Human InterestPersonal History


There are golf trips, then there are GOLF TRIPS! There is a difference, you know. And the difference is far from subtle. Yes, they both revolve around the act of playing golf. Yes, they both involve going somewhere miles away from home. But the difference is only experienced by those who participate in both and easily recognize the contrast.

Really, a golf trip (lower case) should more accurately be called a golf vacation. The family (wife and kids) are along and you get to play some golf, but you also have to go to the beach, ride your bike to breakfast down the road, or (shudder) go shopping! Go shopping? On a golf trip? No way, Jose’. 

On a GOLF TRIP (all caps), it’s just you and “the guys!” None of this family stuff. This is serious. So serious that you get up at 5:30 am to pick up your buddies and meet the other guys at the McDonald’s on the way to your golfing Mecca. You have a 6-hour drive ahead so you caravan- up and get an early start. 

This TRIP is like all other TRIPS. When you arrive at the destination, you’ll play the first of 8 or 9 rounds. It’s non-stop golf; 18 holes the first day, 36 holes each of the next three days, and another 18 holes the last day before you head home. No shopping, no beach, no fluff. Sound exhausting? Of course it is! But you’re there to play golf; that’s all. There’s 15 or 16 hours of sunlight in July, and a round of golf only takes 4-4.5 hours. Potentially, you can play 3 full rounds—54 holes—each day. Now that IS exhausting.

On GOLF TRIPS, I’ve been to a lot of great places. Scottsdale, Arizona, Hot Springs, Arkansas, Waynesville, North Carolina, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, The Robert Trent Jones Trail in Alabama, Fairfield Glade, Tennessee, The Villages, Florida, Palm Springs, California, and three locations in Michigan, for example. Many of these were visited multiple times. I’ve stayed in condos, hotel rooms, motel rooms, rented homes, and resorts usually sharing space with one or two other guys. The accommodations don’t matter. It’s just a place to keep your toothbrush and clean clothes. In Gaylord, Michigan, we rented a house that had a five-bed dorm and several other bedrooms. Twelve of us slept in various rooms in that house. In other situations, we were paired up or stayed together in groups of 4 or 6.  

On a GOLF TRIP, no one sleeps in! No one. They wouldn’t dare! No one is late to get to the course. No one misses a tee time. No one complains about anything but the abysmal state of their golf game or the difficulty of the course. Breakfast each morning is included because everything—green fees, cart, lodging, range balls, breakfast—is pre-paid. Why have the hassle of paying as you go? You head for the course and play! In the morning, you play the north course, then have a quick lunch in the pro shop, followed by 18 holes on the south course in the afternoon. 

On a GOLF TRIP, everyone plays 36 holes (2 rounds each day) on the second, third, and fourth days. You either have to die or hide somewhere to escape it—not really, but it seems like it. Every man is eager to play as much golf as possible; that is, until day 3 when you run out of gas. You might think the more you play, the better you get. Well, as Lee Corso says, “not so fast.” Fatigue is a factor! It’s July. It’s hot, even in northern Michigan. You’re not playing as well as you hoped, and you’re discouraged. But there’s always some guy in the group who defies physical limitations and shoots a good score. Ugh!

Dinner on a GOLF TRIP is a group effort. It isn’t as hard as you might think to get 12-16 guys to agree on a restaurant, but if you pick a popular spot that has a bar and serves just about anything, everyone is happy. Dinner is the time to rehash the day’s successes and disasters; to remember great shots, birdies, eagles (rare occurrence), or describe how Bruce “stalked putts” on the green. Or how Bill beaned Cary with a shank from a green side bunker. Or how KP felt like a caretaker at a retirement home for old golfers. Stories, quips, and jokes abound. Remember “Little Kenny?” Some jokes are so familiar, we laugh just hearing the punch line.

On a GOLF TRIP nobody plays cards, goes to a movie, or reads a novel. There’s just no time…or energy! Rest is critical. You have to be up at 6:00 for breakfast and 36 holes the next day!  A couple of guys meet each night to go over the scorecards to figure net scores and skins. Chuck’s in charge of that because he has a spreadsheet that figures it all. But if he doesn’t go, we have a problem, “Houston.”   

If it rains, who cares. You brought your rain suit. You can still play. Never mind if you’re soaked to the bone, your glove is wet, your golf bag is filled with water, and your grips are slippery. You play anyway because you’re on a GOLF TRIP. But what happens if it rains so much the courses are closed? Grab your bag and clubs, load up the car, and head away from the storm. Three or four hours west there’s a course Joe knows about. He called, and we can play it at 1:30 pm. Let’s go! If you’re in Michigan, the rain will be over in an hour, and you’ll still be able to play 18 later! 

On a GOLF TRIP, you don’t just play golf. That gets boring. Any number of golf games are possible. Longest drive, closest to the pin, longest putt, most birdies, skins, Florida scramble, match play, Bingo-Bango-Bongo, lone Wolf, and pink ball are some of the games that add variety to the TRIP. Anything to stir interest. Playing a scramble takes the pressure off. If you make a bad shot, it’s no big deal. Someone else, usually George, will get it on the green.

Dinner the last night of a GOLF TRIP is filled with mixed emotions…I’m ready to go home, but I had a great time and really don’t want to leave yet. I’m exhausted and doubt if I have another 18 in me, but I’ll play another round anyway. George won all the money, again, and again, I only won a few bucks for three skins. Nothing changes. But we still have that last round scheduled for tomorrow morning. We’ve already paid for it. Will I have anything left to finish? Oh, well, I’m getting to play golf and not working in the office. They say a bad day on the golf course is still better than any day at the office! 

A GOLF TRIP (I’ve been on more than 25) is the ultimate example of male bonding; at least, in my life it was. Every guy is there to play golf and have fun. Everyone gets along. No pouting, no selfishness, no goofing off, no moodiness, no silliness. It’s a diversion from everyday life. The only things to worry about are which way this putt breaks or who has honors. Your only responsibility is just showing up. It’s a fun time. You get to know your buddies better. I’ve been on GOLF TRIPS where I only knew two or three guys. After a few holes, you have several new friends. 

Golf is a great way to evaluate a person’s character. It requires focus, concentration, and commitment, as well as eye-hand coordination and skill. Most of all it demands honesty, self-discipline, and adherence to the rules. Any breach of that gives the individual an unfair advantage and tells a lot about the person. Cheaters in golf are regarded with disdain. You play the ball where it lies, obey the rules, penalize yourself when you should, and count all your strokes. The guy who ignores the rules has a hard time finding playing partners. All my GOLF TRIP friends were men who played by the rules. 

A GOLF TRIP is a time to enjoy the company of friends. We all get along well, and share the love of an age-old game. It is a serious time of fun and interaction. Golf and being with your best friends are the focus, and nothing else interferes with that for those few days. If you’ve been on a GOLF TRIP you know what I mean, and you know a golf vacation (golf trip) is not a GOLF TRIP.

William M. Gilkison MD

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