Hitting the links (with some kinks)
This past May, I accepted an invitation to attend the PGA Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Jacksonville, Florida. This was an odd decision, as I care nothing about golf. I might even say I dislike golf, but that would require golf to actually enter my thinking at least once a year. When I do think about golf, it’s with a feeling of sadness and regret: Golf courses occupy wide swathes of space that could serve as perfectly good rifle ranges.
When analyzed from an outside perspective, golf is indeed an odd game. Golfers pay extraordinary sums of money to hit a small ball with a stick in hopes it will eventually go into a tiny hole in a different zip code. They pay for lessons from stick-swinging professionals, special shoes and shirts trumpeting courses they’ve never played. There’s also the cost to rent a cart, which effectively removes all aspects of exercise, but allows them to tote along a cooler of beer. Usually it’s a lot of beer, to be consumed at a very rapid pace.
Call me nutty, but in my opinion, any sport that can be played drunk is not a real sport. There’s a reason no one calls “mowing the grass” a sport.
I confess to some excitement as we neared the course … the greatest golfers in the world would soon be battling those little balls right before me. Our tickets awaited us at will call and we were pleased to see dozens of signs very clearly indicating its location. Our Uber driver dropped us off in the indicated spot and left quickly to pick up his next fare.
I don’t blame him — you don’t know “surge pricing” until you’ve Ubered to a PGA event.
I walked to the first trailer office.
“Will call isn’t here,” she said. “You need to go back to A1A and drive to main parking. It’s about three miles.”
This was not an option. I found a person festooned in tournament garb and wearing a chest full of official looking badges and asked him.
“That’s a good question,” he said. “I don’t know.”
“Sir,” I replied, “you’re wearing more official bling than a North Korean Army general. If you don’t know, who would?”
“Maybe that guy down there?”
Approximately 500 yards down the road, we found a security guard.
“Just walk up this road about a quarter-mile. You’ll see it in a trailer behind the gas station.”
I can say to a moral certainty I never thought I’d encounter the words, “PGA Players Championship Will Call” and “trailer behind the gas station” in the same sentence, but not only did it occur … it was accurate.
After securing our tickets, I stopped by an ATM. Not knowing how much a PGA beer cost, I took out a lot. If you go to a PGA event, you should too.
By choosing to attend on a Thursday, the crowds look nothing like the teeming masses one sees on Sunday television. Similarly, the line at the beer tent was, for some odd reason, very light. Perhaps because it was 9:30 in the morning.
So far, so good.
My buddy and I sat in a grassy spot overlooking the 17th hole, a very famous hole for making golf balls vanish. This is because golfers do not consider their pastime hard enough and solve this problem by sometimes putting a lake between the hitting spot and the hole. Even with my limited knowledge of golf, I came to three conclusions: One, the greatest golfers in the world would find this to be a minor inconvenience. Two, weekend golfers would view this as a reason to drink several of the beers in their cart. Three, golf ball sales to casual golfers at Sawgrass surely exceed the GDP of Belize.
We watched as the next group of golfers sauntered by on their way to the 17th hole hitting spot — a fair bit away as we were positioned to see both the hitting place and the hole. All three made short work of the challenge and we waited while they strolled to the green and did their putting. This took what seemed like a long time.
“I think I made a miscalculation,” my buddy said.
“I love to watch golf, but I watch it on TV. On TV, they cut from action-to-action-to-action. And I have a DVR, so I can fast forward.”
“And I never realized how slow and boring this can be.”
Few things cure boredom like people-watching and a cold beer, so I got up and went wandering. In case you’re interested, the days of male golf fans dressing in stupid patterns and bright colors have passed. Today, the uniform is logoed “technical shirts” that “wick sweat away from your body.” This seems like a good item to wear when the sun is out, except for one small problem: These shirts look like Ban-Lon. Here’s a list of men who look good in Ban-Lon: No one. Add in the propensity of American males to carry and extra 35 pounds and, well, these technical shirts should probably come with a bra.
Overall, the attire of the ladies and gentlemen in attendance were far more casual than I expected. There were no women in tube tops or men in sleeveless tees, but … well, I was expecting the Golden Era of flying on PanAm. What I encountered was flying after de-regulation next to that guy in his warm-up suit. I couldn’t help but think Sunday would be fancier, when the titans of industry show up with their trophy spouses.
Strolling up over a hill between the grandstands, I came upon the “tee box” for the 18th hole. I felt certain this would be more interesting than watching threesomes two-putt from eight-feet away, so I pushed through the crowd to watch. Here’s what happens:
The golfer puts his ball atop a little twig, then menaces it. (I assume a frightened ball skedaddles further?) Following the threats, he cocks back and smashes the ball with a satisfying TINK!, at which time the ball departs at several hundred miles an hour. After this, spectators look down the fairway to see … nothing. A few seconds later the ball bounces on the grass and becomes visible once again. We show our pleasure at the location (polite golf clap) or share our suffering in the event of a bad shot (Oooooooooohhh). This held my attention for a solid four minutes. I wandered back to where my buddy was seated.
We had a few beers and ate some hotdogs and watched the match move forward at the pace of a sloth saddled atop a glacier. About one o‘clock, I asked if my buddy if he’d seen the family fun park on the way to the course. He had.
“Did you see they have jet skis?”
“And putt-putt — that’s golf, right? That’s why we came down here right? Golf? Plus, we get to play, not watch.”
“Think they have a hole with a windmill?”
“How could they not?
Half-an-hour later, we discovered golf in Jacksonville can be quite enjoyable.