The Secret in the Dirt Blog
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Tim Price Featured Blogger
It can be no shock to see that participation in golf is dipping at the same time that our economy has suffered through historic drops. But can the blame extend beyond the economy, and does golf possess a future that could make it go the way of horse racing? I never thought it would happen.
It’s finally about to happen, if it hasn’t already. My lack of expertise in reviewing a golf course will be exposed.
How? I think Castlerock Golf Club is a better golf course, from what I remember, than Royal County Down.
Absurd! Royal County Down may be the best golf course in Northern Ireland if Royal Portrush is not. Both of them could be, from what I’ve heard, in the top 10 of all golf courses in the world.
So on my next trip to Northern Ireland, perhaps in two years, I want to get back to County Down to see what I missed from a trip there seven years ago. Maybe I have a more trained eye -- or more sensitive one -- that better ascertained the features of links golf when I played Castlerock in June 2012.
I stumbled onto Castlerock by studying courses from Northern Ireland on one of the golf travel websites. I first noticed Portstewart because its green fee was discounted close to a third off from the price of Royal Portrush. But I saw just a few miles away that Castlerock was even cheaper, more toward the concept I espouse of “Golf Like You‘re Poor.” The pictures and commentary on the club’s website looked inviting (after the 1908 opening of the 18-hole layout credited to Scottish pro Ben Sayers, it had a touch-up from Harry Colt in the mid-20s), so off I went. It would cost about $105 to play there compared to $210 at Portrush, the Irish Open venue just up the road on the Antrim Coast. Not stuff for the poor, but at least it was a better fit for my budget.
The seaside village at Castlerock has a 6,800-yard course that cards par 73, though the pros would take par-5 holes like the 477-yard fifth and the 490 at No. 17 and cut par to 71. I surmise that’s what holds back Castlerock from anything close to County Down or Portrush consideration -- no championship distance.
To me, it matters not. There’s plenty of challenge here, and fine qualities of links golf, starting not too distant from the elevated fairways at the two opening holes that offer display of the close by North Sea and Ireland’s Inishowen Head. Pin positions cut to the right at the par-5 third hole require approach shots with care, because nicely struck balls to the very firm greens will not hold the ball from rolling toward a 15-foot dropoff down to the fourth tee. Down there you’ll find the start of a par-3 of some 200 yards to a well-bunkered layout surrounding the putting surface.
I quickly noticed the firmness of the greens back on the first hole, when my 7-iron approach rolled 30 feet past the ball mark, and that’s even into an uphill green. In what may be the only divergence from the expected links play, those greens do not roll fast.
The wee bit of water that comes into play at Castlerock makes an appearance at No. 4, but that burn from the sea’s inlet hugs closer to the green at No. 6 -- a gem of a hole even if it’s the shortest par-4 on the property at 347 paces. The green falls sharply back down to that burn, but there’s hardly a chance of spinning one back into it because of the firmness of the greens here.
From here on out as Castlerock bounces rather nicely through the dunes. It’s particularly bumpy when No. 8 doglegs right along them, No. 9 (I think the best par-3 here, better than No. 4) has a green that sits down right in the dunes, No. 13 (“Swallow Hill,” they call it) has a hump dominating the fairway and No. 17 gets the highest point on the course because the tee box is perched right in there on the grassy ridge. As high up as you may be at 17 tee, you still can’t see the pot bunker in the swale plunging down and coming into play for your second. Your approach shot in is ruined if you’re down there. And a big dune rivaling the one at Swallow Hill is blind to the tee shot at No. 18. But, in this one’s case, it’ll not affect you unless you miss the fairway right.
The only thing left to do after the walk up to the elevated final green is to order a pint from the clubhouse’s upstairs bar and drink from it while leaning against the rail from the outdoor perch overlooking the grounds. The only thing better would be to get back down just a few feet away to No. 1 tee and have another go at it.
Maybe you can tell I’m not much of a golf-course reviewer, but also can see I love Castlerock for its sharp little layout. When I leave Texas and go back to Ulster, I will play Royal County Down again. But there’s no way I’ll miss a trip back here. It’ll never be on the Open Championship’s rota, but it’ll always be on mine.
Tim Price is working on his second book covering a facet of sports history. It's due out in Spring 2014. In the meantime, read his blogs and reviews can be read here or at Tim Price Sports Books. You can also follow him on Twitter @golflikeurpoor.
I wouldn’t be doing my Golf Like You’re Poor job if I didn’t take a short break from my current “day job” duties and write up this tip: Keep your eye on Groupon.
I know: it’s rare that Groupon comes with a deal relating to golf. But once it does, it’s highly worth it....
I played a round of golf yesterday with Fuzz. Fuzz doesn’t look like he used to, but he was a good partner. I shot an 82 with him, yet he’s so unfazed by the triple-bogey and double-bogey that blighted my round that he’ll be back with me next time I play.
Fuzz is not Frank Urban Zoeller. Fuzz is the brand name of a golf ball that I’d never heard of until I found it in a ditch at Riverside Golf Course in San Antonio. Fuzz is yet another reason I’m able to Golf Like You’re Poor.
I can’t remember the last time I bought a golf ball. Seriously! I think it’s safe to say that since I had my college job as a cart jockey at Bear Creek Golf Course at DFW Airport about 25 years ago that I’ve probably bought just one box of balls. And I did that because the rag-tag collection of pellets I had in my golf bag would not have allowed me to follow the rules by playing a tournament round with the same make of ball.
It was that summer job, when I’d find balls left behind in carts and lost in bushes next to the practice range, that I gave my golf game a great gift -- a lifetime supply of golf balls!
Through my GLYP blog I always try to support my cheap ways by providing figures. The fact that I scoop up lost golf balls doesn’t save me much. If I found “recycled” golf balls on a retail website, I could pay $33 (not including shipping and taxes) for 60 Titleists on golfusedballs.com. If I play about 30 times a year and average the loss of two balls per round (that’s a high figure), I’d save that $33 list price by continuing to dig balls out of the ditch.
But I’ve learned that if used golf balls play quite well, wouldn’t other pieces of equipment? Yes! I bought my driver (Titleist 975L FE) used, and I hit a 322-yard drive with it -- and Fuzz -- yesterday. I bought my Adams 3-metal used, and it is a dependable club off the tee and off the deck. I’ve hit that thing as far as 270-yards off the tee, but mainly I have a consistent draw with it that finds the fairway. Both times I saved more than $100 -- bare minimum -- by buying used.
Here are some quick things, all common sense and nothing groundbreaking, to keep in mind while buying used clubs:
* Every big-name retailer has a used club rack;
* Auction sites and classified-ad sites (craigslist) sell golf equipment;
* Lots of golf associations now offer a consignment area, so that’s a must-see when buying clubs;
* Wherever you buy, always test the club (or at least have an easy out to return the club). Don’t buy it if you can’t test it.
The only thing I buy new is golf grips. I refuse to believe that the technology of this year is markedly better than last year, or five years ago. So I refuse to buy what is, for lack of real technological advances, a marketing gimmick given “legitimacy“ because someone on the PGA Tour is using it. Do you get paid to use your clubs? White-headed drivers? Please!
My blogs are listed here, and if you're interested in more stories you can go to Tim Price Sports Books. There is also a Twitter account @golflikeurpoor. Enjoy the reading, and your golf, no matter if you're rich or poor....
To take pride in playing golf like you’re poor, to happily ditch the resorts and daily-fee tracks for a sometimes dusty muni, to play 25-year-old forged blades rather than buy a new set of Razrs or R11s, to fish out a blemished Pinnacle from a mud hole and tee that one up rather than pull out a shiny white ProV1x from the sleeve -- to do all that? Well, I guarantee ya, I’m close to goin’ solo on this one. And that’s OK.
I’m layin’ it down on how to be a GLYP'er (Golf Like You’re Poor), and there ain’t no one yet bustin the door down to join me. The people “friending” my profile can be counted on one hand at this point, followers few so far on my tweets and the message board on my blog is a virgin.
And, yet, I’m a part of a group.
I’ve found that if I’m going to satisfy all my goals that I listed previously on my blog -- to play, practice, compete and maintain my equipment, and do it in a way that I put up big-time red numbers against whatever other discounts might be out there -- it’s best to be a part of a group to keep costs low.
The group I’ve chosen is Alamo City Golf Trail. It’s a non-profit association that’s been established by the City of San Antonio to manage its municipal golf courses. I’ll write about the creation of the ACGT in a future blog. It’s a story worth knowing if you’re a muni player who’s tired of being stuck in a city that has golf courses only because it has to, and there’s no real desire in the Parks and Recreation Department to engender a feeling of a golf community.
But right now it’s time I opened the books and present my GLYP budget for $100 a month.
Membership -- $4.25
Play -- $57.50
Practice -- $13
Tournaments -- $17
Equipment -- $0
Total -- $92
The ACGT’s startup costs, to my knowledge, were covered by the city. Best to be politically minded, the ACGT made the city critics quiet by getting quick cash: They offered the public annual memberships at $49.95. It’s a sort of a player-development program. I bit, so it goes down in my budget at $4.25 per month.
The membership will be the base of almost everything I do: play a round of golf 26 times a year (every other week) with a warmup bucket prior to the round, and hit golf balls in a practice-facility session 26 times a year. I’ll play golf every other week and hit balls in a practice session on alternate weeks.
Even if I don’t play one round of golf and just hit practice balls, the membership will pay for itself. The medium bucket I will buy costs $8 for non-members. Members pay $6. That’s a yearly savings of $52, so I’ve covered my membership with a little more than two dollars to spare.
OK, so that’s hardly beating this deal by red numbers. But let’s now throw in what I do on days I play golf.
First off, the membership offers six rounds at a reduced rate through a punch-card system. I tee it up and just pay the cart fee. I don’t ride, but that’s OK. Instead of a $22 round of golf four times and $20 twice (there are six rounds on the punch card), I pay $10.81 for the cart I don’t use. So that means I’ll save $63.14 by having the membership and using the punch card.
And remember, I hit balls from a warmup bucket that would cost $6 if I was not a member. But my discount knocks it down to $4.50, so at 26 times a year that’s a savings of $39 for the year.
Let’s add up what the group membership means to me. There’s $52 saved on practice-facility discounts, $63 on the punch card for six rounds of golf and $39 on the warmup sessions at the practice facility before I play golf. The membership cost $49.95 and I saved $154, so I’m about $104 to the good.
After the punch card is exhausted, I’ll play rounds of golf at $22 (sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less, depending where I play).
So I’ve explained my activity and budget in terms of membership in a player-development program, rounds of golf and practice, leaving tournaments and equipment. As of right now, I’m playing in two tournaments this year. And there is no money for equipment. In future blogs you’ll see why that number is zero.
The reason, again, for trying to stick to a budget with my golf? I want to be fair to my family, and my business pursuits, by not allowing my hobby to become manic. I want to enjoy the game while not taking from contributions to retirement and educational savings and other important expenses to our household.
Best of luck in your pursuits.