The Year Is: 2021

Reflecting on the year that was, with help from The Broken Tee Society

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Tear open the curtains and throw up the sash; slap a Band-Aid on your shoulder and rip off your mask. Breathe deeply and book your tee times, because it’s 2021 and we are roaring forth into this young decade, running like children and chasing life unleashed.

That was the idea, anyway.

When it comes to end-of-annum reflections, 2021 is a wiggly one. It was better than the preceding year, surely (2020 wasn’t even a year, really—it was a timeout, interrupted by DoorDash and the mute button on our laptops), yet we didn’t quite somersault our way into a post-pandemic era. We stumbled as we went, but at least we went at all, and at The Golfer’s Journal, we went pretty damn well, from Hazeltine to Kittansett to Sand Valley and beyond. 

Judging 2021 from within, TGJ published some of its most meaningful work yet: Readers voted “Paspalum Shadows” their favorite feature and “The Sober League” their top podcast of 2021. The former explores the intertwining of golf, agronomy and the slave trade; the latter discusses a golf society for recovering drunks and addicts. Both prove that TGJ readers aren’t in it just for the cartoons, even if my favorite story of 2021 was about a cartoonist (see issue No. 18 and read how Bandon Dunes was built by pear-shaped hippos). The past year saw our cover get a facelift, and we launched a new virtual clubhouse where subscribers have become members of a club of their own making (if you haven’t joined the Broken Tee Society yet, do). We have more things to play with now, and our community (including our staff) continues to grow, but even for this podcast host, as the book goes, so does TGJ, and in 2021 we reached a meaningful volume and made sure it earned its hallowed number. As our editor says, the books are like our children and we don’t play favorites. Still, I don’t think No. 18 is ever going to have to wear hand-me-downs.

Beyond TGJ’s walls, the state of golf in 2021 was strong and getting stronger. Play was somehow up from its robust 2020 numbers, inspiring an abundance of pundit and podcaster hand-wringing about how to keep it all rolling. Golf, the former geek, had been granted a modicum of coolness, and it felt as if we didn’t quite know how to handle it. We pointed to late-night driving ranges and online parlays as proof that this wasn’t our grandfather’s game anymore. And that’s all fine and true and fun. But the real lesson of the last few years is that golf’s greatest qualities don’t have much to do with the pro game, or the personalities, or the technology or brands or gear. Golf’s true and timeless assets—fresh air, exercise, competition, and camaraderie—kept the tee sheets full in 2021. May we not need another virus to recall that golf is, quite literally, good for us.

A year-end golf review should offer at least a nod to the pro game, so way to go, Phil. More inspiring than any leaderboard this season was the return of fans to the ropes, and, for me, a caddie’s simple gesture at Augusta overshadowed any trophy or ball speed or Match in 2021 (father-son scrambles included). When Hideki’s caddie, Shota Hayafuji, removed his cap and bowed to the course on 18, it was a gesture that no amount of Twitter co-opting could corrupt. It was humble and grateful and soulful; in an age of complaint and fatigue, and in a time of tumult and fear, a note of such graceful thanks—a simple nod to something larger—was a restorative moment. It expressed the inexpressible in a manner typically reserved for poetry and paintings. Sports can do that, too, but it doesn’t happen often. A deep bow to Shota, then, for making it happen in 2021.

On a personal note (and I wasn’t going to get personal but, hey, I raised my hand to write this, so indulge me), 2021 was a big stuff sort of year. I published a book (and there goes my final promo of 2021) and resigned a professorship to take a full-time position with TGJ as Senior Editor. One might question abandoning academic tenure for the security of the magazine business, or seek a scapegoat for such a slip in judgment. Well, I have one, and it’s you. As a member-supported publication, you give us the chance to keep making this thing we hold in our hands, stack on our shelves, and smile when we find it jammed (unbent) into our mailboxes. As someone who has loved books since Ralph S. Mouse and consumed magazines since they were MAD, it is a dream fulfilled to turn ideas into pages, and then watch those pages become meet-ups and outings and podcasts and community. So there is no golfer or course or moment more deserving of a tip of this cap than you, fellow member. Here’s to more fairways in 2022.

The following features, podcasts and images were nominated and voted on by TGJ Members in The Broken Tee Society Discord server. If you haven’t joined yet, you can do so here.


FEATURES

Photo by Gary Bogdon

Paspalum Shadows

By Andrew Lawrence, from No. 15

We had the same reaction you did: “Wait, this grass came from where?” But that’s not why this piece earned the top nod from our community. That lies in Andrew’s detailed reporting and honest storytelling. The story’s premise is a simple question, but Andrew’s handling of the uncomfortable, complex answer is why this story did and will continue to resonate. – Travis Hill, Editor

Photo by Kohjiro Kinno

Women of a Certain Era

By Katie Hafner, from No. 17

I first bumped into Marion Hollins during some book research—research that didn’t go well, given the dearth of writing out there about her. So what a happy surprise it was, then, when Katie Hafner wrote a Hollins story that is so beautifully past and present that it pulls Hollins right into the current conversation, where she belongs. – Tom Coyne, Senior Editor

Photo by Kevin D. Liles

By Jim Hartsell, from No. 16

Who knew that America’s potentially next great seaside site for golf was in Dauphine Island, Alabama? Jim Hartsell did, and so did Dale Snellman—who single-handedly maintained and operated the sandy nine holes there until eventually selling the property shortly after this story appeared in TGJ No. 16. Since then, many of the great architectural minds of our generation have travelled to the coast of Alabama to see this property for themselves. Despite the geographic and climate challenges the course faces, we can only hope this stretch of shoreline falls in the right hands. It was always meant for golf. – Casey Bannon, Assistant Editor

Photo by Geoff Cunningam

Editor’s Pick: The Man Riding Clouds

By Daniel Riley, from No. 18

“I don’t even know how you begin to tell his story. It’s too crazy.” That was Linksoul co-founder Geoff Cunningham’s warning when we decided to profile his friend Peter Beames. But once we assigned Dan to write it, those concerns evaporated. He married an expert reporter’s eye with the perfect amount of empathy to create a story you simply have to read to believe. – Travis Hill, Editor


PODCASTS

Photo by Lexey Swall

Ep. 71: The Sober League

It’s the joy. That’s what really gets me when I listen to Tom, Garth and Brandon talk about this incredibly serious issue. As a book piece and then as a podcast, The Sober League has resonated like no other TGJ story. Their honesty is heroic, and their journeys have provided real hope to many. But for me, it’s the joy. Of surviving and playing. Sobriety is no joke, but these golf junkies show that you don’t need any extra substances to have a blast out there. – Travis Hill, Editor

Sand Valley
Photo by Christian Hafer

Ep. 96: The Three Lidos

There was lots of buzz surrounding the recreation of The Lido in 2021, however, many of the pieces I saw failed to give the various Lido projects their proper context. Here, Brett Cyrgalis did a tremendous job blending past and present, while mixing in his personal experience at the original Lido site. The result is a compelling and thought-provoking 40 minutes of audio storytelling, with guest appearances from Gil Hanse and Brian Schneider. – Casey Bannon, Assistant Editor

Photo by Benjamin Rasmussen

Ep. 82 : Hunting Sasquatch with Gary McCord

This pod probably leads in laughs for our 2021 collection, which makes it an easy favorite, but what I love most about it is the subtext that comes through in the conversation between Moriarty and McCord—their chemistry is pure, and it speaks to the joy of friendship and to the connection between two lives both dedicated to telling this game’s best stories. – Tom Coyne, Senior Editor

Photo by Geoff Cunningham

Editor’s Pick: Ep. 73: Lessons in Leadership with Paul McGinley

This podcast sort of ruined me as a host, because I’ll forever hold out hope that the next conversation might feel as effortless as a talk with Paul McGinley. It’s a rare sort of pleasure when you turn from interviewer into audience and just listen and enjoy. And when you start learning things that weren’t anywhere near your notes and list of questions—then you know you’re really into the good stuff. – Tom Coyne, Senior Editor


IMAGES

Photo by Tom Shaw at Minchinhampton Golf Course in Gloucestershire, England.
Photo by Kohjiro Kinno at The Kittansett Club in Marion, Massachusetts.
Photo by Tom Shaw at Durness Golf Club in Durness, United Kingdom
Photo by Tom Shaw at Painswick Golf Club in Painswick, England
Tom Shaw
Photo by Tom Shaw at Minchinhampton Golf Course in Gloucestershire, England