This week I drew an incredibly difficult assignment: I had to spend part of a Tuesday afternoon on a sun-splashed golf course in Long Island, N.Y.
We were there doing a story on the current state of golf, a sport that's been hit by a bit of a double-whammy. Just as golf was trying to turn the corner after two decades of declining participation, an especially nasty recession hit. Country clubs have slashed or dropped membership rates and initiation fees, hundreds of clubs nationwide are converting from private to public, and it's not uncommon to find unprecedented discounts at golf stores. Will it work? We'll see.
The report we're presenting, I believe, is an accurate reflection of the current situation. But I make no claim that I'm a completely dispassionate observer. I love the game of golf, just as my father does, and his father before him. I hope my kids do, too.
There's something about this sport that can pull you in, no matter what age you are - 6, 26, or 60 - and no matter whether you're discovering it for the first time, or rediscovering it after a long layoff.
I always thought Steven Pressfield did a good job describing the mystical bonds golf can create in his book, "The Legend of Bagger Vance." Maybe it's the history. People have been playing golf in one form or another since at least the twelfth century, when shepherds were knocking stones into rabbit holes in Scotland.
Maybe it's the simplicity: Take this stick. Take this ball. Hit one with the other. Send it over there.
There is nothing like the feeling of striking a ball so cleanly it goes exactly where you want it to. In my case this happens extremely infrequently, but when it does that feeling of accomplishment can stay with you for hours, if not days or weeks. I know, it sounds silly. But just trust me, if you've never done it, it's true. These ever-so-slim moments in time will keep you coming back, again and again, no matter what other frustrations you encounter - and believe me, there will be plenty.
Golf, though, isn't just personal; it's social. There is nothing like spending three or four hours on the course with friends or family members. The joy my father takes in playing the game is pure and indescribable. The examples he sets stretch far beyond the course. The hardest swing is rarely the best. For every divot you create, fix two. If you break the rules, call yourself on it - it's not someone else's responsibility. He's a far better player than I am, but I never feel inadequate or intimidated when I'm with him. He just wants to enjoy the game, and our time together.
I'll admit, golf can be a tough sport to get into. You need wide-open space. It's not like practicing your jump shot in the front driveway, or playing catch in the front yard. You also need equipment, which can be a challenge. Golf often gets a bad rap as a sport that's just for elites. And yes, there are stuffy country clubs that most of us would feel completely out of place at. Yes, greens fees can still be outrageously expensive at some courses. But golf, I think, can still be a successful sport for the masses.
I grew up in a modest town north of Buffalo, New York. My dad played in a public league every Monday night during the summer months. My grandfather ran that league for 40 years. The sport was a consistent presence in both of their lives. For me, not always so much. I took lessons as a youngster, but for a number of reasons golf didn't truly grab me again until I was in my 30s. I still don't get out nearly as often as I'd like, and maybe never will, but I will try every chance I can.
I hope you enjoy the piece we put together. And I hope if you've never tried the game, you might consider it. It's not easy. And it's not without sometimes onerous time demands. But if you can find the space for it, you might be surprised at how quickly it can seize you, and how richly it can reward you.