I’ve played the game of golf nearly all my life. I have loved it, hated it, and for a time avoided it altogether, but I always came back. But the thing that bothers me most is that it no longer resembles the game I learned from my father and uncle some 61 years ago. Let me explain:
My first set of clubs, bought from a friend of my uncle, consisted of five clubs: There was the obligatory wood (in this case a “2” wood or “brassie” as they were then called – I don’t know why); and what was labeled a putter but actually looked like a shortened 2-iron; a niblick (about the equal of and 8 or 9-iron); a mashie (about a 4 or 5-iron in today’s reckoning); and what some clever business man and labeled a mashie-niblick (or roughly half way between a mashie and the more lofted niblick).
The four “irons” (they were actually made of steel) listed above all had wooden shafts (hickory, I was told), and the brassie or “woodie” had a steel shaft. I’ve described these clubs in some detail because they were part of the game I learned all those years ago. They were originally made in the 1930s, and well worn by the time I came to have them. I was especially proud to be learning on “full sized” adult clubs.
Now, back in the mid 1950s, no-one outside the country club set ever had a real lesson. I was simply told to watch what the adults did, and copy what I saw. It seemed to frustrate the heck out of my father that I in fact did just that, and rather well for a kid. That’s when I fell in love with the game. You see, I was never taught to memorize a swing pattern, or how to make clean contact with the ball. It seemed to come naturally to adjust the motion to the current shot: to swing harder or softer with a given club, depending on the position of the ball or the distance to the flag. With only 3 useable irons and a single wood it never occurred to me that one should swing exactly the same way for each shot, and adjust only the loft of the club. It would have made no sense to me.
And that’s the point of all of this: Today’s clubs include 2 thru 9 irons, a pitching wedge, a sand wedge, and most probably a “lob wedge. Also available are a complete selection metal “woods”, hybrid combinations of the iron and wood designs, metal (no wooden clubs are even made) drivers as large as your foot and bigger, and even (God help us) something called a “rescue metal”. The science behind all of this is sound, and professional s can use this array of clubs to make the ball literally dance in mid air. And with all of this, the guy whose skill lies in adjusting himself instead of his club selection is no longer viable on the course. He doesn’t match the trained golfer’s distance, so he slows play down on the busy courses. He shoots mostly “line-of-sight” and hunts for his ball on every hole that is less than arrow straight. And even though he knows what is possible with the newer equipment, something inside draws him to the unique challenge of adjusting again for every shot and in every condition the course has to offer.
Of course, I am the “he” I’ve been talking about. And I still find the joy, the wonder of my game in the challenges each shot provides, not just in the better score we all look for on the fairways.