Volume 4, Issue 5 – May 2014
Fellow Citizens of Crazy Town -
Golf may have started in the United States as a private club game, with its earliest origins owed to John Reid and a gang of friends hanging around an apple tree in Yonkers, New York… but that’s certainly not how it started for me.
I grew up loving sports and participated actively in organized baseball, soccer and ice hockey and dedicated enough time and effort to tennis to become a competitive high school player. Nobody in my family played golf.
However, I developed a friendship with Steve Monteverdi, who was from a golf household in White Plains, NY. In other words, Steve’s dad played and my 5th grade buddy was interested in the game too. North Street School’s grounds sat triangularly between our two houses, so it was a natural place for us to go to knock a few golf balls around. On the occasions when I/we did go out to the school with clubs and balls in hand, typically I hit wedges back and forth between two abandoned fitted-pipe field hockey goals… or I played invented “holes” that navigated around trees and other obstacles across the hilly but expansive property. It was great fun.
Even this version of golf was far from a priority when compared with easily organized 2-on-2 football games (occasionally featuring an “automatic QB” who played both ways), street hockey and stickball matchups. But there was no question that I liked the feeling of hitting a golf ball to a target. This was around 1982, golf had not exploded into the media mainstream, and I certainly wasn’t hitting balls because I thought it would make me cool.
Back to North Street School… I specifically recall testing out Tom Watson’s techniques for moving the ball left-to-right and right-to-left on purpose. Line up your feet where you want the ball to start, and aim the clubface where you wanted the ball to end up… and swing normally. BRILLIANT! It worked! I was excited by the game, but several years after Steve and I first hit balls in the schoolyard, I still had not visited a “real” golf course.
Eventually, I made it to Maple Moor, a local White Plains Muni where I had a first on-course experience and I knew this game was for me. I purchased my first club, a black Northwestern #1 driver that I bought with my own money at Herman’s Sporting Goods. I loved the way golf engaged my imagination and athleticism at the same time. I think it was at this point that I asked my mom for subscriptions to both GOLF Magazine and Golf Digest… and she obliged when my next birthday came around. To this day, I maintain a very close emotional relationship (as well as business ties) to the print golf pubs… since they essentially taught me the game and how the golf lifestyle could be enjoyed by those that embraced it. I studied the instruction articles and learned how to hit draws and fades, knockdowns, chips and pitches from the pages. I was insatiable when it came to learning about the best course designs and the incredible private clubs I aspired to visit someday. I watched the mailbox with great anticipation for the issues… and I was mesmerized by the photos, stories and history of America’s greatest clubs… THAT was where I aspired to be.
However, I lacked access… and tennis was still my primary game… so golf was back-burnered. The stars aligned a bit more when I took summer tennis pro jobs at two very well-regarded Westchester country clubs (the Met Section is so rich with fantastic places). I enjoyed teaching tennis… but I always looked forward to the nine-holes I could play after work at Wykagyl and Brae Burn on occasion. The great conditioning, more sophisticated designs and the less frenetic atmosphere were intoxicating.
Early in my four years at Lehigh University, tennis was pushed aside and golf became my clear #1. And since I was in college and priorities were changing, the beer/golf combo easily won out vs. chasing a felt yellow ball around a court that, incidentally, was always the same boring rectangular dimensions, no-matter where I went. Golf had far more depth of interest and historical context and I wanted to go deep. As I pursued the dream of a career in the golf business (parts of that story have been told in previous editions of this blog), I worked in the NY advertising business for nearly ten years before the right golf opportunity came along.
After learning the finer points of the game from dozens of magazine issues, it’s not an accident that my first job in the industry was with GOLF Magazine (2000-2007). I’ve never shared this with him until now, but I took profound satisfaction that my first cubicle (with a sweet window overlooking Park Avenue and 33rd Street) was down the same aisle from the office of editorial legend George Peper. I thought it was simply amazing that the guy who taught me how to play and enjoy golf was right here, 50 feet away from where I was happily grinding out my work in the marketing department.
When recently preparing for two speeches in the course of a week (NCA’s Annual Conference and an assembly of CMAA members, respectively), I started to think about my golf journey thus far. How exactly did I get from hitting golf balls in a school yard in 5th grade, to working seven years at GOLF Magazine, seven for the NGF, to becoming a GOLF Magazine course ranking panelist who’s played 65 of America’s Top 100 courses???
I am so incredibly fortunate to make my living in golf. Perhaps you feel the same way.
The main theme of my NCA speech, as told to the audience in San Francisco…
Cheers from the HMCT (aka Greg Nathan, NGF)