The Case For the 36-Hole Day

Thursday May 28th, 2015
On family vacations, McNealy and his dad would play 72 holes in a day.
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For a while now, the PGA of America has been extolling the benefits of the nine-hole round, to better accommodate these busy times. I would like to propose another initiative: the 36-hole day, which is common enough at this time of year, when the USGA stages its annual one-day, 36-hole sectional qualifiers for the U.S. Open.

Sometimes more is better. The 36-hole day is good, but the 54-hole day is better. I have not gone around three times in one day often, but the few times I have it has been memorable. (I am fortunate enough to be able to walk, carrying my own sack, without blistering.) By the way, to play 54 on a long summer day is not at all difficult, if you’re playing in a twosome that does not dilly-dally on a course that is not crowded. What’s so hard about playing golf for nine or 10 hours?

I am suddenly feeling the urge to go 72. The idea had never really occurred to me until I read a wonderful recent piece in The Wall Street Journal about Maverick McNealy, the Stanford sophomore who was the medalist at the inaugural USGA Four-Ball Championship. Maverick talked about family vacations in which his father would play four rounds in a day. That is a good day of golf. Not nine holes. Seventy-two.

A quick sidebar on the Cardinal golfer: I don’t know how Maverick got his given name, but his three kid brothers are named Dakota, Colt and Scout, so a tip of the tam to his parents for their inventiveness. Maverick grew up near the Stanford Golf Course, which means he grew up near Half Moon Bay, a small town south of San Francisco with a spooky, cold big-wave surf spot called Mavericks. Above the beach, on a cliff, is a course called the Half Moon Bay Golf Links, where, when I was there years ago, was described to me as Neil Young’s golf hangout. The course is a back-road drive from Young’s Broken Arrow Ranch, the original caretaker which was made famous in Old Man. How many holes, if any, Neil has on the property I do not know. But I digress.

Here’s the thing about 36 or more holes in a day: That is what we need in our crowded lives, people. Good for your soul and good for your golf.

On a practical level, I find that when you are playing a lot of golf you stop thinking and just start making swings. Your frustration over poor shots diminishes because you know you have so many more chances to compensate for them. I have found over the course of a 54-hole day you figure out for yourself what works and what doesn’t. At some point, your mind goes to mush and you’re not thinking about the swing at all. Just the ball and where you want it to go.

Also, in my experience, playing multiple rounds in a day ends in the most agreeable sort of tiredness. It’s not that you’re aching. It’s more like you are aware of every muscle in your body having been used. One cider, a hot shower and a good night’s sleep and by the next morning you’ve never felt better. Also, it is impossible to play multiple rounds with a single agreeable golf partner and not have something like a bonding experience. I’m guessing Maverick and his father, Scott, have found that to be true.

But this is the most significant thing of all: We need vacations. We need breaks from the stresses of our everyday lives. When I was a kid, we went on family vacations. That was in the 1960s and ’70s. Since the invention of the cellphone, I have found it impossible to take a real multiple-day vacation. There’s always something to worry about. Our connectedness to the real world by way of our electronic leashes assures that. People say power down. I wish I could but I cannot, not for more than a day. I am too worried about all the things piling up on the inbox.

A day is different. A day on the links is different yet. I can play nine holes in an hour and I love it, but it’s not a vacation from the rest of my life. I know from experience that 54 in a day is. But 72 sounds better. Seventy-two sounds like a bender, with no worries about a hangover.

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