Golf’s Sacred Sweet Spot

I am not a fanatical golfer. Haven’t changed my cleats in two years, leave the covers off my expensive clubs during a round (so they ding against each other and occasionally dent), never tuck in my shirt, and refuse to practice.

And yet… I know and revere the essence of the game.

I have felt the warm, capricious embrace of the Golf Gods.

Every year, for over a decade, my pal Stan and I carve out a week in late spring or early summer… pack up our gear… and head out for as many rounds as we can cram into a single road trip. It’s not the easy path — this year, we had oodles of reasons not to go. Business crises, deadline pressure, other committments crushing against our chosen Golf Week.

Yada, yada, yada.

I even had health reasons to punt. I was barely over a vicious bout of bronchitis, and had wrenched my lower back. I was limping to chiropractor and massage appointments in a haze of ibuprofen. No one would have faulted me for bowing out. I was a mess.

Plus, I had a four-day seminar to get through first. The Tactic 7 workshop was a huge success (check out for the post-game report)… but it took a lot out of me. Being on-stage for four straight days will do that to you, you know.

And yet, I was determined to get our Golf Week in. It has become a tradition that must be upheld.

So, within an hour of the seminar ending, I snuck out the back of the hotel, picked up Stan, and we were off. I was still in my slacks and sport coat, but the clubs were rattling around in the back of the SUV, we had an oldies CD blasting away, and I-80 opened up traffic-free before us as the sun danced just above the horizon in my rear-view mirror.

Dude, we were off. No girlfriends, cell phones turned off, our stomachs growling for manly food.

If you don’t golf, I won’t try to convert you. I mostly suck at the game — because, as I said, I refuse to practice, and I seldom get in more than a dozen rounds a year. Each time I put on the cleats, it’s a special day, and I’ve learned to absorb every moment like the rare jewel it is.

Long, gorgeous fading tee shot, or skulling a fried egg deep into a nearby bunker… I may bitch a bit, but I’m still happy to be there.

There are two kinds of guys, I’ve learned. Most, when I mention my dedication to our yearly golfing venture, smile politely and wait for me to get on to another subject.

But you can always tell the guys who have been bitten by the bug. They almost get tears in their eyes, clearly visualizing what it means to have an entire week to do nothing but chase a little white ball through tree-lined fairways. With your most trusted pals. (That’s important.)

That melancholy gets deeper when they learn our annual treks have included Key West, Orlando, the central California coast (playing just above, and just below Big Sur), Vegas, and all over the Sierras. Top-ranked courses like Old Greenwood, five-hundred-dollar-a-round soul-crushers like the Rio, mysterious links like Dark Horse (originally designed for a two-star general with a left-handed slice — meaning, lots of odd doglegs), and trashy little excuses like the tropical fun-zone course near the southernmost point in the states.

Just to name a few of the destinations.

This year, to avoid wasting time traveling, we worked our way around Lake Tahoe. Weird weather patterns kept other golfers away, but we made our tee times despite sleet on the first day and drizzle on the second. Our perseverance paid off, and each day just got more and more glorious.

We’ve got stories to burn.

I’m back now, after ten days on the road (counting the seminar). Exhausted, happy, and with a much better attitude already. In my mid-career, I would have taken many more of these long trips, escaping the office for up to six months at a time.

Now, with my monthly deadlines, I can’t do that anymore. I committed myself to a more rigorous schedule on purpose, to spend a few years being prolific and maybe making a small mark on the industry. I enjoy working, especially with clear goals.

Still, I know my limits on being “serious” about work… and without these annual golfing getaways, I’m not sure I’d be a happy camper.

One of the main appeals of golf is the strict set of rules that must be followed. We play the ball where it lays, take every penalty like a man, and never cheat. Never. We wear collared shirts, we obey even the silliest etiquette rule, and we pay off every lost bet with the required snarl and insult. (Which the winner delights in.)

Plus… we each have a “Birdie Dance” that must be performed after each birdie putt. Even when we’re paired with another set of golfers who think we’re insane.

Golfers understand this reverence for the rules and traditions. Especially men — we have lost our rites of passage, we no longer go on long quests to prove anything, and we are poorer for it. Men crave challenge, and respect tradition.

This is the sweet spot of golf. The rules must be obeyed. The game requires total focus, which frees your mind as effectively as meditation. It is impossible to be perfect, and yet that is what you strive for each shot. For all the frustration and humiliation, a single great chip can restore confidence and respect.

There are trials.

There is redemption.

And you will never conquer the game.

Perhaps much of my reverence comes from the dearth of playing time I get. I’ve known jaded golfers who take their days on the links for granted, and I pity them.

Everything sacred should be rare. And special.

And earned.

There is a Zen peace to golf that most people miss. I enjoy my rounds with Stan because he understands this completely. This is how two guys end up teeing off in a mild hailstorm in the mountains in early summer, oblivious of the miserable conditions, enthralled with the first drive of the week.

That first rare, special, and earned drive.

Just wanted to check in while the high of the trip was still with me.

I hope you find your own sweet spot in life, if you haven’t yet. There are plenty out there, and I’ve got many others outside of golf.

But tonight, it was very easy to write about this silly, achingly beautiful game.

Hey — stay frosty.

John Carlton

P.S. I must grudgingly admit that Stan had two birdies in a row yesterday, and possibly his best round ever. My single birdie right after that only stopped his bragging momentarily. Two birdie dances, in a row. Three birdie dances in a row between the two of us.

That, indeed, is a feat of grand beauty. We are not good golfers. And yet, for three holes, we transcended our earthly skills and looked like good golfers.

And that’s enough, sometimes.

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  • Richard Walter Davis says:

    When I was a boy I spent my teen years at the golf course. I went to 5 different highschools, but always made the golf team, no matter how far into the season. My hero was Big Jack.

    My Dad went on the tour right out of WWII for a year, but there wasn’t much money in it then, so he went back in the Air Force and played the base courses for the rest of his life.

    I remember how others were in church on Sunday, but Dad and I were on the course, and perhaps closer to God for it.

    Dad taught me a good grip, and left me alone. He made me go to the park near our house, and hit two balls with an 8 iron. He said, “Aim for a tree, then aim at the second ball. When you hit the second one with the first one you can play.

    I shot 89 my first round. That was back in the summer of ’65.

    Years later I shot a 63 in a club tourney in California.

    Now I don’t play much. Life just didn’t work out so that I could.

    I enjoyed your story. Next time you come to Vegas, let me know. We can hit a bucket of balls…my treat.

    Thanks for the memories your story evoked.


  • Bob Andrews says:

    Hi John,

    You have beautifully echoed what is in the heart of many golfers. When I was at Tactic7 you and I had a conversation about golf, so you already know you can count me among reverent.

    Taking your advice I began writing again. On the way back home I wrote a blog entry about the primitive nature of men and golf; not as eloquent as you have put it, but the spirit is there.

    As long as I?m here, thanks again for a fantastic workshop. Not only absolutely invaluable information, it may have been the beginning of relationships that will last a lifetime. It doesn?t get any better than that!

    Hit?em long?

    Bob ?the Golfer?

    PS I didn?t want to spam your site so I didn?t bother including a link to my blog. Let me know if you?d like to read my take on men and golf 😉

  • Hi John,

    Thanks for the litte insight into the beginning of your golf career. I have just started myself and I will take your comments into serious consideration. Love the blog by the way.


  • Hi John,

    Thanks for the litte insight into the beginning of your golf career. I have just started myself and I will take your comments into serious consideration. Love the blog by the way.


  • Hi John,

    Thanks for the litte insight into the beginning of your golf career. I have just started myself and I will take your comments into serious consideration. Love the blog by the way.


  • Hey John,

    Very nice post, I enjoyed reading your golf story. I have a passion for golf and I started a little blog about golf myself, hopefully I can help others improve their golf game. It is kind of complicated running a blog because I am new to the whole internet world. I look forward to coming back and reading your blogs. Have a nice day John.

  • I have to say,
    every person should be able to “get away” like that,
    the more the better, but every once in a while is good enough.
    I’ve never played golf before except hitting on a drive when I was little, but the way you describe it makes it sound enticing.

    I’ve always loved how beautiful the courses were,
    driving by them is often a treat.

    I’ll definitely have to give it a shot,
    maybe one day I’ll take a road trip and golf all over.

    Thanks for the good read.

  • Golf Irons says:

    When I was a child, I actually lived on a golf course. For extra money I would clean up the golf course, and at 12 years old it was nice getting to drive the cart around by myself. I felt some sense of responsibility, and was paid by the change in the soda machine. As I grew older, I received free training from a professional golfer. At 14 years old, I could outperform most of the golfers on that course. But I knew it like the back of my hand because I golfed quite often for free.

    Even though a highway eventually caused the course to be closed, those are great memories that inspire me each time I pick up a club.

  • John,

    I think you really hit some of what is missing in the game these days. There are guys I hang with and everything about the game to them is technique, stats, blah blah….and yeah, the mental game is fun, and the challenge is unreal

    but one of the lost elements is the pure joy, and sense of rejuvenation you can get when you escape and hit the links.

    Of course there are the do or die games, but just to get away sometimes is unreal.

  • Sounds like a lot of fun. I’ve always wanted to learn how to play and realizing that what I imagined on on the green were pros hitting excellent shots and that I would look like I didn’t know how to play golf. However true, I didn’t want to look like an idiot. It’s good to know that not all golfers are going to be almost perfect on the green. Thanks for sharing.

  • Dave says:

    I think this is a great story for many golfers out there. You really got it spot on what the game is missing these days and these are exactly the things golfers nowadays need to be reminded of.
    We own a travel company that specializes in a range of golfing holidays and packages and we strive in providing specialist golfing holidays for every golfer.
    We try to provide as many services to our customers so that they can enjoy their holidays and it is stress-free. We provide Accommodation which have been hand picked with golfers in mind and tried and tested by our staff. Also transportation as some people like to drive whilst others don’t which is why we have car hires, airport transfers, golf transfers. We have a variety of courses for golfers at different levels too. We also offer a wide range of packages too.
    We like to keep it simple, hassle free and leave our customers feeling relaxed. Yes Golf is important to the people that come here and they have a great passion for the sport but also are able to have no problem enjoying every minute of it.
    Thanks for sharing your great story.

  • I have to say,every person should be able to “get away” like that, the more the better, but every once in a while is good enough.

  • I just start playing golf 1 month ago. It’s fun althought somebody say it’s the game for old people. It’s hard for me to hit it. Hearing your story make me want to train myself more. Thank you for sharing your story.

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