An enlightened guide to top courses and essential gear, plus sage words from PGA legend Gary Player
PETE, 45, an athletic low-handicapper with a beautiful swing and some nagging injuries.
VERDICT He wants a hard, spinning performance ball. Since he doesn’t need to work on direction or distance, he should start testing balls at the green and move backward. TITLEIST PRO V IX
FIONA, 14, a novice wildly afraid of failing.
VERDICT A soft ball is just the thing. There’s nothing wrong with a slow swing, especially when starting out, so she needs to find a ball that hops off the club — that way, she can discover how much fun hitting a golf ball can be. PRECEPT LADY IQ+
SEAN, 20, a hard-swinging longballer
VERDICT If his only goal is distance, he should go for the hardest, lowest-spin performance ball he can find. (But that won’t help him much around the green.) TITLEIST VELOCITY
MARTY, 62, a lifelong low-handicapper who’s lost some distance but compensates for it with unbearably good iron play, making his money from 190 yards in.
VERDICT A precise swing takes care of itself. For this kind of player, it’s probably more about feel on the green with the putter. TITLEIST PRO VI
MIKE, 67, a short, proud, ox-strong 10-handicapper who hits the ball low and straight, but is a little tentative with his swing
VERDICT He needs something that fits his slower swing speed, a softer ball that will float a bit and stay in the air as long as possible. BRIDGESTONE TOUR B330-RX
WALTER, 18, a strong, lean college swimmer with a loopy swing and a wicked slice.
VERDICT Until he gets the right clubs and the right instruction to work on the slice, he needs the lowest-spin ball he can get his hands on. There’s no shame in less backspin, since it also means less sidespin. TITLEIST NXT
TOM, 51, who once had a reliable fade that took a smidge off the distance, so he worked to develop a draw and fell into a pattern of duck-hooking when he swung hard. Now he swings very slowly.
VERDICT He needs lessons, but in the meantime he should ask for the softest performance ball available, one geared to a swing speed slower than 100 mph. BRIDGESTONE TOUR B330-RX
When I play well, I find that I stick around in the clubhouse parking lot just a little longer than I need to. I’ll let the sun roast me a bit more, or lean against the trunk of my car to inventory my pockets as if I might actually find something useful, instead of dimes and old tees. It’s greed that keeps me there, the desire for a little more, the hope that, in teasing out those last few moments, the smallish adventures of a good round will stay closer to the narrative heart, to the stories I tell and the way I remember.
Taking the time to play golf is a kind of assertion. By playing 18, you are wandering away from life, off the grid, departing things you might otherwise know to be good and wholesome and needed. Yes, there are plenty of golfers who play out of blind habit, but most of the ones I know play with this unique thread of greed in their hearts.
It’s not the Seven Deadly Sins sort of greed, nor the Gordon Gekko kind. No, this greed says that you deserve some extra time with a puzzle, with the ups and downs of the game, the landscape. It allows that walking does not have to end at the water cooler and that driving isn’t always about interstates. It feels good to hammer a 3-wood off the deck, to descend steep and swift on a bunker shot, to focus the entirety of your mind on a single putt.
Is it greedy to want to learn from a game? Sure it is. Off the links, there’s work to be done, mouths to feed, wrongs to be righted. But you’ll learn about those things whether you want to or not. Golf, on the other hand, is an opt-in kind of learning: a selective greed that, if it teaches you well, demonstrates that time isn’t money. Time is just time, a gift you give yourself. And golf, which demands so much time, gives so much in return. —TOM CHIARELLA