I'd Rather Be...Golfing
(ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: JULY/AUGUST 2007)
The bumper sticker on my car reads, "Id rather be golfing," but the truth is, along about the sixth hole, I'd rather be doing almost anything else. I love golf; I just hate how I play it.
Consequently, I make a point of avoiding any course where I end up spending more on lost golf balls, plunked into water, sprayed into woods, hooked into high grass, than I spend on greens fees. Many links these days seem to be created for titans a stroke or two away from the PGA Tour.
Clubhouses promote major tournaments played there; signed photos of golf icons line walls. The courses tout their stratospheric slope ratings, mirror-surfaced greens and holes bunkered like Normandy. At clubs where the caddies wear golf shoes more expensive than mine, I get sweaty knowing every eye is on my backswing.
Luckily, the Midwest has venues perfect for the developing golfer like me. These are places where you can relax, enjoy the scenery, exercise and muff a shot or two without a Tiger on your tail. What's more, these courses are affordable, but still have high-quality fairways, greens and upkeep.
No one cares if you're wearing old shorts and a faded polo shirt and taking your time walking the links instead of driving a cart. What's more, those people behind you probably couldn't care less if your first shot dribbles off the tee, knowing the same fate may lay ahead of them.
Take, for instance, Walnut Creek in Marion, Indiana, about 80 miles northeast of Indianapolis. It's a gorgeous course that fits naturally into central Indiana's forested topography. Flush with pheasants and deer and fluttering greens flags, it has all the attributes of a big-name course, but none of the intimidation.
Everything about Walnut Creek encourages the 100-plus-shooting golfer.
"See how many varieties of trees there are here? It's not only for beauty, but it helps the golfer who has trouble tracking his ball," says owner Randy Ballinger, who helped his father carve the course from their farm beginning in 1967. (Their thoughtful design wasn't ready for public use until 1970.) "You can tell where you are by the shape of each tree."
This was a big help when I faded badly and ended up locked near a squatty Washington hawthorn behind a cell block of maples. Ordinarily, I would have ricocheted all day, but I got lucky, and the huge green reached out to grab my ball.