Golf under the Christmas tree
By Lee Pace
We’ll soon utter good riddance, bon débarras (French), buon viaggio (Italian) and buen viaje (Spanish) to this dud of a virus-tainted year of 2020. Fortunately, some good emerged from the rubble — the golf course has proven a reasonably safe refuge from Zoom calls, nose swabs and political backbiting. Golf Datatech, a golf industry research firm, reports a 25 percent jump in rounds played over a year ago in the month of September, and year-to-date rounds are up nearly 9 percent nationally.
Many golfers report their “COVID handicaps” are a hair lower because they’re playing more golf. I did my part and spent a few bucks along the way, figuring I can’t take it with me, and I might as well pump up a sagging gross domestic product.
Herewith are a few of my favorite purchases from 2020. Maybe they’ll spawn a Christmas gift idea.
For game improvement: the Flyt Chipping/Pitching Sleeve (pronounced like flight). Brad Smith, a former pro on various developmental tours worldwide, concocted the device after noticing the fundamental differences in the chipping and pitching motions of elite players versus mid-handicappers and up. The sleeve covers the right hand, wrist and arm just past the elbow (of a right-handed golfer) and takes out any hinging action of the wrist and elbow. You simply move your arms and chest back and through in a triangle motion with absolutely no hand action. A tip from an instructional video to keep the chest down and moving through the shot is the secret sauce. I am still working on getting distances and trajectories honed, but contact has never been as consistently pure by replicating the motion and feel. Highly recommended.
For foot comfort while walking the course: Sketchers GO-Golf shoes and Bombas Tri-Block ankle socks. There is nothing more important to the walking golfer than good shoes and socks. Who among us hasn’t slogged up 18 with a painful blister borne of rigid shoes or poorly constructed socks? I’ve tried a pair of the True Linkswear Knit shoes and they are among the lightest and most comfortable I’ve worn, but they’re not waterproof. So if you troop through the dew on a summer morning, you’ll be soggy all day. These Sketchers shoes are waterproof and featherweight, and their spikeless traction outsoles feature multidirectional cleats and lugs that provide superior traction. The Bombas socks are made of a cotton/poly blend; they don’t slip, have no irritating toe seams and have a “blister tab” — a tiny cushion that sits directly where the shoe hits the leg. You’ll be tuckered out after walking 18 holes, but your feet won’t be squealing.
For a total sell-out to technology over minimalism: Peakpulse Rangefinder. I swore I’d never stoop to using an artificial measuring device (and even said so in this space in a September 2009 piece titled “The Golf Curmudgeon”). But I airmailed wedge shots on the same hole on consecutive Sundays back in June because I was too lazy to find a sprinkler head. I tried a Bushnell Phantom GPS but found it cumbersome to mount to my bag or belt (and too easy to pop off), then opted for the Peakpulse. It’s easy to use, accurate and reasonably priced. I simply reach into my bag as I approach my ball, pull out the rangefinder and give the flag a quick shot.
For my winter golf comfort: a reverse stripe hoodie from Linksoul. Players like Justin Thomas and Erik van Rooyen have normalized wearing a hoodie on the golf course, and my annual resolve to play more winter golf (and annual rejection thereof) prompted the idea for a stylish and comfortable outerwear piece. Generally I am more homed in on the color of Stitch and Johnnie-O and find Linksoul’s color palette too earthy and muted, but this light gray piece (“Deep Lake” in their catalog) looks great with stone-color trousers on the course and jeans off it. That’s exactly what company founder John Ashworth had in mind — create a transitional wardrobe based around a Southern California coastal environment; every piece works whether you’re walking onto the first tee or into a boardroom.
For my lightest and coolest golf bag ever: a customized bag from FlagBag Golf Company. A course superintendent in California named Josh Smith had the idea a year ago to take flags used on hole flagsticks and turn them into golf bags, figuring that three flags stacked one on top of another and stitched together would be the right amount of material. Josh and his brother Matt went into business together and manufacture the bags in a shop in Portland to individual customers’ specifications. I acquired flags from six of the courses to be featured in my upcoming book that University of North Carolina Press will publish in the spring of 2021 and asked the Smiths to turn them into a bag. It features Pinehurst No. 2, Palmetto GC, Eagle Point GC, Old Town GC, Grandfather Golf and CC and Old Chatham GC and weighs only 2 pounds. It’s bare bones — one pocket, no umbrella holder, no stand. “Less is more,” Smith says. “It ties into minimalist golf. Minimal strokes wins in golf. Minimal wins in architecture, swing thoughts and golf bags.”
For my reading pleasure: a vintage hardback copy of The Heart of a Goof by P.G. Wodehouse. I have more than a dozen yellowed paperbacks from the Jeeves/Bertie Wooster library of novels by Wodehouse, the British humorist from the early 1900s, as well as his two golf books, The Heart of a Goof and The Clicking of Cuthbert. My favorite is The Heart, in which from his perch on the veranda at a fictional club, The Oldest Member ruminates and tells stories on the vagaries of golf and its adherents. The opening salvo in this book tells of a “goof” named Jenkinson, “one of those unfortunate beings who have allowed this noblest of sports to get too great a grip upon them, who have permitted it to eat into their souls, like some malignant growth.” It’s a book worth re-reading every year or so, and I thought it should assume a more distinguished spot in my library in the form of a hard-cover edition from The Classics of Golf vintage book collection. That this version includes a foreword from the esteemed Herbert Warren Wind makes it all the more special.
And for my nesting pleasure: a trio of vintage, golf-themed railroad travel posters. As we’re spending more time at home, I thought my office could use a makeover with these throwback images from the early 1900s. Back in the day, railroad companies spent much of their advertising budgets commissioning beautiful and intriguing paintings to promote their destinations and routes. Now these giclee prints depicting venues in France (Vichy), Scotland (Cruden Bay) and Switzerland (St. Moritz) give me wistful longings for the days we could easily get on a plane to play golf and then shake hands after that final putt on 18. PS
Lee Pace has written about the Sandhills golf scene for more than 30 years and currently is working on a 25-year anniversary book for Forest Creek Golf Club. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.