Golf has finally shaken its eternal stigma. No longer is it a game owned by older people at country clubs, enjoying retirement in the sun. It’s increasingly becoming one of the younger generation’s favorite pastimes. It captivates millions on Sunday afternoons of Majors. It’s fun. Fun to watch, fun to play, and especially fun when you’re on the course with your friends - either casually or in tournament play.
According to a study by the National Golf Federation, there were around 25 million (!) active golfers in the United States in 2015. Much of this has to do with the sport becoming far more affordable and accessible. Much like with skiing and snowboarding, the technology in gear has advanced and trickled down so you can pick up a solid set of sticks without breaking the bank. Public courses are easy to find, and many offer weekday promotions.
Unlike other sports, golf does not discriminate with age, gender or athletic ability. You’re far more likely to see a 6-year-old and his 70-year-old grandfather playing golf than a serious game of pickup basketball. It’s a sport that once you learn, you’re set for life - which is why there’s such a big push for youngsters to learn it early.
Yes, the game is hard to learn. It’s even harder to master. But let’s be honest, folks. Most of us will not be competing on the Tour any time soon, so why not go out and have some fun with it? The equipment has progressed to a point where the sweet spot on some drivers is the size of a half-dollar - meaning you can still rocket one 250+ yards even if you don’t make pure contact. Balls are constructed to go further and straighter. Some course pros even encourage you to play some jams while you’re in the cart! (Disclaimer: This does not mean a boombox.)
But while reading this, you may be thinking, “I like to exercise, and golf doesn’t do that for me.” False! Most 18-hole courses are between 3 to 5 miles, so by ditching the cart and hoofing it, you’re easily getting your 10,000 steps. Golf requires stamina, a strong core and balance. If you think all golfers look like John Daly, you may want to take a peek at Rory McIlroy.
The physical benefits aside, golf helps with your mental state. The cliche goes, “It’s a game of 6 inches - the 6 between your ears.” Mental focus is a must, but the biggest beneficiary is your psyche. You’re outside enjoying nice weather with your friends - what’s better than that?
Although it’s always been at the back of our minds when guys like Jack Nicklaus and Arnie Palmer were the friendly faces winning Green Jackets, it wasn’t until Tiger Woods’ dominance when the game catapulted onto the prominent national stage. His past discretions aside, Tiger is a major reason millions of kids got into the game (myself included). Now, we’re treated with players like Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day - no longer do Sundays belong to one guy in a red shirt and black pants. The game has become so much more fun to watch, because now, it’s anyone’s tournament.
Take, for instance, this past Master’s Tournament. Jordan Spieth had the lead going into Sunday and was poised to become the youngest in history to defend his title. But his implosion on No. 12 - a heartbreaking quadruple bogey 7 - and a late charge from Englishman Danny Willett eventually led to the former donning the Green Jacket on the latter, instead of keeping it himself. Lost in this? Spieth is 22-years-old, and we should all look forward to him reasserting himself as one of the world’s best in upcoming Majors.
Places like the Pro Shop at Holiday Valley in Ellicottville and Rick’s Golf World in Olean have everything you need to get started or supplement the gear you’ve already got. The onset of fairway woods and hybrids, like the XR16 Series and Apex from Callaway, are great additions to any bag, as they’ll make it easier to get that coveted distance while maintaining accuracy. New systems and apps break your swing down to a tee (bad pun), and the video review - actually seeing what you’re doing wrong - will do wonders for your swing.
If you’re less apt to go out for a solo round and prefer spending time with your friends or family, this summer is chalk full of awesome tournaments you can check out. The Eddy Szpaicher Golf Classic, hosted by Holiday Valley on July 13 (www.bigedgolf.com) is one of the best. In its first year, the Eddy set a record for the number of golfers participating in a tournament at HV. A tournament to benefit the Eldred WWII Museum takes place at Bolivar Country Club on July 9, and Madigan’s will host their perennially awesome Madigan’s Tournament on Wednesday, July 27.
And while golf is an individual sport, the selflessness of the game oft times shines through. Take, for instance, Dan Busekist’s Clubs Fore Veterans, a non-profit he set up last summer. An Army National Guardsman, Busekist knows and appreciates the mental benefits golf can provide - so he set up a program where donated clubs are sent to veterans to get them out on the course. Bravo, Dan!
The golf course is a fantastic place. If you’re a golfer, then you know this as fact. If you’re not, you should get out and see for yourself. The game invented in Scotland in the 1800s still plays a dominant part of our sporting and activity culture for a reason. Bonding, physical and mental health benefits, getting outside … it’s all in the cards with this game. And who knows? You might just be the next one on the Tour.