Roundtable Wrecking Crew
What if No Laying Up’s Chris Solomon, podcaster Joe House, Gear Patrol Creative Director Andrew Haynes and professional poker player Samantha Abernathy just finished up 18 holes and ran into Black Girls Golf founder Tiffany Mack Fitzgerald, Sugarloaf Social Club cofounder Ian Gilley, Seamus Golf’s Akbar Chisti, and Golden State Warriors swingman Andre Iguodala at the turn. Let’s say they sat down and indulged Pivot the Mag in a friendly conversation about the state of golf, how to find the damn golf ball and what’s truly important.
It would go something like this.
Describe your ideal golf course.
Joe House: Let’s get this out of the way up front: I am not very good at golf. But I love the game and cherish the game. Like, "need to seek professional" help kind of obsessed. If I were honest about how much time and money I devote to it, my wife would demand a trip to Tahiti. So I’m not going to say anything about time or money. But I will tell you this—the ideal golf course transcends setting, landscape, architecture, history and high-quality ball washers. The ideal golf course is the one where my friends are and where ice-cold beers are available every three holes. Where there is an ATM on the premises to settle all bets. And where the cheeseburger is twice the size of my fist. Just give me those things, I can have an ideal round of golf at East Potomac Golf Course or Congressional. But the ATM is crucial.
Chris Solomon: I can swing freely without having the ultimate fear of losing my golf ball. I feel welcome, I’m not rushed by someone behind me, and I’m not bearing down on someone in front of me. The course is not easy, but if I’m playing well, I can post a memorable number. But it’s hard enough to humble me as soon as I think that it’s easy. The ball rolls out on the ground, and the hazards are in the right places, meaning I don’t just reach for a driver on every hole. I can bounce the ball up onto the green, which makes me think less and less about my swing.
Akbar Chisti: I really enjoy small format golf courses like The Preserve at Bandon Dunes, Winter Park in Florida, The Sandbox at Sand Valley and Goat Hill Park in California. It’s really hard to leave one of these courses without a huge grin, and I enjoy being able to take golfers of all levels to these places.
Andrew Haynes: First of all, this course has a solid practice area–grass tees, bunkers, etc. (this is rare in NYC). From a setup perspective, I love a course with elevation changes and a blind shot every once in a while. It’s also coastal and nothing beats a view of the ocean.
Tiffany Mack Fitzgerald: My ideal course would be one with a layout that has well-thought-out forward tees, well-placed restrooms, and speakers on the tee box with my Pandora station playing when I arrive. It should also have a staff that mirrors society, oh and signs—lots of signs because every golfer who shows up isn’t a regular. What about getting rid of “Ladies Day” or “Women’s Wednesdays” in exchange for a staff that is welcoming to women every day. I’d also love a larger ladies selection of apparel in the pro shop and can you make sure you tell the buyer all female golfers aren’t over age 60? Get rid of the flowers.
How would you describe golf to someone who has never played the game?
Ian Gilley: Use a stick to hit a stone into a hole.
Walk and repeat.
Samantha Abernathy: Prepare yourself to get frustrated sometimes. It’s really, really hard, but it’s very rewarding.
Solomon: Golf is the most maddening game on the planet. It’s most definitely not for everyone. The learning curve is steep, it’s expensive and it’s time-consuming. And more often than not, it’s very frustrating. But that 10 percent of the time when it all comes together, it’s the most oddly satisfying feeling—one that I’ve been unable to replicate in any other sport. It’s that 10 percent that makes you dream of playing golf when you’re off doing literally anything else. And even in the rounds that go poorly, you’ll hit one or two perfect shots that will remind you that you have that ability in you somewhere.
Andre Iguodala: Euphoria, when proper practice is put in. Natural high!
House: I would love to give credit to whoever came up with this, it definitely wasn't me, but I can't put it any better: Golf is like a drug habit without the needle tracks. It gives you a high and it takes all your spare cash (or most of it, if my wife is reading this…), and causes you to reprioritize the truly important things in life behind the next round. When you're not playing it, you're plotting your next outing, your next wager and how you can get more golf in your life.
Fitzgerald: Golf is like playing hockey in a park, except everyone is well-behaved and the weather is better.
Fill in the blank. Golf needs more _____________ .
Chisti: Short courses.
Iguodala: Minority youth programs and access.
Haynes: Definitely diversity. This includes more women and more people of color—it also includes people that come from all socio-economic walks of life. Golf has its current stigma because for too long only one group had access to the game—it is time to open it up a bit more.
Fitzgerald: Open minds. It’s like they haven’t noticed 100 years have passed and we no longer need the tradition and exclusivity that kept everyone from playing.
Abernathy: Better clothes for women.
House: Findable golf balls. How can it be 2019 but we don't yet have balls treated with microscopic detection material and an app that can lead us directly to a five-yard circle where an errant shot has settled? Imagine how much time we would all save not having to scour the deep rough or the trees ...or even better, help us immediately convince our wayward playing pal that his or her ball really did go into the “penalty area” and is not retrievable. Minutes! Hours! Days of our lives! All stolen from us because we can't find the damn ball.
What’s the number one reason someone should pick up a club?
House: Other than to assist a loved one who might have mistakenly crashed his or her Escalade into a fire hydrant and needs a hand getting out of the vehicle? I put this question to my 8-year-old son and he told me “to ride in the golf cart.” Can't beat that logic.
Solomon: It’s a game you can play for life. In so many ways.
Abernathy: You might find it surprising how serene it is when you’re out on the course. It’s the best place to disconnect and be engulfed in nature while having fun.
Haynes: I firmly believe that so many people in life have missed out on opportunities because they immediately assume it isn’t for them. I grew up feeling like the game was something I wouldn’t like. Giving it a try as a young professional is one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.
Chisti: Golf is the only game where one can learn more about a person in one round than you can in a lifetime. I didn’t come up with that, but you can make great friends through this game.
The worst part about golf in one word?
What’s your favorite golf content to what’s your favorite golf content to consume?
Gilley: Vintage tournament photos on Getty Images.
House: A bacon, egg and cheese sandwich on wheat toast with grape jelly at Langston Golf Course in Washington, DC. Best enjoyed while listening to the "Fairway Rollin'" podcast and reading @ClubProGuy tweets.
Iguodala: Instagram videos of pro swings.
Chisti: Erik Anders Lang, Christian Hafer, Caddie Magazine and David Baysden.
Abernathy: The Ryder Cup. I love the team aspect, the camaraderie and the passion from the crowd.
Solomon: Golf podcasts. A strong conversation while I’m driving or commuting or something, that’s pretty much the best stuff out there these days.
What's the biggest change you are seeing in the golf community?
Solomon: The old guard is quickly learning that they are not the only voices in golf. Fans of the game can now curate the types of content they want to consume, and who they consume it from. There’s a ton of good in the game that has not been covered properly from the outset, and that is rapidly changing in modern times.
Haynes: People are starting to have more fun. It’s becoming less about rules or annoying dress codes which I find very refreshing.
Gilley: It’s ok to be yourself now. Whether that means personal style applied to apparel and equipment, or personal taste applied to course architecture, a lot of folks are understanding that they don’t have to pretend to agree with the “group think” in golf anymore. They can think for themselves. For the good of the game, the most important piece is probably seeing young golfers looking past conditioning to find a true enjoyment and passion for what actually makes a golf course great (or lousy)—the strategy and creativity and quirk of it all.
Abernathy: There does seem to be a lot more fun variations of the game arising. A four-hour round can be a lot of time for people to commit to the game in their day-to-day lives. These variations seem to make golf more accessible.
House: More playable golf courses. Hooray! The work of some online commentators has inspired architects and vice versa. The chorus is getting louder for courses that are not hard for the sake of being hard but are strategic in a way that challenges golfers of all skill levels.
The most fun you can have on a course?
Gilley: “Doing you” is the most fun you can have on a golf course.
Iguodala: Team events.
Fitzgerald: Putting your phone away is the most fun you can have on the golf course. It gives you an opportunity to really get to know your playing partners and build genuine relationships.
Abernathy: Nothing beats driving my cart around the course with my cat and a mimosa.
Chisti: A fourteen-some in an alternating shot format with two dogs. We did this once at Sand Valley, playing Mammoth Dunes all in less than four hours.
House: Drinking on someone else's tab after they have made a hole-in-one. Making your own hole-in-one is fine, but hearing the bell ring and getting to the grill room for hours of fireball shots and pitchers...that's why we play the game.
Solomon: Tiger, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley. Sorry, Dad.
Chisti: There are a couple of guys I’ve really enjoyed playing golf within Oregon. One is Matt Brown, the mayor of Gearhart, Oregon, and Alex Casebeer as I like to call a used car salesman (actually both are much more than that). The fourth is rotating and has been many folks, but it’s those two guys that won’t let me get away with anything and keep me well grounded.
House: Gus’s fried chicken, a Rosa pie from Pizzeria Bianco, brisket from Franklin's BBQ and the spicy seafood pan roast at the Palace Station Oyster Bar in Vegas.
Fitzgerald: Charlie Sifford, John Daly and Althea Gibson.
Gilley: My Dad, Uncle and Old Tom Morris
Abernathy: Rory McIlroy, Steph Curry and… my fiancé!
Iguodala: Rory, Tiger, Michael Jordan.
Haynes: Obama: I’ve heard he’s pretty good but would love to see him crank one in person. Gary Player: He’s been around a bit, so he knows a few things. I’d love to pick his brain. Wiezy—Michelle Wie: She seems pretty chill and has great golf style.
How much should an average round of golf cost? What do you suspect it is right now?
Gilley: Well, the right answer is: an average round of golf should cost as much as the golfer is willing to pay. I believe in a free market. For golfers, that means finding the right value for what you personally think is worthwhile. I’ve had life-changing $2 tacos and mind-blowing $150 meals. I’ve also had terrible $50 dinners and really disappointing $300 experiences. Golf is no different.
Chisti: Golf is an expensive game. I have attempted to make financial sense of it, but as it turns out that’s not a great exercise.
Abernathy: I think golf should be as affordable as possible for beginners and young people. There should be lots of good courses for $100 and under. My guess is that most of the better courses average well over $100 for a green fee.
Haynes: Considering the higher-end and semi-private courses and the local munis, I’d say somewhere between 50 and 75 bucks. Honestly, I think those numbers are fair for what you’re getting. Courses should offer deeper discounts for people that book well in advance—like when we buy plane tickets.
Solomon: Of course, I would love for golf to be more affordable, but the cost of the game has to be picked up somewhere. I will always strongly support the places that are greatly affordable and provide tremendous bang for your buck. I can definitely tell you what courses are overpriced. But it’s just not nearly as black and white as some would make it out to be.
Best golf tip you’ve ever gotten?
Solomon: “You’re not good enough to be upset at yourself.”
Chisti: “Meditate.” My good friend Erik Lang taught me that one.
House: “Dress like you know what you are doing and hope that the first tee isn’t visible from the clubhouse.” Thanks, Harry Arnett!
Gilley: My dad is a big believer in tempo being the secret to a great golf swing, and he would always have me say the words in my head during my swing, “Seve…..” (nice and slow, in my backswing) and then “….Ballesteros!” (during my downswing and through impact.) Seve’s syrupy yet strong nomenclature really sets a nice tone for the tempo of a swing. Oh, and always hold your finish.
Fitzgerald: “No thinking, just swinging.”
Iguodala: Little town in Georgia.
Abernathy: “Wait to see if your partner’s ball goes in the water before saying, ‘Nice shot!’”