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When it comes to travel writing, it’s good to remember that places matter in golf — but people matter everywhere you go

October 29, 2019

First time I got paid to write about golf travel, it felt like I was stealing something from the air. I mean it. The grand larceny of luck from no more than empty space. 36 holes, 72 holes. Free. 2,000, 2,500 words. Paid. 3,000 miles from home, to boot.

I don’t remember the assignment. That’s appropriate too, because I didn’t give a thought to the work of it at the time. I said just yes. They were asking so little, offering so much.

They wanted to send me to an island. “To get your take,” the editor said. “You know: Is it worth the trek?” It was a resort I’d heard of. There were people to meet. A culture to assess. He could rent me a car. Or get me a driver. Up to me, he said. Me. I’ll just say this: I live in Indiana. You’re damn-skippy I was going.

You don’t get paid much when you write. Not enough is all I can say. So that first time — free travel, free golf — I have to admit that I allowed myself the feeling that I was finally getting what I was due. It was as if someone handed me a fitted pullover made from the microfiber of greed. I probably lost friends telling them about that trip. All I can remember: lots of free macadamia nuts and excellent golf. Golf played on volcanic ridges, hardscrabble golf played amongst nests of albatross, languid golf played in front of the wide span of the dark blue ocean, humpbacks visible in the distance. And free drinks at the infinity pool.

Since then, I’ve learned not to get tangled up in the SWAG. Yes, there are sleeves of balls on every cart. And occasionally free shirts. And hats. Lots of hats. I have piles and piles of hats from five different continents in my garage. They’re no good to me. I’ve learned that my head is too big on every continent. SWAG stands for “stuff we all get.” We live in a world full of logoed tchotchkes. We all get that junk. The job of a travel writer is something else entirely. Send me to the other side of the planet and my work is to describe the stuff only we get. We, the golfers. From our game.

There are a lot of us. I played golf with the wife of a lobster fishermen in Puerto Rico, with a diamond broker and his beautiful wife in South Africa. Early on, I played with a Holocaust survivor who sat in the cart and made club calls for his grandson using a copy of the magazine I was writing for as a megaphone. I played golf in a sandstorm in Morocco. And amongst a herd of goats in Ireland. Places matter in golf — but people matter everywhere you go.

Now I try not to think of the work as a matter of luck, nor a right earned after years in the business. I do remind myself it’s a privilege. But most of all, now I understand the assignment. It’s all about the distance traveled to get to a place and the people waiting there to play the game. The assignment is to relate and report the details of some wide-open afternoon in a place we do not know and do so through the mechanisms and metaphysical realizations of golf.

The infinity pool doesn’t mean a thing. The drinks don’t matter. The macadamia nuts. The hats. The only thing that matters is the stuff we get only from the game. And the trek that takes us there in the first place.

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