Friday, February 25, 2011

Flogton – “Alternative Golf” or “Golf for Dummies”?

“Flogton” is an “alternative form of golf”  dreamt up by a consortium of Silicon Valley wunderkinds calling themselves the Alternative Golf Association. The group includes Scott McNealy, one of the co-founders of the former computer software/hardware giant Sun Microsystems and a 3-handicap who should know better – he apparently doesn’t have enough to do now that Sun has been bought out by Oracle Corporation, leaving him with a lot of time, and money, on his hands.

Flogton (“not golf” spelled backwards – clever, eh?) is touted as “… the golf equivalent for (sic) what snowboarding has been to skiing – an exciting option that can energize those frustrated with the old sport and attract an entirely new audience, yet settle into a value-added existence with the existing participants and venues.” (That little mission statement scores 3 on my Buzzword Bingo score card – what did you get?) What “Flogton” actually is, is a dumbed-down perversion of the game of golf.

The stated mission of the Alternative Golf Association is to “… return innovation and invention to the sport and encourage a style of play that stresses performance over conformance.” The AGA decries USGA rules as “conformance”, but their idea of “performance” includes:
  • One mulligan per hole, any shot – play the best ball
[Old joke: An American went to Scotland and played a round of golf with a Scotsman he had just met. After a bad tee shot, the American played a mulligan which was an extremely good shot. He then asked the Scot, “What do you call a mulligan in Scotland?” The Scot replied, “We call it hitting three.”]
  • Six-foot bump, any hole – move your ball up to six feet (no closer to the hole) to get out of trouble, like out of a bunker
  • No OB, any shot – drop in the rough at the edge of the fairway, one-shot penalty
  • 3rd-putt gimmes – 3rd putt is good, no more than three putts on a hole
But wait, it gets worse:
  • Lubricate – Apply lubricant (Vaseline, etc.) or low-friction face material to driver face; reduces spin, correcting hook or slice
  • Tee up – tee the ball up anywhere but on the green
  • Change balls – change ball during play of a hole to use optimum ball for required shot
  • Hazard bump – remove ball from any bunker or red-or yellow-staked hazard area, replace no closer to hole
  • Gimme putts – any putt “inside the leather” is good
Their other ideas include such fun-loving innovations as requiring one throw per hole and tripling the diameter of the cup (un-be-liev-able!). 

Remember that Kenny Mayne commercial for the Top-Fite Gamer – their low-cost, 3-piece golf ball? The one where he’s asking this guy questions out on the course to see if he’s a “gamer” (and therefore worthy of playing the “Gamer” golf ball)?

Kenny: “Winter rules?”
Golfer: “Cheating.”
Kenny: “Gimmes?”
Golfer: “Make the putt!”
Kenny starts to hand the guy a Gamer, then hesitates and asks one last question:
Kenny: “Mulligans?”
[Golfer gives Kenny a dirty look]
Kenny hands the Golfer a Gamer, then turns to look off-camera and says, “I think we’ve got our guy!”

That’s what golf is about – learning the game, playing it correctly. Golf is about aspiring to be better – to keeping it in the fairway, hitting greens, and sinking putts – not “do-overs”, picking up out of trouble, or greasing the club face to compensate for a lack of skill. 

Remember that line from Tin Cup? “A tuning fork goes off in your heart and your (vitals) – such a pure feeling is the well-struck golf shot.” That’s what golf is about.

Remember the feeling the first time you pured a mid-iron shot close to the flag on a par-3 and rolled the putt in for a two? That’s what golf is about. 

Remember the first time you got on in regulation, from the fairway, on a long par four or a par five (of any length) and two-putted for a regulation par? That’s what golf is about.



The satisfaction of golf comes from improving your skills and lowering your score – not from lowering the standards of the game. Where is the satisfaction in picking up out of trouble, dropping in a clean lie, and putting close to the hole – good enough? Slamming a high fade 240 yards around the corner on a dogleg right, 498-yard par 5, nailing a 225-yard 3-wood to the edge of an elevated green – on in two! – what sensation beats that? Even if you don’t make the 65-foot eagle putt, or the birdie putt (OK, I admit it… but I made the par putt – it was my first five on a par 5), would it feel as good, as right, if you got there by hitting a hot ball off the tee with a greased club face and teeing it up in the fairway? I don’t think so. 

Just learning? Play easier courses, play nine hole courses, play pitch-and-putts. One of my favorite local municipal courses, Santa Teresa Golf Club in San José, CA, includes a par-27, nine-hole short course that is interesting and challenging – hole lengths ranging from 76 yards to 132 yards, water in play on five of the nine holes, and greens with slope and undulations that allow a range of hole positions from easy to difficult. It’s a great short game workout, but no walkover – and it’s walk-on play, $11 weekdays, $15 weekends. Hit from the grass in the tee boxes (as I do) and it’s like playing nine holes with every shot but the drive, and the approach shots on par 5s – a great way to strengthen your short game. (My favorite hole on Shortie? The 124-yard 4th – elevated tee box, big eucalyptus tree intruding on the left, water right, water long, bunkers left and right front. Hold a high soft shot into the left-to-right breeze that’s threatening to drown your tee ball, over that big overhanging branch of the eucalyptus, right to the center of the green  – that’s a moment you’ll remember like your first kiss… )

Slicing or hooking the ball? Use the harder-cover balls for high-handicappers – they spin less so they hook or slice less, and they’re less expensive too, so less traumatic to lose; take a lesson; improve your skills. There is a word for employing antics like picking up, teeing up, or tricking out your clubs with plastic faces or Vaseline to reduce spin from mis-hits – cheating.

Watching the PGA and LPGA pros on TV can give a beginning golfer an inferiority complex, but if you play within your game you will have fun; try to duplicate theirs and you will just get frustrated. Leave the driver in the bag for the narrower fairways and hit the more accurate 3-wood, or a hybrid, off the tee (even the pros do that sometimes – it’s just that their standards for “wide” and “narrow” differ from ours), lay up instead of trying to cut the corner, use a bump-and-run up on to the green instead of the more difficult chip shot. As you get better, well, go ahead and pull the “Big Dog” and bomb it sometimes – when you pull it off it will make your day.

Besides their teardown of the playing standards of the game, the AGA folks decry the stuffy, country-club atmosphere of private golf courses (though some of the AGA’s founders are rich enough to own their own country clubs, let alone join one) with “no jeans” rules and other genteel restrictions. Courses like that are the exception anymore – and folks who belong to clubs like that want to be there anyway. There are plenty of easier-going semi-private or public courses where dress codes are relaxed – or non-existent – and muni hackers by the thousands are having fun playing them every weekend all across the country, so that’s no argument.

The AGA also whine about the complex rules of golf, but the basics are simple: Play the course as you find it, and the ball as it lies – and when in doubt, take relief and add a stroke to your score. The more complex stuff is for tournament play (or when there’s money on the game) so don’t sweat it.

The AGA folks pitch their concept to golfers on the basis of having more fun on the golf course, and to course owners on the basis of attracting more players to their courses. They contend that the difficulty of the game is driving players away, and while there have been a lot of high-end courses built by ego-stroking course architects in the last couple of decades which aspire to grandeur and eye-watering levels of difficulty, there are still plenty of playable, affordable courses in this country. You have to be pretty far out in the sticks not to be within range of a decent muni course in the USA: find one, take a lesson, hit the range, play the course as you find it and within the rules – and have fun. Play with friends, or make friends when you play, and as you play more and your game improves your level of satisfaction and feelings of achievement will increase too – and you will laugh at the AGA clowns and their “goofy golf” concept.

And if golf finally defeats you, and you just can’t hack it, what then? Well, you can always take up tennis…

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