I have never enjoyed playing golf as much in my life as I do now.
And the funny thing is, I'm not nearly the player I was 15 years ago (if you consider someone who hovered just below a 10 handicap at his very best a "player"). My scores may be higher these days, but my love for golf is as strong as it's ever been.
Maybe I took it for granted when I was a teenager, being fortunate enough to play 36 holes per day in the summer months when I was out of school, or the year before my first child was born -- 2013 -- when I logged 70+ rounds, four of which came at the paradise that is Bandon Dunes.
I have two boys now -- ages 2 1/2 and 6 months. Along with marrying my beautiful wife Erin, Tommy (my oldest) and Jack are the best things that have ever happened to me.
As anyone with children can attest, life gets hectic. Time -- at least personal time -- isn't what it once was. That's the way it should be. Being a father is the greatest "job" I've ever had and I wouldn't change it for the world.
Being a father -- or perhaps just being an adult -- gives you some perspective, at least that's what I've been told. As a 36-year-old man, that perspective has extended to the golf course.
Here are the nine things that I absolutely love about golf.
9. Being outside. This seems pretty basic, but when you're chained to a desk sitting at a computer most of the day, getting four straight hours in nature, breathing in that fresh air and freshly cut grass is just therapeutic, isn't it?
8. Discovering new courses. Anyone who plays the game regularly has a couple of "go-to" courses, the ones you play most of the time when you're able to get out. But how much fun is it when you get to discover something new? Maybe you're used to playing a parkland style course and, for you're next round, you're headed out to play a linkstyle course right by the water. While courses have plenty of similarities, no two are exactly alike. Rather than just walking up and hitting my shot, I like to take in each hole and appreciate its beauty. If you don't do that already, you might want to try it. You might discover that there are design elements to a particular hole -- even on a course you play all the time -- that you never noticed before.
7. The nerves. This is easily one of the things I love most about golf these days. It's an excited anticipation. Yes, I get butterflies when I get to the first tee for my casual rounds of golf. The score when I finish isn't always what I had hoped for (actually, it's rarely ever what I hoped for... but that's what keeps us coming back, right?), but I know it's going to be fun.
6. Pulling off a shot/Having a great hole. Isn't it the best when you decide to hit a shot you probably shouldn't even attempt, or have no business hitting -- maybe threading the needle between two trees -- and then somehow pull it off?
Just last week -- playing my regular course with my dad -- I smashed a drive on a par 5 and had just a 5-iron left to the green. The second shot was blind since there's a significant drop off 50 yards in front of the green. I struck a pure shot, knew I hit it great, but had no idea where it would finish. As we approached the green, I was delighted to see that it had nestled up roughly 2 feet from cup. A few moments later, I brushed in the short eagle putt. In hundreds of rounds at this course dating back to when I was 9 years old, I had never eagled it. Man did that feel good... until the next hole, a 135-yard, uphill par 3....
5. The game's humbling nature. So, fresh off the eagle, I have the honor on this straightforward par 3. Feeling good about myself and doing the "if I can par in these last three holes, I'll shoot..." in my head before sticking the tee in the ground, I immediately proceeded to top the ball and it traveled 30 yards. You've got to be kidding me. All I could do is look at my dad, shake my head, laugh and say, "This is some game, isn't it?" Shots like that is why this game will never get boring. Just when you think you've got it all figured out, it puts you in your place. It is worth noting I managed to card an all-world bogey!
4. Buddy trips. While I've played a bunch of insanely beautiful courses in ridiculously beautiful places through the years thanks to this gig, I've only truly had one stretch that would qualify as a "buddy trip." It was a two-day jaunt over to Bandon Dunes for 72 holes of golf with a dear friend and former colleague. If money were no object, I'd do it multiple times a year. It was that good. I'm not even just talking about the courses. Those were mesmerizing for sure. But, the banter between two friends; the matches; the dinners; the time together. It was just the ultimate golf experience. We were absolutely wiped out after walking that epic 72-hole trek, but we have pictures and created memories that will last a lifetime. Remember: This doesn't mean your buddy trip has to be to Bandon Dunes. It could simply be a trip for 2-3 days just far enough from home that you need to stay a night or two to play a few courses you haven't played. You'll love it.
3. My Uncle Manny. While I was fortunate to have two grandfathers all through my childhood, neither played golf. My great, great Uncle Manny, however, he was a golf junkie and the biggest influence in my life in developing my love of the game. Tell me another sport/activity that you can enjoy every summer for years with someone who is 60+ years your senior. He taught me lessons on how to play the game, how to act on the course, how to be a gentleman and -- most of all -- how to have fun. He swore. He got mad when he hit a bad shot. He made me feel like I was Jack Nicklaus in his prime when I hit a great shot. Quite simply, he was the best and the main man in the regular foursome -- my favorite foursome -- filled out by myself, my dad and my brother. When Uncle Manny passed away at age 87 in 2003 -- one month before my 23rd birthday -- sure, I was sad. But, I couldn't help but smile recollecting on all the incredible times we spent together on the golf course from when I first played at age 5, all the way up to the summer before his death. To this day -- some 13 years after he passed -- I'll be playing a hole and catch myself either remembering a shot he hit, a joke he made, or close my eyes during an early morning round and see him in his ridiculous outfit with his socks pulled up over the bottom of his pants almost up to his knees so that the morning dew "won't get my trousers wet, Skip (that's what he called all of us)."
2. Playing with my dad and brother. This one only happens because of what Uncle Manny created in No. 3 on this list. It used to happen all the time. By all the time, I mean literally every week-day in the summer months growing up. Now? We're lucky if the three of us get to play together 2-3 times a year. Whether it's at our local muni or a more well-known course, those 2-3 rounds have easily become my favorites of the year every year. Things are hectic for the three of us, but that time spent together on the course and the beer to talk about it afterwards is just priceless.
1. The anticipation for the years to come. I've spent nearly half my life in the golf business and and all but the first four years of my life playing the game. Friends joked with me that when I had children, their first "toy" would likely be a golf grip. The truth is, I couldn't care less if Tommy or Jack routinely shoot in the 70s when they get older, or never break 100 in their lives (of course I want them to accomplish whatever their goals are for the game). I just hope they develop a love of the game like I have and share with my dad and brother because -- God willing -- it's four hours we'll be able to spend together bonding, telling jokes, busting chops and overall just enjoying one another's company. At the end of the day, isn't that what it's all about?