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To get to the first tee at the Lebanon Country Club, a golfer must pass by a plaque under a flagpole which has the following inscription.
“In memory of George Mattingly….greenskeeper 1965-1988….In appreciation of the respect, guidance, and encouragement he gave many young golfers.”
It was paid for by a group of men in my generation who returned to Lebanon for several years to once again play golf on the same nine hole course that we learned the game. We reminisced about the good times that we shared there. And we talked about George.
You see, George wasn’t just the greenskeeper of the club. He was the only adult who insisted that we not call him Mr. He looked after us when our parents dropped us off to spend the day on the links. Not only did he teach us how to play the game, he taught us to respect the game with one simple mantra. “Leave the course in better shape than you found it.”
That’s why we would replace any divot that we made by finding the dirt and grass we moved and put it back in its crater. With Bermuda grass on most courses today, it means using the sand from the container on the cart to fill the divot.
That’s why if we hit a shot that carried onto the green, we immediately (and proudly with our chest out for it was a big deal to make a ball mark) looked for the mark from our shot and fixed it. Not just ours. George said that if you only fixed your mark and didn’t look to fix any others, you weren’t doing your job.
That’s why if we hit a ball out of a sand trap, we wouldn’t just walk to our next shot. We would find the rake and smooth our area and look for other parts of the trap that someone else had left in disarray.
We weren’t allowed to drive carts in those days. But we knew that when that time came we had better not drive near a green or a tee box.
George couldn’t holler at us. He had his voice box removed as a result of cancer. But nothing made more of an impression on a bunch of mischievous kids than looking to see George with his white hair and his tanned face, clapping his hands together or banging a steel bar against his tractor and shaking a finger at us, smiling as he did. He loved us and we loved him.
Why do I bring this up?
So many golfers today weren’t as fortunate as us. They did not grow up at a course with a George Mattingly in charge. They take big divots and don’t replace them. They make a ball mark on the green and walk right past it. They hit out of sand traps and are too lazy to look for the nearest rake, opting to walk to their ball and leaving a mess for the next golfer. And heaven forbid that they have to walk a few steps and instead drive a cart right up to a green or tee box.
Before his death in the early 1990s, George and I were talking about life at the Lebanon Country Club. He thought for a moment and said to me, “Most of the kids who came through here turned out to be good citizens, and I would like to think I had something to do with that.”
He did. That’s why we remember him so fondly and remember what he taught us. I’m sure as he looks down upon us, he is very proud that his instruction to us to respect the course is being carried on. So I challenge all of you to follow George’s mantra wherever you golf.
“Leave the course in better shape than you found it.”
* * *
Several years ago, some friends and I were playing in the Mini-Member Guest at Persimmon Ridge Golf Course. It seemed that we were waiting on every shot so I called the pro shop and asked them to check on the pace of play.
Shortly thereafter, the pro came up to me with a big grin on his face.
“Mr. George (in a very facetious tone), every group on this golf course is where they should be except yours,” he laughed. “Slow down.”
I learned to be a fast golfer so I could keep up with my friends with whom I played quite regularly. When we would walk a leisurely nine holes, (leisurely for them as they walked so fast that I had to take three steps for every two of theirs), we would keep ahead of other foursomes who were in carts.
Slow play and/or the length of time it takes to play an 18-hole round of golf is one cause of the decrease in play at many golf courses. With kids busy in other activities, many adults do not have the four to six hours it takes to play a round of golf. Timed to coincide with the recent US Open, the USGA began a new campaign to encourage golfers to play more quickly and have more fun.
How can we do that?
Play ready golf. If you are not playing in formal competition, the first player ready to hit should do so. Don’t worry about who has the honors on the tee (unless someone makes a birdie…it’s bad karma to hit in front of a birdie) or is away from the hole. It’s not unusual for my neighbor and me to hit at the same time from the fairway, and on several occasions, one ball has come within inches of striking the other in mid-air.
Putt out instead of marking your ball. We don’t have to be like the pros and mark our balls after the first putt. Finish putting. Better yet, pick up and take a gimme.
Don’t sit in the cart and watch your partner hit before driving to your ball. Take a few clubs with you and be ready to hit after he has played.
Park your cart en route to the next tee. Instead of walking back towards the hole just played to get to the cart, have it parked so that you are moving towards the next hole.
Get the flagstick if you hole out first. Don’t have your partners ask you how much the flagstick weighs as a joke because you never pick it up and put it back in the cup. If you are the first to finish the hole, have the flagstick in hand ready to put back in the hole when the last man has finished the hole.
Play the tees that fit your game. It’s not necessary to prove your manhood by playing the course from the back tees and being miserable. Play it forward, shoot a better score, and have fun. Take your kids out and let them drop a ball at your tee shot or at the 150 yard marker.
Play nine holes instead of 18. If you have a busy schedule but have an hour or so to play a few holes do so.
Remember, if you are just wanting to relax and enjoy the quiet, it’s okay to:
*Throw the ball out of the bunker after one try. (My philosophy when playing out of the deep pot bunkers in Scotland was to swing twice and then throw it.)
*Talk on the golf course…enjoy a nice conversation or tell a few jokes. One of the downsides of riding in a cart is the loss of camaraderie as a foursome walks down a fairway and enjoy the time together.
*Play a scramble with your group instead of everyone playing their own ball.
*Just chip and putt on a hole when you feel like it.
*Count just the swings when you make contact with the ball. Or don’t keep score at all.
*Forget about that ball you hit out of bounds. Instead of going back to the tee, drop one where you thought it was or WHERE YOU WANT IT TO BE.
*If you’re tired of hitting the ball on a hole, BIP (Ball in Pocket).
*Move your ball away from rocks, trees, or bad lies.
Golf is a great game. Enjoy it!