In 2016 when the Olympics arrive in Rio de Janeiro, the event will be historic in the minds of sports buffs for two reasons. Firstly, it will be the first time that the games have ever been held in Brazil, and secondly it will be the first time for over a century that the games have featured golf as a medal sport. This was decided in 2009, and has naturally made a lot of people in the world of golf very excited. Although undoubtedly there will be some players active today who will have retired by 2016, the presence of golf at the Olympics will make some extend their career by that little bit longer, so that they can feature in this historic event.
Golf at the Olympics will be something of a novelty both for golf fans and for lovers of the Olympics. The format of a typical golf tournament is not something that is often seen at the games, taking place over four days and on its own dedicated venue which cannot be used for any other sport. Nonetheless, golf now finds itself in the same position as tennis – winning all of the majors in one year is known as a Grand Slam, and adding the Olympic title makes it a Golden Grand Slam.
The chance to be the first Olympic Golf gold medallist for more than a century is sure to make the event one of the most competitive golf tournaments in history. Will it be won by a giant of the game, or allow a relative also-ran to make a name for themselves? We’ll find out in 2016.
Part of the attraction for many golfers lies in the fact that there is such a strong social factor attached to the game. It is common for golfers to play 18 holes and then wind down in what is known to many golfers as the 19th hole – the clubhouse. Golf has long been considered as one of the sports where you can afford to go for a relaxing drink after the game – unlike with football or tennis, you haven’t done much running and muscle recovery times are shorter. When you don’t have those recovery times to worry about, a drink is less of a problem.
However, many people view the clubhouse as a bastion of sexism. There are some clubs which are “Members Only” and which do not allow women to join – therefore taking a place in the mind of many as a place where the player can go to be away from the wife and kids. How true this is really depends on the player, the club, and to a certain extent the wife and kids. One thing that is in no doubt whatsoever is that without the clubhouse, golf would probably be less popular among a number of amateurs.
Taking up golf is something that many people do for the social connections and for business reasons. Many a big business deal has been sealed at the end of 18 holes over a drink in the clubhouse. Golf will retain that aspect for as long as golf, people, and business exist.
For anyone who likes watching golf or playing it, it can be instructive to read up about the sport as well. There are few better ways to learn about something, or to brush up on your knowledge, than by reading interviews with the stars, coaching clinics from professionals past and present, and articles on everything from golf clubs (the equipment) to golf clubs (the places where you go to play). And there is a healthy market in golf magazines which feeds that need for the keen golfer. Go to any newsagent or most supermarket/convenience stores and you will find a wide range to choose from.
The range really does vary from the extremely studious magazines, which favor articles on the technical points of the game, to the new generation of golf magazines which put the players front and center and will ask them more about themselves. Neither type of magazine is specifically better, because your choice will inevitably depend on your own taste. It is often beneficial to buy a few different magazines in order to get the most rounded impression of the game. If there is a star player you want to emulate, then you can only be helped by knowing both about the courses they play and the way they prepare.
A subscription to a golf magazine may also make an excellent present for the amateur golfer in your life. They will be only too glad to receive a magazine which will enable them to hone their game and learn about the stars of the sport.
Anyone who enjoys golf is a fantastic person for whom to buy gifts. The huge range of golf merchandise out there on the market compares very favorably with just about every other sport. There are clubs, bags, balls and tees for a start, but these really do scratch the surface of what you can give a keen golfer for a birthday, Christmas or anniversary present. The only limit seems to be your imagination. The best presents are often the most personal ones – so give a little thought to what the golfer in your life would like to receive.
Joke presents are a very popular niche, and can make for the most memorable presents. Many people find that the old jokes – like the exploding golf ball – are the best, as they can be given completely straight-faced as a “little token present” and when used on the golf course or driving range will suddenly do the job they were meant to do, much to the amusement of all concerned.
Then again, there are several pieces of golf merchandise that can enable the keen golfer to get a little nostalgia or experience the greatest moments, the best courses, and the finest players in golf history. A video game, for example, lets them pit their wits against the best golfers in the world on the most testing courses of all. A DVD will let them see how the top players have managed to build their game, and can even give them some tips on how to get the best swing. Finally, a few books on golfing tips can be invaluable to someone who takes their game very seriously.
One thing that can be said for golf is that it has a ready-attached leisure sector to make sure that once you’re off the course, the fun doesn’t need to stop. The clubhouse – often referred to as “the 19th hole” by golfers keen to distract attention from the fact that they are planning to drink hard liquor – is part of golfing tradition. The most popular sporting breaks – at least for participants – are either skiing holidays or golf breaks, but golf surely has the head start because there are more countries with golf courses than with mountain ranges. Some of the world’s best sporting breaks can be had at golf resorts.
Good golf resorts will have a lot more to them than the golf course. Remember, you may well need to persuade an entire family to come with you on this holiday, so the fact that most come with an attached spa is good for those purposes, as is the fact that there are countless leisure activities that the children can partake in. The modern golf resorts do take account of the fact that there will be families visiting, and are often built close to the nearest city, which allows easy transport from the resort to the shopping centers.
The location of the best golf resorts depends a great deal on what the visitor is hoping for from their golf break. Some of the better courses may well be found some distance away from the best entertainment sectors – but any resourceful golfer will find a way to enjoy the best in golf and the best nightlife.
There is probably a very long and very pointless conversation to be had about the footwear that differentiates the most popular sports. You could not take to the basketball court in football cleats, and if you tried playing baseball in tennis shoes you would find it pretty agitating. So what about golf shoes? Are they in a league of their own? Some people would say that looking at a golf professional’s outfit makes it hard to really care about the shoes, when the trousers are so awful – but the shoes need to be right too, and they are subtly individualized for their sport.
The shoes worn by golfers have small spikes on the soles, which are not dissimilar to the cleats found on the soles of football shoes. These are there for reasons of traction, allowing you to get good grip on the ground when you are preparing to hit a shot. The reason that the spikes are so much smaller than football cleats is because much of the game of golf is spent on the green trying to putt. If you walked on the green in football shoes, the surface would be destroyed in no time at all.
Cheap golf shoes are easy to find on the Internet if you know where to look. The best shoes will last for some considerable time, and will stay comfortable even over the five to six miles you can easily walk during a typical game of golf – longer if you keep driving into the rough.
There is no shortage of satirical comment around on the dress sense of golfers, and to be honest it is hard to blame the people who make mention of it. Sometimes, golfers wear items of clothing that are simply appalling. The late, great Payne Stewart was famous for his plus-fours which garnered compliments and attention from many, along with hoots of derision from others. Most of us can summon up a stereotypical picture of what we would deem a golf outfit to be – and the likelihood is that the world’s golfers would not come out looking too wonderful.
When it comes down to it, there is a reason golf trousers tend not to look like the height of sartorial elegance, or of relaxed style. If a golfer took to the course wearing a full dress suit, their swing would be badly compromised. If they wore jeans on to the course, they would find it pretty difficult to get the flexibility required to hit the complex range of shots they need to – plus they would be breaking a club’s genteel dress code. Therefore it is important to find a compromise. Slacks are exactly the right compromise, and they are the chosen golf trousers of a great many players.
Plenty of amateur golfers, and for that matter a number of the professionals, like to have a bit of fun with the expected sartorial disasters that are a part of golfing folklore in this day and age. For some people, golf just wouldn’t be golf without a terrible shirt and garish trousers.
If you are good enough as an amateur golfer, the time will come when you have a go at tournament play. This doesn’t mean that a few years of practice will have you ready to take part in the Masters or PGA golf tournaments, but you may well be good enough to enter a competition at your local club, and this is where things get really interesting. Testing yourself against the best players from a club and invited outsiders can be fascinating – it allows you to see how you fare under pressure – and maybe win some cash into the bargain.
Golf tournaments differ depending on the level you play at. Professionals play in tournaments that last four days, taking them through seventy-two holes of raised pressure and hair’s breadth competition. If they don’t play well enough on the first two days, then they may fall below the “cut” – usually ten strokes behind the leader – and take no further part. If you make the cut, then you play for the final two days no matter what happens. If you finish high enough on the leader board, you’ll win some money.
At amateur level, tournaments rarely last that long – after all, everyone has a job to go back to. They will frequently last a weekend though, and if you are playing in a tournament then pressure is always at its highest in the final holes when you stand a real chance of winning. It makes for fantastic sport, and even gaining tournament experience in readiness for the next time is valuable.
Watching golf on TV, it is often very easy to become complacent about what the sport requires of you. To the untrained eye, it is simply a matter of hitting the ball really hard once, slightly less hard another time or two, and then trying to get an accurate putt to round the hole off. What could be more simple? Actually, a lot of things. It may seem like those professionals just put the ball on the tee and smash it as hard as they can, but even the action replays the networks show cannot prepare you for the sheer physics of the best golf swing. It will take you a while to hone yours, be in no doubt about that.
A successful golf swing is about three specific parts – the back swing, the swing itself and the follow-through. Professional golfers spend forever honing their swing and even at the top of their game can sometimes get it wrong. The back swing is about building up power, the swing itself is to direct and control the shot. The follow-through – although the ball has gone by this time – needs to be clean and full, otherwise you are likely going to shank your tee shot or do yourself an injury.
If you cannot get to the course as often as would be ideal, then you are going to have to practice like young budding guitarists do – in front of a mirror with something that will pass for a prop. You need to practice holding for long enough at the top of your back swing, and powering through to get the best shot. It may seem embarrassing, but it will pay off when you hit the course for real.
When we are growing up, we latch on to a favorite sport pretty quickly, and this can either blossom into a generalised love of sport or a specific enjoyment of a particular sport. Whichever is the case, we quickly find ourselves dreaming of emulating those stars on the screen in front of us. We’d all like to do what Pelé did, or throw like Dan Marino, or run a hundred meters faster than Usain Bolt. Golf is no different. Unlike the above-mentioned sports, though, golf is one where you can achieve a lot of what the stars do.
PGA golf professionals dream of shooting the lowest round they possibly can, where every shot goes right where they wanted, as far and as accurate as possible. But every golfer is delighted when they manage to land a hole-in-one – for many it is the highlight of their career. That is something which a club player can do themselves – with enough practice you can be hitting the green with your tee shot on any short hole and when you do that you can end up with a hole-in-one very easily.
The best PGA golf professionals are on a plateau that those of us who play for fun can only dream of. But for the time you are out there on the course, you see what the professionals see. You have the calculations to make that they have to make too – and that is one of the things that makes a golf fan closer to their heroes than any other sports fan.