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What is our relationship to the game of golf? How do we derive satisfaction on the links?

Whether we know it or not, we are all forced to answer this question on an ongoing basis. It manifests in the courses we play, times we choose, company we keep, stakes we play for, even the way we dress. Oh yeah – I almost forgot – the equipment we use! It is a great virtue of the game that it has so many unique permutations – links vs. parkland, winter vs. summer, match play vs. medal play, casual vs. tournament, individual vs. team. The modern view is that excitement is derived from smashing a long, perfectly straight, soaring drive and progressing the ball towards the green until you can have a go with the putter. The score is marked 18 times and the final tally is the standard for assessing the quality of one’s game.

There’s nothing wrong with that. If that is what gives the random weekend golfer a thrill then I fully support them so long as they respect the course and their fellow golfers.

But what happens when we start to find that style of play less fulfilling? What happens when we start looking for more from the experience and realize that the number on the scorecard is relative and isn’t necessarily directly proportional to enjoyment? Well, there is some percentage of us with enough self-awareness, humility, and dare I say bravery to trudge out the equipment that lets us play the game we want to play, even if it means subjecting ourselves to the scrutiny of our fellow golfers.

Unfortunately we aren’t always simply playing the course. There are different pressures supplied by personal goals, leagues, tournaments, team events, etc. So what strategy can we employ to give ourselves the best shot at maximizing our enjoyment as often as possible in the face of these varying factors? That’s the question asked in a recent conversation over on GolfWRX. While not necessarily a new or novel concept, I feel the conversation is essential to the goals of the traditional golf community and it is one I have struggled with myself. More specifically, Kirasdad said:

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So here I sit in California, up when the rest of the country and probably most of California, is asleep. I am using this late hour ruminate on golf. As good a time as there is for this activity, since it’s a time when I’m not required to do anything. I’ve been thinking a lot about Scooter’s recent post “Moving Backwards in Time…why do you play vintage golf?”. This topic has been responded to by many of us vintage/classic guys in a more thoughtful, contemplative way than most golfwrx topics. I’ve enjoyed reading all the posts and it has me thinking about the whys and wherefores of my trying to manage the various golf worlds in which I operate. Keeping myself happy and satisfied in these sometimes competing golf societies has been something of a challenge. I’m thinking others may have similar issues so I thought I would discuss a bit how I keep the plates spinning in the air, and invite others to share their experiences as well.

1. I play in tournaments
2. I play with highly skilled golf buddies
3. I like to play as much vintage as I can

Aye, there’s the rub as Master Will would say. Number 3 doesn’t always fit with 1 and 2.

So…to make 1,2 and 3 work I essentially have three sets.

The HONEST set. This being the set in which every shot is honestly earned. It consists of:

Bob Toski persimmon driver
Power Bilt Citation fairway wood
Hogan Precision irons 3-Equalizer
Macgregor FCW12 sand wedge
Macgregor 8802 type putter ( it looks like an Ironmaster, but it doesn’t say that on the putter)

The COMPETITIVE set:

Pinseeker10.5 degree titanium driver (bought it for 39 dollars American several years ago out of a bargain barrel, best contemporary driver I have ever hit, go figure)
Pinseeker strong 5 wood
Cobra 23 degree hybrid
Pinseeker 25 degree hybrid
Ping Eye Two irons 5-PW
Macgregor FCW12 SW (I practically sleep with this thing)
PIng Zing 2 putter

The TWEENER set:
This is the “have my cake and eat it too” bag
Titanium driver, 5 wood, and hybrids
Hogan Precisions
Macgregor SW (my wife is jealous of this club)
Macgregor putter

Deciding what clubs play is something of a mind bender for me, or was for awhile. I like to play vintage, i.e. the HONEST bag, more often than not and three years ago I did on most occasions, everything else be damned, but I found I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would. I played an all vintage bag in the club championship three years ago, the same event I had finished third the year before, and I played miserably, way out of the running. I was pissed off at golf and the runaway technology, white drivers, etc. “I’ll show you, I’ll play vintage and beat you anyway.” I wasn’t playing to enjoy myself, I was playing to prove something, an ego thing, my grand statement about the state of the game. In fact while a couple of guys thought it was cool, most people didn’t give a rip what I thought about the state of anything, they beat my head in, and were happy to do so. I felt like a fool, and as a matter of fact, I was one.

The fact is, most of the time golf is a social game, and when playing with my buddies (no.2) I again played vintage all time at first and it soon became an issue for me. I play with 6 or 7 guys regularly, all single digits and we’ve played together for years, wagering modestly in good fun, but a fairly competitive game. All,of a sudden I was an outlier, all be it a welcomed one. Everyone was supportive, “wow, neat clubs” “cool” and so on, but now I’m on the whites, they are on the blues. Do we play for money, what about strokes, which had never entered the occasion before. It just wasn’t the same.

So…what to do. I solved this problem by coming up with the three sets. When I’m playing in a tournament, out come the Pings, with my buddies I go with the TWEENER set. I get the satisfaction of the old school irons without being out driven by 40 yards on every hole. By myself, or with my daughter, vintage only, and I don’t even keep score, just hit shots, as creatively as I can, great fun. This system has worked out really well for me, and I feel much more comfortable with my golf life.

Anyone else have these issues, and how do you/did you deal with it?

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It’s a great discussion and worthy of a full survey through the heartfelt, intelligent, and honest answers provided by our fellow traditional golfers – exponentially better than the common drivel seen on most internet message boards. But one response really struck a chord with me and I wanted to post it here for posterity and perhaps to ponder further. Scooter McTavish gave me permission to reproduce his response:

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Seeing the level of discussion in this thread, I have been ruminating over the “Bag for all seasons” question over the weekend. And I hope to have done it some justice below. Why ponder what you read on a web board over a weekend? I think that this question (thanks Kirasdad) isn’t fundamentally about golf equipment. It is about who you are as a person (touched on very well by Smitty), and what does the bag you take to the course reflect about you, and what you believe.

Interesting that in the one day short of five years I have been a member of GolfWRX, I am now posting my 1,000th post. Fairly stable average of 200 posts per year. And when I started connecting with other golfers five years ago, it was as I came back to the game seriously after a 20 year hiatus of no more than a few rounds annually. I think my first post was in the golf ball forum, and I believe most of my posts are still in said forum. Maybe for a kid that grew up a bit hand-to-mouth, a golf ball held so much promise for improving your game, but it was at least affordable and attainable.

And five years later, and 999 posts later, I find my 1,000th post being placed in a forum that I thought I was too young for, and in a forum that talks about the clubs I tried to escape. As I now had more means then before, it was finally time for ME to buy some game, and get the magical set of clubs that would make me scratch. Because, when younger, I knew, yes, I KNEW that if only I had better clubs, I could have been great. Maybe got a scholarship? Maybe had a ticket out of the grinding poverty of my childhood?

As we do learn later in life, “Maybe” and a $1 will get you a cup of coffee, and that’s about it. Like the thread about “Benefits of Getting older”, life gives us such a healthy perspective on what we thought and didn’t think in our youth.

And five years later, and numerous iron sets later (Dunlop Quattro, Nickent 3dx Hybrid, Nickent ARC Blades, Cleveland TA6, Ping Eye 2, Staff FG-17), and numerous drivers later (Dunlop Deep Distance, Staff Spine, Speedline Draw, G10, Speedline Fast 10, G10 Draw), I have come full circle, and find myself back playing the same clubs I so desperately wanted to escape. Every new set I bought held the promise of something better. Every new set I bought was supposed to deliver some magic thing that the one before it would not.

And as I tore up my shoulder, and wrenched my rapidly ageing back as I started a blindingly agonizing quest to beat 80 two years ago, as I stretched and exercised and popped pills to combat the pain, as golf ceased being fun, and started becoming work, I was ready to quit. I got my swing speed from ~85 up to ~100. I was playing urethane balls, and had developed some excellent technique around the greens. I developed an in to out driver swing. And finally, yes finally, I broke 80. And this happened only after I ditched the heavy clubs, and moved all the way back to the featherweight Ping Eye 2 irons and a vintage Ping Pal putter.

This was the crack in the marketing. This was the proof, yes proof that the manufacturers, despite promising the “hottest this”, “longest this” and “most forgiving that” could not deliver an iron or putter that played any better than a club that had been made almost 30 years ago. And it was also an eye-opener personally for me as well. To break 80, what did I gain, and what did I give up? Hours with my family? Obsessing over golf clubs and gear and balls on the Internet instead of spending time researching ways to help my youngest with a learning disability? Time spent pouring over golf marketing material instead of reading the books I used to love reading, like Dickens? Anger, stress, and frustration every time a double bogey snuck onto a score card due to one momentary loss of focus? Hollow victory, in many ways. So much of life had passed by, all for a piece of paper with a number written on it.

So to be able to write a number on my scorecard that started with a “7″, I:
- Tore up my back and shoulder
- Spent time that would have been better spent on other pursuits obsessing over golf
- Wasted time and money researching and purchasing gear that did nothing to help my game
- Learned to hate golf (on certain days and at certain times)

But everything in life does have some balance. And there were good lessons to be learned here too. I really had it reinforced that a good swing is the most important part of scoring. I had my eyes opened to the marketing machine, and how much it promised, and how little it truly delivered to someone who doesn’t need the help of forgiving clubs (i.e. a beginner). I learned it’s not about forgiveness – it is about a golfer having the right set of clubs for them, and the confidence to play any shot they need with them.

And it reminded me that as much as my family eschews materialism, and we made serious decisions around this (my wife stayed home with the kids because that was more important to us than fancier cars, or a house larger than we need), that we can all still become victims to our consumer society. When we buy things to impress others, where is the value? When we buy things to please ourselves, that is better. But when you can’t find satisfaction in these “things”, and you continue to replace these things with more things, or other things, or bigger things, and yet each feels as hollow as the item that preceded it, then where do you go?

That is officially time to hit the reset button. That is officially the time to bag a $20 set of blades and woods you bought off a classified ad, and a $4 putter you bought in a thrift store, because that is simply the only way to truly reset.

I believe this is a very roundabout way for me to get back to the OP, and Kirasdad, that is a fantastic story about how you gamed in your tournament. Sure you kept the “basketball on a stick” in the bag, and I do not think anyone would criticise you for not being “true to your beliefs” as Smitty stated, especially in tournament play. However, for some people, especially how they’re wired, there is no “soft” reset. There is no other option than a “hard reset”.

And this is true for me.

So, scores be damned, partner be damned, society be damned, I am officially off the train, the hard reset has been done, and the metal woods will be going on hiatus for a while. They may come back at some point – I have a Cobra being picked up today I’d like to try as an experiment. I do like my G10 Draw quite a bit as well – I hit it very pure, and very straight, and it forces me to put a good swing on it.

So what.

Because ultimately I will play these clubs because I want to score. And when I want to score, I will again begin to obsess over breaking par. And irons. And gear. And putters. And golf balls. And yet again, I will find the game that I played as a kid, the game that composed some of the best and most vivid memories of my childhood, the game that has taught me so much about sportsmanship, etiquette, and history will become what it should never become again.

Work.

We’ve discussed the paradoxes inherent in trying to match old and new clubs under specific circumstances; almost as if scoring and enjoyment and aesthetic beauty are mutually exclusive. And in many ways, I think all of us in this forum know this isn’t a paradox – it is about “How can I justify keeping a non-vintage driver in my vintage bag” even though we know there is a mutual exclusivity here. We want to keep the modern driver, because if things go wrong, it keeps things from being as horrific as they could be. It is a way to sneak some element of “score” into to what we have determined is to be “fun”.

So maybe there is a bag for all seasons. I still haven’t found the right wood driver yet. This may take some time. But I’m already feeling really good about the 3 and 5 woods I have in my bag, and know that if I keep my eyes open, this “right wood” will eventually fall into my lap. Maybe the Hogan 2W laminate with the Apex 4 sitting in my shed is the answer. I don’t know yet.

But the point is, with all the things I’ve been through in my life, and the fights I’ve had against (what seems to be) the universe in all its glory aligned against me, it is time to reset, and remember the things that are most important. Spending a few hours communing with nature, hitting a golf ball, and appreciating that this is even possible due to the wealth of our society is one of these things. Enjoying a beautiful shot that worked out exactly as you had planned is one of these things. Golfing with a senior, or a child, and learning or teaching about the game is one of these things.

Focus on your journey on the golf course, not the destination (score). Like a car trip from the 50′s, the enjoyment is in the distance between home and the destination. Even if the destination wasn’t great, enjoy getting there. If the destination was great, view it as an added bonus. And keeping that coffee can on a stick in the bag will always be a reminder that I am looking at the destination, and failing to enjoy the journey.

Everyone has a bag for all seasons. I’m working on mine. How about you guys?

Whew, wanted to save something special for my 1,000 post, and hope I have.

Scooter

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I hope this conversation has given you something to think about. I know it has for me.

3 Responses to “A Set For All Seasons”

  1. Avatar of Tim Tim says:

    I saw this question on the golfwrx website too. I have to admit that I had to give some thought to my answer. For me, playing vintage clubs is part of the journey that is golf, which began when I started playing at age 8 and has continued through the present (age 49).

    Today’s clubs have gone way over the top in designing clubs that are intended to make hackers into Tiger Woods. This is not new. Golf has always been a combination of skill and technology and if you look at Jeff Ellis’ books, “The Clubmaker’s Art” or “The Golf Club” (both are a must have, really!), you will see that virtually every type of club imaginable has been forged over the past four centuries. Its just that today’s materials are so much better than in the past.

    Regardless of what clubs you play, you can’t “know” how a club suits your swing and game until you play the club! During my teens, I had many persimmons that “looked” perfect, but I couldn’t hit them. I had other clubs that looked less attractive, but I would hit them great. This led to the dilemma of should I play what I hit best or play the clubs that have the bigger “wow” factor?

    This dilemma still exists in buying new modern clubs. However, my recent re-introduction to many vintage irons and woods has given me an alternative to spending $300 to $500 to try new clubs. Instead, I can go on ebay and buy a full set of woods or irons for only $100! Instead of buying one modern set, I can now buy 3 or 4 and experiment with the clubs. Also, I have found that the older clubs made in 1940′s through 70′s were better crafted than today’s clubs, where club manufacturers have mass marketed metal woods that focus solely on distance, irons that focus on an infinitely wide sweet spot, and putters that return the blade to the square position by limiting MOI.

    Another point, which is very important, is that many of the courses I play were built 50 to 80 years ago and have not been lengthened. Because today’s drivers and balls go 10% to 20% farther than 40 years ago, the older courses seem to be “too short”.

    Although I have only recently resumed using vintage clubs the past 30 days, I have derived more pleasure using my Macgregor Super Eye o Matic woods and Wilson Dynapower blades in playing 3 different courses that measured 5,800, 6,200 and 6,300 yards, respectively, compared to using my R11 driver & 3 metal and 2007 Callaway X tour irons. I didn’t feel these courses played too short because they are narrow and I mostly hit 3 and 4 woods off the tees. This has led to my hitting 10 fairways (roughly) in each round, compared to 8, which is really a good feeling. I’m a 4 handicapper and I shot 74, 76 and 76 in these 3 rounds, which is a big bonus. I think using the old persimmon woods has made me play more “within myself” which has led to hitting more fairways. I do know, however, these courses played about 10%-20% longer (making them seem about 6,600 yards) but that only meant I had to hit one or two clubs more on par 4′s and 5′s (some par fours have meant I hit a PW or gap wedge, rather than a lob wedge). On longer holes, I got to hit mid-irons (instead of short irons). Mentally, these courses almost felt like I was playing Torrey Pines at 7,200 yards.

    I don’t have a regular group of buddies who might make me self-conscious about playing vintage clubs. I play at 6 am on Saturdays, rotate about 6-8 courses in San Diego, and get paired up with a new group each time, I usually play with people age 40 to 60 who appreciate the “old clubs”. I have found the older courses I used to consider “too short”, are now more challenging and interesting – because I have to manage my game better (rather than “grip, rip, hit and putt”). Of course, using vintage clubs gives me a huge amount of nostalgia and thinking back to the “good old days” when life was simpler and there were less distractions.

    I’m sure when I take the vintage clubs out to a 6,700 yard course I will feel more conflicted (because I can only hit the drivers about 260), but that journey probably won’t happen for another week or two. Regardless of the outcome, I look forward to each moment that will transpire and the challenge it presents.

  2. Avatar of In the Dirt In the Dirt says:

    I love to see this discussion going on – it hits home on so many levels. Personally I have found that the choices become easier if you can zero in on a single set of irons. There really isn’t that much difference between the blades of the 80′s, 90′s, 00′s, or 10′s – so if you find one you like then just let them live in the bag. Then all you need to do is swap out the woods – real lumber or modern metal – based on the demands of the course or situation. Your ego may have to accept that you are playing 2-9 with the irons instead of 3-pw but what does the number really matter?

    The more challenging way would of course be to have competely unique bags with irons/wedges/woods all period specific and matched. This version probably provides the best “nostalgia” factor because you can play an exact set that one of your heroes played – like a time capsule from the past.

    Personally I like playing clubs that feel like they maintain the traditions of the past but not necessarily super old. For that reason I don’t mind playing anything that is a traditional blade design. I do agree with Tim that it is a nice bonus to be able to grab a few sets for less than 100 bucks each and find one that works so that’s a point in favor of a slightly older set. But once you find the right irons you can play any course with them. I do not particularly like the look or feel of large metal drivers but that “type” of golf can be fun in tournaments. Maintaining perspective gives one the option for balance – it’s a matter of having access to another dimension of golf (classic/vintage/traditional) that others are completely unaware of, even if we don’t spend 100% of the time there. The specifics may not matter, it’s just the ability to tap into that feeling occasionally where you feel you are connected to the history of the game and the designer of the golf course that I am thankful for.

    • Avatar of Tim Tim says:

      Well said. I have about 8 hickory shafted putters built in Sunderlin England around 1912-1915 (Standard Mills Ray Model, Braid Model, Schenectedy, Vardon, etc.) that I use on my outside putting green. The connection with the past is what makes golf timeless. I spent hours reading and researching where they came from – plus I can actually putt with them. Knowing the past of the game is what connects us to the future and gives appreciation of what was, is and will be.

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