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Thoughtful Thursday: Golf courses are ready for play, are you?

While we have all been desperate to get back out on to the golf course due to the pandemic or the recent bad whether, please think about the above question.

As it stands, golf courses in Scotland are still open, with two balls being used. However, golfers in England aren’t as fortunate and haven’t had the chance to play since the turn of the New Year.

Most of us have been doing as advised and staying at home. That is not necessarily the case for green keepers, some of whom have been working tirelessly in our absence. I know that is the case at Archerfield Links, (where I am based) with Steve Cram’s team who have been doing some outstanding work.
By and large, green keepers are the unsung heroes of the golf industry and as far as I am concerned, they deserve all the plaudits they receive.
Rarely have I seen any course look better prepared for the lucky members. Not a pitch mark in sight. Long may that continue.
When I was growing up learning to play the game, my late father, who was a stickler for the rules and etiquette, always reminded me to fix my own pitch mark plus one more. Something I still do to this day. Some might say I have pitch mark OCD!! Fixing ball marks on greens is the responsibility of golfers, not green keepers. Pitch mark rant over.
When any golf course looks and plays well, those playing it tend to think “Well so it should, that’s what we pay our subs for.” However, if there happens to be a minor blemish or the slightest imperfection, there are always one or two who can’t wait to complain. I have seen this all over the world for the last 30 plus years.
Have you ever stopped to thank the greens staff? Have you ever written a letter to say thanks for all their hard work? If so, good on you.
If not, maybe it’s time you did. I know for sure that they would definitely appreciate it.
Trust me, the green keeping fairies do not visit your local golf course to sprinkle their magic dust over the tees, fairways and greens when we are all tucked up in bed at night.
Most of the best green keepers I have had the good fortune to spend time with over the years take enormous pride in their work. They work longer hours than they are paid to and rarely complain about it. They are a rare breed indeed.
Next time you play golf, wherever and whenever that may be, take a minute or two to look around and appreciate the hard work that goes into preparing a golf course. We all know how difficult it is to even keep a garden looking half decent, so can you even begin to imagine what it takes to present a golf course in magnificent condition?
Golf course prepared and ready – ✔️
While the golf course may be ready for play, are you?
Have you managed to stay active and keep moving through this crazy and worrying time? Whether you have or not, please be careful when you do get back out playing again. Yes, you want to smash your first tee shot down the fairway but if you haven’t or even if you have been exercising the muscles required to play golf, just be careful you don’t do yourself an injury in the process.
Take a bit of time to warm up. If the range is open hit twenty or thirty shots with different clubs, once you have warmed up your muscles and loosened off any stiffness in your joints. If not, please take time to warm up sufficiently. I am no health professional, so I won’t be prescribing a warm up routine, I’ll leave that to the experts. You might want to check out www.18Strong.com for some advice in that department.
Have you used this time away from golf wisely to learn more about the game and what it means to you? I don’t mean watching hundreds of confusing and conflicting YouTube videos about how to fix your slice or hit it ten yards further. In my experience, jumping from one quick fix to the next is the fastest way to make sure you never get any better at this game. Why? Quite simply because these videos do not know your golf game or you as a golfer. Some online advice is great if it’s specifically designed for you but some of it is, well I’d rather not say as my language may become somewhat colourful.
Prepare yourself mentally as well as physically and be prepared to deal all this wonderful game throws at you. Embrace the chaos that is almost certain to ensue sooner or later.
Ask good, simple questions. What is the shot here? Is it possible this shot could be the best shot I have ever played? What does a good shot look like? What is the golf course designer asking of me here? Ask good questions and you will come up with good answers.
Ask bad questions and I think you know what will happen there…
If you are as well prepared as the golf course you are about to play, you might just play the best golf of your life.
To find out more about asking good questions, visit – www.thelostartofgolf.com where there are a couple of books and digital download videos that may well help your on your journey to enhanced performance and perhaps more importantly, enjoyment.
Until next time.
Take care, stay safe, play safe and appreciate the opportunity.
Gary Nicol

Thoughtful Thursday: What does golf mean to you?

As it stands, golf is still not allowed in England but they are in Scotland.

Sitting here in the Home of Golf, watching on as golfers in England are putting their point across to try and open their golf courses again,  I ask myself this question. What does golf mean to me?

The more I think about my own answers, the more I believe it would be a great question for all golfers to ask themselves.
There are no right and wrong answers here, just like the golf swing. We are all unique, we see, feel and experience things differently.
Golf means many different things to me. I have been around the game pretty much all my life. Playing, caddying and coaching have been part of my daily like for over 40 years. If I haven’t been actively doing one of these, I have been reading about, listening to and talking about golf. Sometimes I even watch it on TV.
Golf has allowed me to travel the world. I have seen parts of the world that I wouldn’t ordinarily have seen. I have eaten in fantastic restaurants and stayed in some amazing hotels. For the record, I have also eaten some crap and stayed in some pretty sub standard accommodation but that has all been part of the fun.
I have played some of the best courses on the planet and walked round many more, watching some of the tournament professionals I have worked with plying their trade.
Golf means being outdoors. Golf means or certainly meant travel to me for a long time. It means constantly learning and adapting to this ever changing world. Learning about new technology. Learning about the very latest research on how we learn, not just what we “should” learn.
Golf means being creative. Whether that is creating shots and putts on the course or being creative when thinking of how best to help the golfers I work with to become happier more satisfied players and perhaps more importantly, happier and more satisfied people. Being creative, writing books and blogs. Golf makes me think. It keeps my mind active even if we can’t actually play at the moment.
Having said all that, what golf really means to me is people. I have met hundreds of amazing people all around the world over the last 30 plus years.
Golfers of all standards from absolute beginners to Major Champions. Tournament officials, fellow coaches, physios, mind coaches and caddies from every corner of the globe.
Golf has been good to me. Golf has taken me around the world and allowed me to experience many things but above all, golf to me means fun and laughter with all the people I have met, many of whom I still stay in contact with.
Whatever golf means to you, don’t forget the people you meet along the way that put a smile on your face. We could all do with something good to happen in our lives at the moment and while hitting golf shots might give us some pleasure, in a time of physical distancing, please don’t distance yourself socially.
Pick up the phone, send a text, arrange a Skype call or set up a Zoom session with the people you care about. Share stories about the good times you have enjoyed. Golf has always been in my life but people and the happiness they have brought me, are my life. Ultimately, the sense of community is what golf means to me.
What does golf mean to you?
Gary Nicol

Thoughtful Thursday – A to Z of playing golf – ATTITUDE

In my last blog, I started my A to Z of words and concepts which I believe will be helpful in your quest to make playing golf a more enjoyable and rewarding experience.

To follow on from my first piece on “ATTENTION”, I thought it would be appropriate to say a few words on “ATTITUDE”.

We have all played with and perhaps on the odd occasion, been “that” golfer with a really bad attitude. Not just to the game but to life in general.

“A bad attitude is like a flat tyre. You can’t go anywhere or make any progress until you fix it.”

I’m not going to go down the predictable line of attacking everything you do in life with a PMA, positive mental attitude, although that would be preferable to one that stinks!

While positive thinking sounds like a great idea in theory, the reality is that it can and will let you down. “I”m going to play great today. I’m going to hit every fairway and green and hole every single putt I look at!” Fantastic in theory but when did that last happen? Correct, never!

As a direct result, positive thinking goes out the window and is replaced immediately by it’s polar opposite, negative thinking. There is no grey area, no middle ground where you can be a little bit positive. That is like being a little bit pregnant, it just doesn’t work like that.

Thinking positively is hard to do when you fire your opening tee shot out of bounds and three putt the 1st hole for a nine. Your day is ruined and your attitude for the remaining 17 holes is dreadful.

Our attitude to whatever we choose to do is greatly influenced by the questions we ask ourselves. You are probably blissfully unaware of this but golfers tend to ask really, really bad questions. “

“Why do I always hit it OB / top it / slice it / hook it off this tee?”

“Why do I always three putt this green / duff my pitch shots into rather than over the bunker then thin the resultant bunker shot?”

“Why are the greens so slow / fast / full of pitch marks / bumpy? They’re not like that on TV!”

I could go on but I’m sure you get my drift here. If you start looking for bad things, you will find them. Look around you and try to find fault with the decor or environment you are in. Once you start looking, chances are you will start to find things that really annoy or frustrate you. How’s your positive attitude doing now?

Rather than asking negative questions, which tend to lead to negative answers, or enforcing a false positive attitude on yourself, try asking more positive questions.

Is it possible I could have a great day on the course, at work or with my family today? Yes!

Is it possible I could hit the fairway / green and hole the putt for a birdie? Absolutely! Within reason of course.

Is it possible I could appreciate all the hard work the Greenkeepers and clubhouse staff put in to provide us all with an enjoyable experience on the golf course? Yes!

Is it possible that by asking better questions, you might just play better golf and smile a bit more in the process? Yes!

Is it possible that by asking better questions your attitude towards golf or whatever you choose to do at any given moment in time could be beneficial not only to you but to those around you? Yes!

Give it a try, you never know how much more you might get out of yourself today, tomorrow and in the future.

Until next time.

All the best,
Gary Nicol.

Thoughtful Thursday: ATTENTION!

In a slight departure from my normal Thoughtful Thursday musings, I have decided to challenge myself to creating an A- Z of words I find myself using to help people improve their performance.

While the majority of my time is spent coaching golf, I do spend some time speaking to people in all walks of life and business regarding enhanced performance whatever their endeavour.

Many years ago, when I first started working with my good friend and co-author of The Lost Art” books Karl Morris, I started to understand the importance of “Attention”.

Karl has been banging the drum of the significance of what appears to be a fairly simple word for a long time now and I am eternally grateful that he has.

What you are about to read is from our best selling book – “ The Lost Art Of Putting”.While initially written with putting in mind, we have had feedback from dozens of people around the world about how this simple but profound concept has helped them in a variety of areas of their lives both on and off the golf course.

ATTENTION

What are you doing right now? Yes, you! Are you really here with us? Or are you just glancing at this book and scanning the information waiting to see if you find something that will instantly fix all of your putting issues?

How quickly could you be distracted and taken away from us?What if your phone beeps with another one of those oh-so-important alerts?

Would you be able to stay with us or would we lose you to another video of a cat playing with a ball of string?

Unfortunately, most of us are in a constant state of low-level distraction. Our attention is literally hopping from one thing to another all through the day. Then we attempt to play a game like golf which absolutely demands our attention to be here and now on the task at hand.

What do we find so engaging about things that don’t really engage us? Why do we treat this wonderful piece of machinery we have between our ears with such little respect and more importantly, are we any happier for it?

What has gone so wrong with the simple ability just to be present in something for a period of time?

In his wonderful book, “The Hijacking of the American Mind”, Robert Lustig explains how we can gain a rush of the neurotransmitter, dopamine to the brain when we go on Facebook and get a like.

The problem being, dopamine can become addictive. We crave the hit it gives us and like all addictions, we need more and more to fuel the sense of need. It is as if our brain begins to crave these short-term hits and fixes of instant social media gratification. The more we get, the more we want. But what price are we paying for this?

This craving for attention from others and the distraction this causes actually plays havoc with the attention that really matters – your own attention to what is truly important to you.

Lustig talks about the difference between dopamine and serotonin.Dopamine is the pleasure driver and the more we get the more we want. Serotonin however, is more of a driver of happiness and contentment. Serotonin paradoxically, isn’t an instant hit but tends to create a sense of satisfaction because you have been absorbed in a challenging activity like a gym session, solving a complex problem or being fully engaged in a practice session.

The reason we mention this is we firmly believe great putting and indeed great golf, comes from your ability to pay attention.
I hope you found this little excerpt helpful, even if you don’t have issues with your putting (which puts you in the minority) or even if you don’t play golf.

Whatever you choose to do in life for business or pleasure, please be aware of the power of attention and pay it the respect it deserves.

Until next time, have fun, take care and do your best to make every day a good one.

Gary Nicol.

Thoughtful Thursday: Collin Morikawa, the major champion who played to learn.

We may have had to wait a long time for the first Major Championship of 2020 but it was certainly worth all the anticipation.

Personally, I didn’t manage to see the back 9 live, way past my bedtime, but I have since seen it on catch up. If a dramatic ending to a Major Championship is your thing, you would not have been disappointed. What a finish!

I think I am correct in saying that at one point there were seven players tied for the lead and it would have taken a braver man than I to predict the winner at that point.

As we all now know, Collin Morikawa emerged triumphant and his only minor blip on Sunday was almost dropping the famous Wanamaker Trophy during the prize giving.

He showed such amazing maturity and composure all week, so much so that is would be easy to forget that despite having won three times on the PGA Tour already, including a Major, he has only been a Pro for 14 months. Astonishing.

Much has been said about Morikawa having only missed one cut in his professional career so far and made his first 22 consecutive cuts, a feat surpassed only by Tiger Woods. That in itself is some achievement.

Over and above that, he is one of only 4 players to have won the PGA by the age of 23. The others being Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus. Pretty lofty company.

The young man from Los Angeles is a former number one ranked amateur in the world but beyond that, until recently, I knew very little of his background. That was until I listened to a podcast hosted by my good friend and co-author of “The Lost Art” books Karl Morris.
Karl’s guest on this particular podcast was Rick Sessinghaus who has coached Morikawa since he was 8 years old.

During the 44 minute podcast, Rick talked in depth about how most of their coaching and learning was done on the golf course, not on the driving range trying to perfect backswing positions. For those of you who know me, you will understand that this was music to my ears. Sweet music at that.

Sessinghaus, who is a Certified Mind Factor coach (something else we have in common) talked about how the young Collin played to learn rather than learned to play. Again, that resonated strongly with me as I have been banging on about it for years!

From what I could gather from the podcast, Sessinghaus wanted the young Morikawa to learn how to adapt and adjust to the ever changing environment that the golf course provides every time we step on the first tee. He taught him how to be creative and that golf is not about making the same swing time after time but hitting the right shot at the right time, whatever that particular shot may be.
He also taught him about decision making, course management, the mental aspect of playing golf as well as the basic fundamentals. Essentially he created a fantastic environment to enable him to learn how to play golf on the golf course, something that all and I do mean all golf coaches should encourage their students to do.

Play to learn not learn to play. Something I strongly recommend everyone who plays golf should consider.
Morikawa is now being touted as the next big thing in golf by some and who am I to say he won’t be. Time will tell. I do however know that golf at the highest level appears to be in very good hands and with two more Majors to look forward to this year, it will certainly be interesting to see if the young guns continue to walk away with the silverware or whether some of the more seasoned campaigners will have something to say about that.

Either way, this year’s US Open and Masters will no doubt make for exciting viewing despite the lack of spectators or “patrons”.

To find out more about Collin Morikawa and his coach Rick Sessinghaus, check out Karl Morris and his Brain Booster podcast, which is always well worth a listen.

Until next time. Take care, have fun and keep on playing to learn.

Gary Nicol

Thoughtful Thursday: Goodbye Gordon

Just over a year ago, I received a phone call from my good friend and business partner Andrew Coltart at 7.30am one morning asking if I was alone and sitting down. Alarm bells!

Numerous scenarios ran through my mind but nothing could have prepared me for the news Colty was about to share with me.

Our close friend, Gordon Brand Junior had died. Hammer blow!

The initial conversation was short. Very short. We both had to hang up as we literally couldn’t talk for crying.

What you are about to read is something I wrote a year ago and wanted to share once more on the anniversary of his passing.

A year has come and gone and I still wait for the phone to ring with Gordon’s name appearing on the screen.

Gordy was the ultimate prankster and part of me still wants to believe he was having a bit of fun at my expense. He was very, very good at that!

12 months on, I raise a glass of Mateus Rosé (he liked that) in his honour.

As I sit here writing what I hope will be a fitting tribute, I am literally holding back my tears.

Gordon Brand junior was a very fine golfer who won 8 European Tour titles, 2 Senior, now Staysure Tour titles and played on 2 Ryder Cup teams in 1987 and 1989.

If you want to find out more about his outstanding playing career, there are numerous other sources where you can discover all you need to know.

I want to talk about Gordon the human being. The real Gordon.

They say you should never meet your heroes as you might well be disappointed. With junior that was definitely not the case.

I grew up watching and idolising Gordon Brand Jnr. I loved the way he played. He knew what he wanted his golf ball to do, selected the club and created the appropriate shot. Done. No messing about, he just got on with it. Gordon was one of the true creative shot makers. High, low, fade, draw, you name it, he could play it.

Having watched him as an aspiring young professional in the 1980s, I later got to know Gordon during my 16 year spell coaching on the European Tour.

The first thing that struck me about him was his cheeky smile and his sense of nonsense. Not just humour but nonsense.

Gordon couldn’t help but find the funny side of anything and everything. His quick wit could diffuse any awkward situation. He was a straight talker, brutally honest and never afraid to voice his opinion. As I got to know him, I soon started to understand that when Gordon had something to say, the smart thing to do was to listen.

As a golf coach, I can quite honestly say that no other person on the planet taught me more about how to play the game than junior.

Many years after first watching Gordon play in the 1983 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, I received a phone call from him asking if I would like to coach him. I think it was the winter of 2002/2003.

The conversation went like this – “Gary, it’s Gordy here. I want you to coach me next year.” Wow! One of my golfing heroes wanted me to help him. I was kind of surprised but I was bursting with pride that as great a player as he was would ask me to be his coach.

He continued by asking what the financials were including percentages etc… which took all of five seconds to agree. I then asked what he wanted and expected from me. His answer was typical Gordy, “I want you to make me a better player over the next 12 months or you get fired.” Brilliant! Not one of the dozens of Tour Pros I have worked with was ever as open or frank.

Did I mention he was a straight talker and brutally honest?!

We worked together, traveled the world, ate dinner together, went shopping together (more of that later), had water fights, were rude to each other but most importantly, we laughed together. Sometimes I laughed so hard my sides literally hurt. Gordon was a very, very funny guy.

One Monday morning during the summer of 2004, we were traveling from Sweden to Denmark, going from one tournament to the next. I think there were about six of us, all a little bit jet-lagged (hungover), having quenched our thirst in Malmo the night before. We decided the best way to get to Copenhagen was to jump on the train that crosses the Öresund on one of the most spectacular bridges in the world.

The journey was relatively short and uneventful, apart from being “invited to leave” the quiet carriage for giggling like schoolboys. I don’t remember what we found so amusing but that is irrelevant. The fact we were laughing is what is important.

On our arrival In Copenhagen, we commandeered a mini bus, loaded up clubs and cases and headed for our hotel. Half an hour later we arrived at said hotel which was slap bang in the middle of an industrial estate. None of us liked the look of it, so we decided to cancel our bookings there and then.

Gordon had the number for one of the other “official” hotels and took it upon himself to book six rooms for us. Good lad Gordon, well done. Having said that, I do remember looking at Andrew Coltart and asking him if trusting Gordy to book the hotel was a good idea. We agreed it probably wasn’t but it was hot and we were tired so we decided to go with the flow. What could possibly go wrong?

Twenty minutes later, we arrived at our new hotel and passports in hand, approached the front desk. Almost an hour later, five of us were still trying to check in. Not Gordon, he was checked in, had dumped his bags in his room and was sitting in reception drinking coffee.

Why did it take so long? Were the hotel staff useless and unhelpful? Not at all. What we didn’t realise was that when Gordon had called the hotel to book six rooms, he had given the following names – Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Johnny Miller, Lee Trevino, Eric Brown and Gordon Brand.

Naturally he had “forgotten” to share this information with us, so when I went to check in as Gary Nicol, I was met with a blank look. “Could it be booked under another name perhaps Mr. Nicol?” That is when the penny dropped. I turned round to see junior doing his utmost to look innocent and not to choke on his coffee! “What?”
This was Gordon at his best.

Another time, Coltart, Brand junior and I were staying in a hotel near Staines for the PGA Championship at Wentworth. I think it might have been Wednesday after practice / Pro-Am day. We were back in our hotel after a long day on the course and range and I was trying to get a half an hour snooze before dinner. Not happening. A very loud knock on my door put paid to that. “Piss off Gordon, I’m trying to sleep.”

“You can sleep later, we’re going shopping” replied Gordon. Despite my protestations that I neither needed nor wanted to go shopping, I buckled and off we went. Our first port of call was a clothes shop. Gordy decided he “needed” a pink polo shirt. He asked the young assistant what size of shirt he thought would fit him. The shop assistant suggested large would be appropriate. Gordon agreed but pointed at me and said with all the campness he could muster “He prefers me in a medium as it shows off my sexy body soooo much better.”

For the record, he didn’t buy the shirt, in fact he had no intention of buying it, he was just feeling mischievous and wanted to have a bit of fun at my expense. He was good at that. Gordon was was an expert in trying to embarrass his friends and took great delight in trying to embarrass me at every opportunity.

Life on Tour could be a lonely place. Missing family, friends and home comforts was commonplace. Gordon understood that better than anyone and made life so much easier for those around him with his sense of humour and love of nonsense.

He always said please when asking for advice and always thanked me for my input, regardless of how well or badly he had played on any given day.

At the European Open at the K Club one year, Andrew Coltart and I were drinking coffee having just had lunch in the clubhouse when Gordon joined us. After asking how much salt we wanted in our coffee, he poured in a good spoonful to both our cups, despite us telling him we generally preferred it without salt!

I congratulated Gordon on shooting an exceptional 66 (6 under) on a particularly wet and windy morning. “Thanks, do you know how I did it?”

I remember saying “No but I’m sure you’re going to tell me.”

“It was pretty simple really. I basically forgot everything you ever told me, did the complete opposite and bingo, 66.” Again, Gordon at his finest.

After all, these years, we kept in touch and met up whenever circumstances allowed. He would send me text messages asking “why can’t I fade it?” I would ask him to send a video and explain what he was trying to do. His response was generally the same “You don’t need to see my swing, you know it better than I do and I’m trying to fade it!”

This would then lead to a long phone conversation about how our respective lives were and what he needed to do to hit a high fade with a five iron.

When Karl Morris and I were writing The Lost Art Of Putting, I naturally asked Gordon for his thoughts. In his prime, he was a magnificent putter and possibly had the best collection of Bullseye putters on the planet, including a few that used to be mine!

Rather than telling me over the phone, he said he would have a think about it and get back to me. Within 24hours, I received an email with some of the most insightful yet simple advice I have ever received. Gordon often joked that the book was pretty good but Page 81 was outstanding!

Two days before he passed, I spoke to Gordon and arranged to catch up with him in a couple of weeks when he was due to play in the Scottish Seniors. Unfortunately that isn’t going to happen.

I will never again be greeted by his infectious grin and his customary bear hug. No more conversations. No more water fights. No more salt in my coffee. No more nonsense. I’m going to miss that. We’re all going to miss the wee nutcase that he was. He will be missed by more than he could ever have imagined.

Goodbye Gordon. Sleep well my friend and rest in piece. Save me a seat next to the fire and I’ll see you on the other side.

Gordon Brand junior, great golfer and exceptional human being.

Thoughtful Thursday: Are 350 yard drives really the way forward for golf?

With the 2020 USPGA Championship at Harding Park only a few days away, the great debate relating to that question appears to be incredibly divisive. Some think it is the future of the game while others think it signifies the beginning of the end.

Those who believe that modern equipment – ridiculously strong lofted irons, oversize titanium head drivers and hot, low spinning golf balls – tend be be a younger generation who have perhaps never known golf equipment and the game itself to be any different.
I honestly feel sorry for them.

Not because of the way they think about the game but because they have never experienced the sheer pleasure of what it feels like to hit balata balls with blade irons and persimmon woods. That for me is truly a tragedy.

The fans of the hit it for miles variety of golf, seem to think we should just accept that things have moved on in the last 20 or 30 years. Yes, golf has become a more scientific, athletic game but it has to a large degree become to quote 2006 US Open Champion Geoff Ogilvy, a “dumbed down” version of the game I personally oved and learned as a kid.

Hitting the ball a long way is a skill and one which I have had the good fortune to witness close up on a regular basis over the years. However, it should not be the only or most important skill.

The ability to create a wide ranging variety of shots, high, low, draws and fades, knuckle balls into the wind etc… is becoming far less important at the very highest level. Not only is that creativity becoming less important, personally I find it less interesting to play and to watch.

If Lee Trevino, Seve Ballesteros and Tiger Woods (the most creative and exciting players of their respective generations) were on one channel and Dustin Johnson, Bryson de Chambaux and Brooks Keopka’s were on another, I would have very little desire to watch channel 2. I get that some people love to watch “bombs” but it does not hold my attention for long.

I haven’t included Rory McIlroy in either of these groups because I think he sits somewhere in the middle. Yes he hits it miles but as I heard him say in a recent episode of the MacKellar Golf podacst, “the artist will always win in the long term”. Rory has a deep understanding and respect for the game, both past and present and reading between the lines, believes that the great debate needs to be addressed by the powers that be, sooner rather than later.

R&A Chief Executive Martin Slumbers is well aware of the fact that something needs to be done and has said as much publicly. With the risk of some of the great old golf courses of the world becoming all but obsolete in terms of hosting tournament golf, that is a real concern.

Having been fortunate enough to recently play Muirfield, which is internationally regarded as one of the best in the world, I believe it would be a crying shame to see that reduced to a “drive and flick” course by today’s big hitters, which on a calm day, it would be. It is a truly magnificent golf course that demands and encourages imagination and creativity and as a result, delivers on enjoyment in abundance.

There are too many great courses to mention who will never see the tournament golf they deserve. All too often, professional golf is played on relatively modern, soft golf courses of the extra long variety. The courses these men and women play on have pretty much dictated that the only way to be competitive in today’s world is to hit the ball the proverbial country mile. Their hands have been forced, the option of playing creative golf has all but been removed.

I know I am not the first and will definitely not be the last to talk about bifurcation but at no point in the history of the game has amateur and professional golf been so far apart in terms of how it is played. Bifurcation already exists in reality just not officially.

I am all for progress, which is inevitable in today’s world, however the powers that be have a responsibility to protect the integrity of some of the world’s finest golf courses and the game itself.

Golf has become very much a power game as a result of science and technology but I sincerely hope that artistry and creativity aren’t compromised any more than they currently are.

In my humble opinion, golf is more interesting to play and to watch when golfers have to create a variety of shots that test their skills in every department.

If you honestly think that 350 plus yard drives is the way forward, that might just influence golf courses architects and developers and have them building 8,000 yard golf courses to “bomber proof” them.

Is that really the kind of golf course you want to play? Would that be fun or enjoyable? Be careful what you wish for.
Essentially, golf is in danger of becoming too scientific at the expense of creative artistry which would be a real travesty.

Gary Nicol

Thoughtful Thursday: What do golfers really want?

This is a question I believe all golf clubs, coaches, club manufactures, pretty much anyone and everyone in the industry should be asking. Perhaps more importantly, as golfers, it is a question we should be asking ourselves.

I have been around golf and golfers for longer than I can care to remember and have worked in the industry for over thirty years but I’m struggling to recall when I last heard golfers across the board and around the world being asked what they really want.

Club and ball manufacturers appear to believe we all want to hit the ball for miles if you listen to their marketing. Every newly released driver, iron and golf ball promises greater distance assuming that is what we want. Now for some that may well be the case. Not many golfers want to hit it shorter but will hitting our drives five or ten yards further really make us happy.

If you spend any time searching for “golf tips” on the internet or social media, it would appear that golf coaches assume you want to possess “the perfect swing”, whatever that looks like?! I see lots of before and after golf swings being posted on social media but rarely do I see before and after golf shots. I always question what motivates coaches who post images of “massive improvements with Dave on the range this afternoon.” Are they giving Dave or themselves a pat on the back? Yes, that is a rhetorical question.

Do we really want better swings more than better shots? While we would all love to look as elegant as Adam Scott, as powerful as Rory McIlroy and as intimidating as Tiger Woods on the course, let’s face it, the likelihood of achieving one, never mind all three of these is pretty remote. Do we want to play better shots? Absolutely, so let’s focus on shots rather than swings.

The golf industry as a whole is great at telling rather than asking us what we want.

I think and hope I can speak for the majority of golfers when I say that what golfers really want is an enjoyable experience. We want to feel good before, during and after our game. If we hit the odd drive 10 yards further, that might make us happy for all of about thirty seconds but it is unlikely to be the deciding factor on whether we enjoyed our day out or not.

While we can influence and control some of our experience, the golf club, course and people we meet along the way should, in my humble opinion play a massive part in making a memorable impression on us.
From a personal standpoint, my ideal day of golf would look something like this –

  • I want to wake up and be grateful for the opportunity to play the game I love and appreciate every moment.
  • Arrive at the club at least an hour before teeing off to be greeted by someone who is genuinely pleased to my playing companions and I.
  • Enjoy a cup of tea and some breakfast in a relaxed atmosphere in the clubhouse.
  • The ability to hit a few balls on the range to warm up, do a bit of short game and hit a few putts on the putting green to get a feel for the pace of the greens.
  • Play an interesting golf course that looks good but more importantly asks good questions and provides a variety of challenges. High shots and low shots etc…
  • I want to have options off the tee and into the greens.
  • I want to be able to decide what is the best option for that particular shot and moment in time. Is is a draw, a fade or a straight shot? Is it a high pitch shot through the air or can I run it in along the ground? I might not be able to execute every shot on command every time but I would like the option to choose.
  • I want to play the occasional risk and reward short par 4.
  • I want to play par 3 holes of varying lengths but not 230 plus yard ones.
  • I want the rough to make me ask the question of “will I get a flyer from here?” NOT “will I be able to find my ball?” I do think there should be some light rough off the fairways but not the knee high stuff that contributes to lost balls, slow play and angry golfers.
  • I want to be able to pay attention to what I am doing on the golf course and not worry about emails and other notifications distracting me from playing golf.
  • It would be a real treat to play golf in good company. To play with people who know and understand the rules and etiquette of the game. People who know how to fix pitchmarks on greens! People who love the game.
  • It would be great to play at a reasonable pace and complete 18 holes in 3 hours.
  • I want to smile more than I swear after every shot.
  • It would be nice to play my best ever round of golf but accept that if I don’t, my whole life won’t come crashing around me.
  • I do not want to be consistent. Consistency is a myth and not one player in the history of the game ever achieved it. Consistency eliminates the spectacular and the memorable.
  • I want to get better at playing golf through creating a variety of different shots.
  • I want to be able to control my golf ball and focus on what I want it to do rather than what I don’t want it to do.
  • Essentially, what I really want is to play a well designed, well prepared golf course with good people in glorious sunshine. Ok, the sunshine bit would be a bonus but we are talking about what we really want here.
  • On completion of my round, I would like not to have any aches or pains.
  • I would love to sit in the bar afterwards, have a nice lunch and a couple of “adult refreshments” while my chauffeur waits patiently in the car park before driving me home. We can all dream can’t we?!
  • I do not want to hear about every shot my playing partners hit on every hole. I was there! I saw each and every one of them, good and bad!
  • As I leave the clubhouse, I would like to be asked if I enjoyed my day, when I plan to come back. Soon I hope!

That pretty much sums up what I want as a golfer but what about you? What do you really want?
Until next time, please don’t take for granted how lucky we are that we are able to enjoy the opportunity to enjoy this great game and everything it offers.

Have golfers become more mindful since lockdown?

Am I seeing things through rose tinted glasses or do golfers appear happier than they ever were since returning to the game after lockdown?

From my own personal experience, pretty much everyone I have seen or spoken to appears to have a new enthusiasm and appreciation for the the game. Virtually everyone, myself included, is expressing a greater appreciation for the opportunity to simply get out playing again.

Over and above that, I see fewer unprepared pitch-marks on the greens, more divots being replaced and footprints in bunkers are virtually non-existent. That has certainly been the case on both courses at Archerfield when I have played the last few Monday mornings.

I would like to the think that is a pattern forming at courses around the world and that golfers will adopt a more mindful approach to course conditions and fellow players long into the future.
We all want to play golf courses in great condition but are equally quick to complain when they don’t meet our (sometimes unrealistic) expectations.

Greenkeeping teams around the globe are doing a fantastic job and I hope that the golf community A) appreciate that and B) continue to take responsibility for pitch-marks and divots etc…

Getting back to my original question – “Have golfer’s become more mindful since lockdown?” It seems like our relationship with course maintenance and presentation has improved, but what about the game itself?

Is gratitude for the chance to play still top of your priority list or have the nasty old habits of bemoaning your bad luck and poor technique after missing a fairway, green or putt returned with a vengeance? Hopefully for your sake, they haven’t.

I recently took part in a fantastic online Mind Factor Mindfulness practitioner’s certification course organised by Karl Morris, my co-another of “The Lost Art” books. Karl and Vin Harris who amongst other things, is a founding member of The Mindfulness Association, created an incredibly insightful and entertaining programme.

The reason I mention this is that while mindfulness can and should be applied in all walks of life, this particular programme was fairly golf specific. The sense of community that this has created amongst the course participants is something none of us really expected but the interaction has been nothing short of phenomenal.

We are in regular contact with the group through WhatsApp and the sharing of success stories has been truly inspirational. That sense of community is something that has been missing from a lot of our lives due to the current COVID-19 situation. Community is perhaps something we have taken for granted in the past but now that courses are open and clubhouses may open soon, that sense of togetherness within clubs will return.

From a personal point of view, I sincerely hope we can learn some lessons from this period in time. Lessons we can apply not only to our daily lives but our golf game and golf clubs going forwards.

In order to survive and thrive, golf clubs need to engage with their members and guests but members also need to engage with and support their clubs.

If you are someone who has adopted a more thoughtful and mindful approach to the game and all that goes with it, good for you. If you haven’t, perhaps the time is right to do so.

Until next time, keep fixing pitch-marks, replacing your divots but most importantly of all, keep enjoying the great game of golf and continue to be grateful for the opportunity.

Gary Nicol.

Thoughtful Thursday: Are you working on your technique or working on your game?

First and foremost, I hope you have enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity to get back out playing golf again. I know I have.
On each of the last three weeks, I have had the good fortune to get my week off to a good start with a game on a Monday morning at Archerfield. Playing great courses in first class condition has been an absolute pleasure. Walking off the course by 11.30am, having played 18 holes is an added bonus.
Thankfully, I have seen my play improve on each occasion but to be honest, playing my best ever golf hasn’t really been my main motivation. Yes it’s nice to play a bit better but the real advantage has quite simply been playing golf and appreciating the opportunity to experiment and learn.
My playing companion on each occasion has been European Tour Pro Grant Forrest, one of the longest hitters on Tour, so social distancing has not been too much of an issue!!
Grant is a very impressive player who loves to play golf, so would I if I played like he does! Like most professionals, he is somewhat of a perfectionist, always striving to improve. He works hard on his fitness and his technique as he does with every aspect of his game.
He is smart enough to identify weaknesses (relative term) and to do something about them. He has put in a lot of good work to integrate the swing changes he has made with his coach over the last 12 months, his short game is sharp and his putting is improving all the time.
He is also smart enough to be able to separate working on his technique from working on his game. Technical work is done away from the course, working on how he plays is done on the course. Something that a lot of amateur golfers might want to think about for a minute or two.
All too often, I see amateur golfers “working on their swings” (rolls eyeballs) on the golf course. Checking this position and that position. The more they do that, the more detached they become from the task at hand, which is creating the appropriate shot for that precise moment in time.
The golf course, regardless of how often you play it and how well you think you know it, is continually asking you questions. The main one being “what is the shot right here, right now?” It is NOT asking you where the club is at the top of your backswing or if you can keep your left arm straight. It never has asked those questions and never will.
Understand the question being asked and you will greatly increase your chances of coming up with good answers and better solutions.
The golf course is not the place to be working on your swing, keep that for the range or the net in your back garden. The golf course is for playing golf and learning how to play the game.
While there is little or no competitive golf available at the moment, this is the perfect opportunity to play golf to learn rather learn to play golf.
  • Learn how to shoot a score when you might not be playing your best.
  • Learn how to cope with the uncertainty and anxiety that we all face on the course from time to time.
  • Learn how to create different shots.
  • Learn how to get up and down for par.
  • Learn how to plot your way round the golf course.
  • Learn how to shoot lower scores and enjoy the process.
  • Learn the art, or perhaps the lost art of playing golf.
Basically, we have been presented with an opportunity in time where we don’t need to worry about our swing looks like, who cares anyway?! We don’t need to concern ourselves with “protecting handicaps” and our fragile egos. If nothing else, this time has given us the perfect chance to work on how we play golf on the golf course.
Time is precious. Time is limited. Use it wisely.
Until next time, keep playing, keep learning and keep enjoying everything this wonderful game offers.
All the best,
Gary Nicol.