When the Dog Bites

A few of Tom Coyne's favorite, and not so favorite, things from 2022 in golf

My grandfather owned drive-ins and movie theaters in upstate Pennsylvania and New York—more than 50 in total. He was not a red-carpet mogul or Hollywood hobnobber; rather, he was an accountant who lost every penny when the market crashed in 1929. He happened to be on his honeymoon that Monday, when he learned that he’d be returning to Scranton with no money and no job. He found work running a country school for orphaned boys (my dad was born there) and eventually worked his way back into an accounting job with Comerford Theaters Inc. When the chain went up for sale, he borrowed more than one should and bought it. 

My grandfather retired comfortably, but he spent much of his career clawing his way out of financial holes—first the crash, then the theaters. He did not know black ink until 1965, when someone came along and, as I’m reminded by my parents every December, saved the Coyne family from its debt. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes and go by many names. Ours was a redhead in an apron whom the nuns called Maria.

The Sound of Music played to sell-out crowds in my grandfather’s theaters for more than a year. You’ve likely heard that movie theaters are essentially in the refreshment business because studios claim all the ticket revenue. That’s true—unless the film keeps running. And Julie Andrews and her kid crooners kept running. And running. All the way to Switzerland by way of Comerford Theaters’ financial solvency. 

bump & run
Photo by Geoff Cunningham

My grandfather’s descendants are thus required to pause when the Von Trapps return to our televisions. We’re also obligated to sing along. A childhood of “Do-Re-Mi” and “Edelweiss” will teach you that there is a Sound of Music tune for each of life’s moods, and when I reflect on the year 2022, there’s a song I can’t shake. It celebrates the things we love and their power to overcome those which we fear and abhor, and this was a good year for a golf fan to recall that there is so much more good to our game than bad; so many more raindrops on roses than dog bites and bee stings.

If 2020 was the year golf saved us, then 2021 was our grinning afterglow. And 2022 felt like karmic payback for that good run, as politics and lawsuits and pundits polluted the conversation. Pro golf not only tore itself apart, it birthed the most tiresome golf question since How’d you hit ‘em?: “So what do you think about LIV?”

I’ll always be a fan and a consumer, but I probably fell a little bit out of love with pro golf this year. Not only is that okay—it’s good. It’s great, actually, to recall that golf is bigger than the handful of names to which we lend so much of our attention. The past year’s golf headlines made a lot of us look away, and by doing so, we had to look elsewhere for our connection to the game. Through the right lens, golf’s list of redeeming qualities is sort of like The Sound of Music: it goes on forever.  My list is far too long to unfurl here, but indulge me as I send off 2022 by recalling a few of my favorite things:

Photo by Jason Jahnke

Caddies with nicknames and old metal lockers. Wooden benches pocked with spike marks. Pins cut in bowls. Long flagsticks on blind holes. Short flagsticks on windy ones. Counters crowded with ball markers and divot tools and the compulsion to grab each one. White shoes slick with dew. Irons clacking in tight cadence. Clubman aftershave. Laying out a week’s worth of outfits. Picking the best quarter-zip for the flight. Fringe that flows into the next tee box. The tallest tree/bare trunk/yellow tree/split trunk standing its post, a ready and reliable target. 

Ball first. Sand first. A picker rumbling across the range at twilight, banging and squeaking like an old tank. Going wrist deep into a basket of wooden tees. Sharpies with tips dulled by dimples. Dormie. Slow greens because solid contact with your putter should matter, too. Fast greens for fun. Shirts folded with bootcamp precision, stacked high, bright logos. Index-card divots that slide back into the earth like a key. 

The shoe guy who grabs your FootJoys without asking. The partner who’s happy to keep the card. More range balls poured out at your feet like a pig’s dinner. Too dark but just one left. The weight of a fresh dozen. Peanuts in plastic cups. Pep talks from starters. Dress-up hoodies. Honor boxes. Shoehorns. Feeling the letters pressed into a short pencil, proof that you were there. Smelling sunscreen on your forearms the next morning. Mower lines and green rollers and bunkers yet to be disturbed. Golf with your kid. Golf with your dad. The quiet rides home. 

The Quest
Photo by Kohjiro Kinno

The Golfer’s Journal. Its cast and crew, every one of whom I’m proud to call a colleague (too modest, they’ll try to cut this—I’ll stand firm). The Broken Tee Society. Golf community, wherever you find it.

The caddie trying to sneak a smoke. The joke guy. Coming around the corner…and finding a ball center-cut. A pro who knows your name. A nod from the greenskeeper. Judicious backspin. That collar caked around your ankle—sun, sand and dirt. Falling asleep to that afternoon’s holes. Clicking a box to reserve tomorrow’s.

Lighthouses and windmills. Cemeteries and mountaintops. BBQ shacks and beaches and the places golf takes you that have nothing to do with golf—some real, some remembered, some imagined as your thoughts wander to a long meadow without holes where children sing with their governess, and you remember that your grandfather was in debt for 35 years and that life has its own way of working out, and that an Austrian mountain valley would be a beautiful place for a golf course.

The Quest
Photo by Geoff Cunningham