PGA Tour Visits Pebble Beach: 10 Things To Love About Golf

Todd PatakyCorrespondent IFebruary 11, 2011

PGA Tour Visits Pebble Beach: 10 Things To Love About Golf

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    Since the 15th century, when Scottish shepherds first smacked rocks around the sandy links land next to the seas, golf has been a game for the masses. From kings to paupers, people the world over play this wonderful game.

    The PGA Tour returns to Pebble Beach for one of the classic tournaments on tour, the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro—Am.

    This tournament, which has been contested on this gorgeous piece of beachfront property since 1950, is an example of the tradition-rich history of the game. If you only had one tournament to win, aside from the majors, a strong case could be made for winning this one.

    I wanted to take this opportunity, with the pros playing alongside famous amateurs such as Kevin Costner, Bill Murray, and Ray Romano, to list 10 things to love about golf.

No. 1: You Get What You Earn

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    There are no guaranteed contracts in golf.

    No, let me rephrase. There are no guaranteed contracts for playing golf. The pros make plenty of money off the golf course through contracts with various sponsors. This is why every golf pro you see on television is decorated with company logos.

    Every pro on tour earns his paycheck each week by playing well. Indeed, were they to stop playing well, they would quickly see the endorsement contracts dry up.

    And only by playing well can they maintain their place on Tour. While there are plenty of ways to stay on Tour once you are there, they all can trace their roots back to performing at a high level.

    This pay-for-performance standard even extends to us weekend warriors. When you make a bet with your regular foursome, you have to play well, or you will find your friends taking money from you as if you were an ATM.

    There is something right about earning your keep and not getting to rely on a guarantee for your paycheck.

No. 2: The Length Of Time You Can Play Golf

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    I had a golf club in my son's hands when he was two, and Tiger Woods was on the Mike Douglas Show at the age of two.

    My grandfather, at nearly 90, still plays golf. Tom Watson nearly won the Open Championship last year at the age of 60.

    Golf is truly a game for your lifetime. Baseball careers are 15-20 years. Football careers are half that long. But a top-level golfer can play on Tour from before he or she is in college until they are in their 50s. No other sport can boast such longevity of its players.

    What this means to golf fans is that you get to root for your favorite golfers for a lot longer than fans of other sports.

    I took up the game when I was 19, and I intend to play until I can no longer swing a club. I couldn't say that about most other sports.

No. 3: The Long, Rich History Of The Game

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    Baseball has been around for 163 years. Football, as we know it, started in 1879,132 years ago. The new kid on the block, basketball, will celebrate 120 years of existence this year.

    Golf has been around since the 1400s. Admittedly, the game has changed a little bit in the last 500+ years, but the goal is the same as it was when Old Tom Morris played: Get the ball in the hole in as few strokes as possible.

    There are very few sports that can trace their lineage for that length of time. 

    In truth, the game may be even older than that. Some believe the game was developed even earlier by the Chinese.

    So, when you pick up a golf club and make a swing, you are sharing in a tradition that has been passed down from father to son, mother to daughter, for more than 5 centuries.

No. 4: Golf Shows Who You Really Are

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    Anyone can play golf. The level of ability will certainly vary, but everyone can play.

    One of the great things about the game is that it has the ability to expose any flaw or instability in your character you may have. Of course, if you are a person of honor and good sportsmanship, that will be revealed as well.

    It is for this reason that businessmen and women take prospective business partners out for a round of golf. In the four to five hours it takes to play a round, you can learn a lot about the person you are with.

    I remember playing a round with a buddy from work once. At work, he was as nice as could be. He was patient with new people. He never even uttered a curse word under his breath in my presence. I had even been to parties with him. Even away from work, he was as kind and gentle a soul as I had met.

    As soon as his tee shot found the water on the second hole, he let loose a profanity laced tirade that would make a sailor do a double take. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. On the 8th hole, he broke a club over the branch of a tree, on purpose!

    My view of him changed that day. I still liked him and we were still friends, but I now knew what a lot of people never would about him. I knew that beneath his carefully crafted exterior was a man who could lose his mind, just like the rest of us.

    Golf showed me that. 

No. 5: Variety Of Course

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    No two courses are the same. Even if you play the same course twice in the same day, you are playing a different course because you are different, your shots are different.

    The rolling hills of Augusta National, with its velvet fairways and marble smooth greens are a far cry from the wind swept terrain and bumpy greens of Pebble Beach. And neither of those is anything like the treeless, sandy turf found on St. Andrews.

    A course in Michigan will be nothing like a course in Florida. And those will be nothing like one in Arizona.

    Any golf player worth his weight in clubs will want to play different courses for the unique challenges posed by different holes, different terrain.

    But if you only could play one course for the rest of your life, you would still be playing an infinite number of courses.

No. 6: Golf Is Played Everywhere

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    I don't speak Japanese. I don't speak Italian. Half the time, I barely manage to speak English.

    But if I show a fellow from Japan or Italy a scorecard with my round on it, they would understand completely.

    They play golf on every continent of the world, except Antarctica. If you play golf, you have an immediate bond with 60 million other people on earth. 

    Every one of them knows how it feels to have a short birdie putt lip out. They all know how it feels to duck hook a ball into the forest and never find it again.

    They also know how it feels to hit that one shot. For me, it was the first time I went to our local driving range. The head pro let me borrow a driver from one of the rental sets. I put my ball on a tee, took my terrible swing and smoked one about 200 yards up the range. I was hooked.

    All of them, every single one of the 60 million people on earth who play this wonderful game, knows exactly what I'm talking about.

    In any language. 

No. 7: No Drug Scandals

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    There are no drug scandals in golf. 

    The reason for this is because most recreational drugs a person might partake of would ruin their game.

    And most performance enhancing drugs would be useless because large muscles are nearly useless in golf. Indeed, a case could be made that having large muscles is a hindrance to playing golf well.

    As plenty of us know, you do not even have to be in that great of shape to play and enjoy golf. Craig Stadler had a great career and no one would ever accuse him of being svelte.

    Cycling and track are two sports that are riddled with drug-use accusations. It has gotten to the point where you figure everyone is doing it. To a lesser extent, the same could be said about baseball.

    The baseball Hall of Fame voters are going to be stuck in a sticky situation when guys like Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, and Barry Bonds are up for election. Unless they actually have proof, as they do with Palmeiro, it will be hard to not put guys like McGwire and Bonds into the Hall.

    These kinds of problems have not arisen in golf, and I suspect they never will.

No. 8: Anyone Can Win

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    If you have the game, you can qualify, play in, and even win the U.S. Open.

    It's true—if you have a handicap index of 1.4 or better and can make it through sectional and regional qualifying, you can play in the U.S. Open. If you play well enough, you could win.

    The same is true of the Open Championship (We call it the British Open over here).

    Even if you aren't good enough to win a national championship, the handicap system in golf allows the worst first timer to play along side the best players on tour and have a competitive match.

    Other major sports do not have anything like that.

    No one is letting me play guard for the Chicago Bulls and allowing me to shoot at a rim that is only eight feet off the floor.

    You are never going to line up as a linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens with the exception that you only have to touch the running back to get him down.

    None of us is ever going to get to face Roy Hallady when he stands 75 feet from home plate instead of 60 feet, six inches.

    That level of competition and connectivity to other players is unique in major sports and it is truly great.

No. 9: You Don't Have to Be Good to Have Fun

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    Chris Berman playing in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-AmStephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Jimmy Demaret once said, "Golf and sex are the only things you can enjoy without being good at them."

    Judging by some of the reactions from some guys I have played with, I have wondered just how much fun they were having, but Mr. Demaret's sentiment is still valid.

    Admittedly, it is more fun to play well than to play poorly, but there is nothing like being out in the fresh air and sunshine; feeling the warm breeze and hearing the sounds of birds.

    When all is said and done, playing golf is a lot of fun. The game is challenging, to be sure, but that is part of the fun. Pitting yourself against Mother Nature, knowing full well you can't win, but wanting to see how close you can get is the ultimate challenge.

    Golf players are eternal optimists. No matter how many bad shots they hit, the one they remember is the eight iron they planted two feet from the hole on 15, or the drive they smoked past that bunker on 12.

    It is fun to hit good golf shots. It is fun to hear the ball fall in the hole. It is fun to see your buddy's face when you sink that long put. If it weren't no one would ever play the game.

No. 10: You Can Play Alone or With Friends

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    When I was single and thinking about trying to play golf for a living, I would get up on Saturday and Sunday mornings before dawn.

    I would be on the course as the sun came up and I would play an entire round alone. Often I would catch up to groups of guys, twosomes and threesomes, who would ask me if I would like to join them. Most of the time, I would politely decline.

    I enjoyed the time to myself. It was my time to think without having anyone interrupt my thoughts. I thought about everything and nothing.

    I had a great time.

    Then, I would eat lunch, practice for a while, and then meet up with my three buddies for our regular afternoon game.

    We would cut up on each other, call each other names, and compliment each other on good shots. Money often changed hands. Arguments over the rules would break out.

    When we were done, we would sit in the bar and have a couple drinks before heading home to our wives or girlfriends.

    I had a great time.

    Most other sports require a team of people to play. It is impossible for one kid to play a baseball game, but he can play golf.

    Most other games have a limit as to how many can play. Only 22 guys are on the football field at a time. On the PGA Tour, 150 guys play at the same time; more if it is a pro-am.

    That ability to have fun, whether you are alone or surrounded by all your friends in the world, makes golf unique and great in all of sports.