In June, even in early June, Baton Rouge is a fucking furnace. I first felt the oppressive heat on the short walk from the overly airconditioned airport to my overly airconditioned Uber. “This can’t be right,” I thought to myself as I quick-stepped through what had to be hell.
The Uber driver did nothing to mark my first impression as a misconception. I was staying downtown, and he hyped the city’s nightlife, “There’s great bar hopping where you are,” with a strict caveat, “but it’s too hot for anything like that until the sun goes completely down.”
I have been much less into nightlife and much more into sleep since the birth of my son fifteen months ago. I was in town for a conference, free, on my own, and looking for trouble, which ended up equating to 5:00pm dinners, 8:00pm bedtimes, and a lot of scrolling Instagram while sports where I had VERY peripheral rooting interests, played in the background.
I don’t get to play as much golf as I did pre-Brooks, so when the conference organizers gifted me with a free day on Friday, the decision to brave boiling temperatures for an 18-hole round was easy. The second question: where to play, proved to be significantly harder.
I have ClubCorp; the closest course to me was Beau Chene Country Club, which looked MISERABLE. I fight a pull slice, a tight layout etched into what appeared to be a mangrove forest is a thing from my nightmares. Also, the club was 71 miles away from me, one hour and fifteen minutes of drive time. Perhaps guessing that I was planning on driving two and a half hours to tee it up on a tight, parkland layout in alligator country, the woman at my company who arranged my travel refused to rent me a car.
Still, I try to use my ClubCorp membership. I made a tee time and booked my own car. On Thursday, the harrowing logistics of Beau Chene: an Uber to the airport to rent a car, a departure no later than 6:30am to make an 8:10am tee time, eighteen holes in the blistering heat, a quick turnaround to make an afternoon flight from the Baton Rouge Airport, started to burden me.
I saw that the LSU Golf Team played at The University Club in Baton Rouge – this is not a club that reciprocates with the Denver Athletic Club. Next, I found that Baton Rouge Country Club was highly rated and interesting historically. It was 6:40pm CST, which gave me a chance to catch the pro at my home club at his desk and the pro at my golf society on Slack. I figured I had plenty of time to beg for some reciprocity, 50 minutes before the pro at BRCC closed the shop, right?
Wrong. The pro at my golf society had quit his job, and the pro at my club had a lot on his plate dealing with scorched greens. All of this transgressed at a bar, while the bartender hyped up a guide to the city that he had written. I asked him where I should play golf the next day, he had no idea.
The woman sitting next to me recommended the golf course at LSU. She didn’t look like a golfer, but I remember exactly what she said, “Everything at Lousiana State University is excellent beyond reproach.”
I pulled up the course’s website and found an abundance of tee times. It seemed that the entire day, from 7:00am to 6:00pm, was boxed into 10-minute intervals and available for me to book. The tee times cost $36.
I called the course to confirm the availability of rental clubs. They were available and cost $10. Though I already knew the answer, instinctively, I asked if the rental clubs were good. “They are a collection of clubs that we’ve found through the years.” So not good. Still, the price was right, and the location was close enough that an early morning Uber on the company account wouldn’t warrant a second glance.
From a distance, the clubhouse, adorned with an ornate mural of a tiger, showed promise. Upon closer inspection, the white cinderblock behemoth consisted of two rooms – one with tables, chairs, and vending machines, the other, a pro shop.
The pro shop had a folding table displaying a collection of identical, purple LSU teeshirts. Two YOUNG, incoming freshman young, women captained the helm from behind an empty glass case. Atop the case sat a ziplock bag filled with six well-loved golf balls – five dollars.
The 17-year-old girls didn’t have my tee time in the computer, but it didn’t seem to matter. After a brief period of confusion, one took my credit card, and the other dragged (literally dragged, she couldn’t lift them) a set of rental clubs from a back office. I was skeptical, but the course honored the price that I was quoted, $46 for 18 holes with a cart and rental clubs.
And here, the fun begins. On my quest to find hole one, I drove out to 10, then to 17, then to the driving range, then to what had to be nine green. Mercifully, I found a maintenance employee. When I asked him where one was, he said, ” Let me grab you a map.” I was already looking at the map, a jumble of numbered, overlapping ovals. There was no waypoint from which to orient myself, all the map told me was that one tee was very far from the driving range, nine green, and 10 tee.
So I drove around aimlessly until I found a second and a third maintenance employee. The age gap between these two workers was more than 50 years. When I asked for directions to the first tee, the older man looked at the younger man and asked if he (the younger man) could take me. The younger man said no, not maliciously, but because he didn’t know where one tee was.
So a three-cart convoy, led by the SENIOR employee, was formed and all of us headed to the first tee together. We drove, and drove, and drove, and drove. When we reached our destination, the golf course’s elder statesman told me that LSU was the world’s only course where the first tee was ten fucking miles from the clubhouse.
He then launched into an excruciatingly complicated dissection of the first six holes. Giddy with joy from my arrival at the first tee summit, I blacked out everything he said except for the very end of his speech, “You’ll make a U-turn when you finish five, and the rest of the routing is pretty straightforward.” For safetly reasons, I quickly oriented myself on the tiny, back of scorecard map. One tee was right in the goddamn heart of things, the course’s furthest point from the clubhouse.
This is where you’re expecting me to eviscerate the golf course. I’m not going to do that. In fact, I will paint in broad strokes to spare you most of the gory details, because I had an absolute blast during my round. But the fairways were patchy, the rough even patchier. The greens were blighted with dead spots, cut to fairway length, and stimping right around zero. On 16, 17, and 18 the fairways had been lost completely, you hit your drive into corridors of dirt and weeds.
God help LSU Golf Course, but here I will offer them the benefit of the doubt. Presumably, (please, Please, PLEASE) this course, right in the goddamn hearth of Batton Rouge’s hearth chimney, uses the reverse season. More notable than the less than perfect course conditions were my rental clubs, a veritable museum of the cheapest available clubs between 1960 and 1989.
My driver, a 255 CC Knight TiRant (yours for $29 on eBay), was caked in dirt and had a pin-sized sweet spot. Anything outside of the club’s perfect center flared right then died immediately.
The set also included an honest-to-god 2-iron. I got a little bit carried away trying to hit this club, (My own bag includes a 5 as the lowest lofted iron. I carry a 25-degree hybrid instead of a 4 iron, and this is going to sound crazy, but grab some time with a launch monitor, you probably should too.) a butter knifesque Ram blade circa 1960, with only one truly disastrous result.
Working my way up through the pitching wedge (without a three iron or a five iron) I was afforded the opportunity to hit an astonishingly complete array of club type and vintage. Outside of the true blade 2, I had:
Muscle black blades that launched low and spun hard.
Many types of cavity backs offering a HUGE breadth of feel, everything from buttery to full-on dead. These clubs, even the older ones, offered me some distance aid and (mostly) flew straight.
Some dated and MASSIVE game-improvement offerings with the look and feel of a shovel. Despite their aesthetic and tactile deficiencies, the game improvement irons launched balls completely straight and 1,000,000 miles in the air even on the poorest of poor contact mishits.
Hitting these clubs took me all the way back to learning the game. My father had a half set of clubs inherited from his own father. These clubs were manufactured by the good people at Lousiville Slugger sometime in the 1920s.
Not being a golfer, my father had no idea how fragile these clubs were, but after some trips to the range and a few loops around a local nine-hole executive track (Centennial’s Famly Fun Center, no bullshit, an absolute gem) where these clubs were battered but not broken (a testament to my ball striking ability) my father invested in a package set of clubs for me (Gart Sports, $110 for 14 clubs and a bag) and he started playing with my late grandfather’s half set.
His own package set was to be purchased from Gart’s later that summer when a teaching professional told him that under no circumstances should his clubs, the priceless relics of a bygone era, be brought anywhere near a golf ball.
My package set took me through that summer, high school golf tryouts, and an entire season of junior varsity golf. At the season’s end, when it became clear that I wasn’t going to grow out of my infatuation with golf, my uncle flew out and had me fit for the iconic 2002 Big Bertha irons.
It could have been the clubs, or it could have been an increase in practice, but I started to see big improvements in my game. I used those Big Bertha’s to break 90, then 80, and to win two tournaments while I was in high school. These clubs provided me with scholarship offers, accolades, confidence, and an identity. The 2002 Big Berthas made me a golfer.
The 2002 Big Berthas would stay with me until my father got me a set of Ping i10s as a college graduation present. The i10’s introduced me to feel, workability, and the long-since forgotten idea that irons could be mishit.
My first few post-graduate years were spent doing digital marketing at a corporation where golf was a big part of employee culture. My coworkers were a different breed of golfer – guys (all guys) who would lose their mind with excitement when I, hungover and indifferent, showed up late for the standing Saturday tee time, met them on the third tee, and sleepwalked through the 16 hole equivalent of an 83.
I’m not totally sure why the chore of teeing it with these hacks drove me to the golf industry, but it did. The i10’s brought me back to a respectable scoring average, got me through the PAT, and helped me rediscover my love of competing and REALLY playing golf – burying a 6-foot putt for a four-figure windfall from a member taking 20 strokes from me. Or redistributing that money to some of the kids that worked on my outside staff. Unfortunately, these (son of a bitch) employees “weren’t allowed” to keep handicaps as PGA apprentices. They hadn’t yet spent enough time behind the counter to lapse onto the wrong side of scratch.
The year after I passed the PAT I moved to a course that offered me the opportunity to game all of the latest releases from Taylormade. As is typical for the move from outside supervisor to assistant pro position, my new and frequently replaced Taylormades didn’t often see the light of day. They (cross my heart, hope to die Speedblades) were in play for one memorable round, a bogey-free 67, which was good enough to win the only skin of the day and medalist honors at an (unimportant) section event. In an I used to be good, moment of clarity I quit my job, which entailed shipping my clubs back to Taylormade, and set my sights on qualifying for the Mid Am.
With the renewed focus on my own game, digging the i10s out of my closet was an unpalatable defeat. I moped to the PGA store, where I stumbled across a SIGNIFICANTLY discounted set of Cleveland 588 CB irons. I have always admired the beauty and the simplicity of Cleveland blades but my ball striking, to put this nicely, is a better fit for Callaway’s Big Bertha line. As a compromise, I have gamed 588 wedges since I first started playing. These 588 CB irons represented another compromise, in this case, a compromise between fixing my swing and moving back to SGIs.
The irons, with their razor-thin topline and no bullshit response (not only did the mishits die, they STUNG), were everything I dreamed of and more. At first, our relationship was one-sided, but eventually, the irons learned to love me back. I didn’t qualify for the Mid Am. To date, my bogey-free 67 is the last time that I broke par.
It takes about 100 rounds to get used to a set of clubs and thanks to my job at the time, the night shift at a tissue bank, the 588s were broken in by the end of summer. They served me well when I went to graduate school, and played maybe 4 rounds over the next three years. Shortly after my arrival in LA, one of those rounds was played at Rancho Park with an older woman who didn’t interact with me much during the round. Instead, she cursed a blue streak at the two older golfers we were paired with. In her defense, these aged LA muni hacks lacked etiquette.
At the completion of the round, she handed me a score card. “You have a great game, that was one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen.” I was confused by this. I knew my score, 78, and any kind of miscalculation should have been offset by 5 hours and 30 minutes (that’s golf in LA) of my frustration mounting. I hadn’t kept track of my putts, but she had, 41, and it all came together for me. A ball-striking exhibition. Since you don’t know me, you might not see the humor here, but this was, to say the very least, an anomaly.
After I completed my MFA, I found a job at a film non-profit. My boss was a monster and the pay was criminally low, but the hours, mostly in the evening, allowed me to play golf every day. Deeply depressed and struggling with insomnia, I doubled, tripled, and quadrupled down on time spent on the golf course. It was one place I found solace. My handicap dropped to a respectable four, the lowest it had been since I made the outside to inside golf industry move.
I also lost a ton of weight, more than 30 pounds, for my wedding. With the right understanding of the golf swing, weight transfer is weight transfer, it doesn’t matter if it’s fat or muscle. At 210 my knees hurt all the time, but I generated enough clubhead speed to game the 588s. At 170, I did not.
When it came time to face those facts, I had found some success as a filmmaker, then had seen that success stall because of Covid. With time on my hands and more money than sense (before I became a father), I bought a launch monitor, joined the club of my childhood dreams, and dove headlong into club tech and fitting.
The end result of this tinkering, a full, 14 club set, 60 degree wedge to 3-wood, (everyone relax, in tournaments I game 12 of these clubs along with a driver and a putter) of Honma TWX garners a lot of attention. Usually, this attention comes from cart boys who are excited but not tactful. They start with something like, “I’ve never seen a full set of Honmas,” and end with something like, “How much do these fucking things cost.”
I’m honest with them, $560 for the components on eBay (the US market was flooded with Honma clubs after the short-lived Justin Rose signing) and hours upon hours upon hours of labor to fit and then build the actual clubs. At the end of this story I’m always met with the same look, a look of pity, the outside service representatives look at me like I’ve lost my fucking mind. I didn’t realize it until I spent two hours hacking well-struck balls through weeds growing from hardpacked dirt with a set of clubs that wouldn’t fetch $10 at a garage sale, but the cart boys are right. I have lost my fucking mind.
The unraveling was methodical, but somewhere between my acquisition of Big Berthas in 2002 and building a set of Japanese steel hollow backs with my own two hands in 2019, I lost sight of golf’s essence:
1. That you’re striking the golf ball, ideally with the center of your club face.
2. That you’re launching the golf ball, ideally towards your target.
3. Putts should be rolling, ideally into the center of the cup.
LSU’s bad course, old clubs, slow greens combo served as something like electroshock therapy for my addled golf mind. Without the aid of technology, the allure of “fairways,” or the perception that the contours of a tightly mowed putting surface would affect how my ball rolled, I had no choice but to adhere to golf’s three essential tenets. I put up a score that I’m proud of during the round, although I couldn’t post. I guess at some point, the USGA revoked LSU’s status as a golf course.
Since my return to Colorado and much more temperate weather I’ve been doing my best to continue my adherence to the tenants. You’ll be happy to know that I’m scoring pretty well, my learnings have not been impeded by club technology or manicured turf.
So If you find yourself in Baton Rouge with a couple of hours to spare (I went around in 2 hours and 10 minutes), I recommend that you give the course a try. For the full experience, rent some clubs. It could help your golf game, and there are worse ways to spend $46…