Was it Jack Nicklaus who said that golf punishes those who don’t practice? This lockdown has taken the wheels off my game, and from the comical array of shots I’ve been seeing on the golf course, I’m hardly the only one with that affliction.
I admit I’ve never been a fan; push carts are unwieldy, heavy, and take way too much space in a car’s boot. And, with all due respect to golfers like, say, the Scots—who’ll haul their clubs across links layouts in all kind of inclement weather—one of the privileges of playing the game in India is that, like professionals around the world, we amateurs almost always take the services of a caddy.
To assuage my conscience I must add that according to The Rules, caddies are the only people who’re allowed to give you any advice on the course. And that’s why I had no qualms in sympathising with juniors in India a few years back when it was reported that their lack of practice carrying their own clubs was one of the reasons they found it difficult to compete overseas (Junior events overseas require participants to lug their own clubs). I started the game when I was 14, and I have carried my bag an astonishingly number of times. But I could probably still count it on my hands.
Ha ha you say. Yes, I know it’s not that funny. In any case in this Covid-19 scenario, the way things have come to pass, given the choice between not playing golf, or doing so without a caddy, it’s a no-brainer. Yes I want to play, and sure, I’ll carry my own bag. Just not the beautiful black leather tour bag: as lovely as that is, I would dislocate my shoulder if I tried to lug that around for 18 holes. And since I’ve already elaborated on my disdain for push-carts, I don’t happen to own one. My father does, swears by it, and is now having the last laugh.
On that momentous day when my home course in New Delhi reopened, I managed to wrangle a push cart on rent, and I’ve got to admit, I’m a convert. What did I like? For starters, the gent I was paired with, I managed to chit chat without coming in close proximity. That never happens when you take a cart, and, even though it’s been a while, I know that I wouldn’t have the energy to talk if I was carrying my own bag. Yes it seemed a bit fuddy duddy to be pushing a cart, but it also felt, for lack of a better word, genteel. And it is a gentle game, right?
I also found it much easier to carry copious quantities of water (it was the hottest day recorded in May in decades). While it was definitely more tiring than taking a caddy, it was nowhere close to how brutal it would have been had I carried my bag. On the flip side, the push cart does limit mobility somewhat. You’ve got to watch out for slopes and the routes you would take if you were just walking the fairways. Needless to say, the premium on finding the fairway off the tee becomes exponentially greater when you don’t have a lookout.
In case you are in the market for a push cart (and in India you can still buy one whereas these have pretty much sold out overseas). then be aware that there is a difference between a push cart—that has three wheels—and pull carts, that have two wheels.The former are popular with younger players but it’s all about personal preference. On golf trips overseas I’ve seen players use a variety of contraptions to get around the course. These include motorised push carts, electric cycles with bag holders, and even something akin to an electric long board with a place to put your bag. Companies like GolfBoards and Finn Scooters are suddenly seeing a rise in fortunes as more and more golfers become open to the idea of embracing an alternative form of on-course transportation.
From a social distancing standpoint these personal transport devices do make a lot of sense. There are no shared touch points and you can keep all the distance you want between your playing partners and you. That scores over the awkward plastic shields some courses have installed in golf carts to segregate players. Lighter than carts, these can be used on the fairways and parked closer to the greens, which does speed up play.
Golf style gurus are the only ones who’s been rolling their eyes at this new proliferation of what one told me resemble ‘prams’. Admittedly, it would take someone with the self assurance of a David Beckham in a sarong to pull (or push) a cart and look ‘cool.’ For me personally its not about style: readers who may have had the unfortunate experience of plunging into a pit bunker in a buggy would share my apprehension at using any of these. It’s surprisingly easy to break your neck on a golf course. I’d rather just risk a sore back.
Speed of play is quite relevant these days. That last bit is quite relevant: if you thought slow play was the bane on your course in a pre-Covid-19 world, then prepare for mayhem in a post-Covid one. Based on three rounds at three courses that I’ve had the opportunity to have in the past week, average times for weekday rounds are dangerously close to the four-hour mark. It’s not that players have suddenly become slower: our game has gone to pot!
Was it Jack Nicklaus who said that golf punishes those who don’t practice? This lockdown has taken the wheels off my game, and from the comical array of shots I’ve been seeing on the golf course, I’m hardly the only one with that affliction. But let me not be such a cynic. I mean, how much luckier are we golfers, than, say, footballers, or cricketers? Golf courses around the world have opened or are in the process of reopening. We can get back out there and play again. Happy days are here again.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game