into their 70s, everything they did appeared in slow motion. But they were so happy to play, and tonked it short and straight every time.
I wondered if there was magic in that formula. So, I slowed everything way down, even going so far as to tinker with a Matsuyama-esque pause at the top. Sure enough, it worked. I found that elusive pendulum action Mike has been preaching to me.
I was ready. So I thought.
Oceanside is an old-school Florida club, across A1A from the ocean and about 15 minutes north of the neon streets of downtown Daytona Beach. Opened in 1907, it’s played host to the Rockefellers, just about every NASCAR star, and 90-plus years of the Women’s South Atlantic Amateur Golf Championship, affectionately known as the Sally. On this perfectly sunny day, the fine folks who run the place hosted a guy who made a flailing double on the signature ninth.
I hit more good drives than bad. I bounced off a rake with a nice wedge on No. 8 and made double. I mixed a bogey, a triple and two birdies on the par 5s. My friend Pete laughed and said it was the best 88 he’d ever seen.
It stung. All this damn work and I was putting up the same numbers as last year. Then I punched in my number into the GHIN machine and it spat out something funny: 14.7. Two months ago I was a 15.9. Suddenly, I didn’t want to slam my head in the car door—I was ready to get back on the roller coaster.