Friday, January 1, 2010

The First Tee

Golf cannot be mastered, the saying goes. Participants can practice diligently, take lessons and study the countless golf magazines that promise to cut strokes from their readers' games, yet no one will ever shoot a perfect round. The lowest official score recorded in professional competition is 59, though a perfect score for 18 holes would be 18. Obviously, therefore, golf is a game of progress, not perfection.

This "pursuit of progress" has led me to create Golf As Therapy on this first day of 2010, since life is also a pursuit of progress, and I feel that I have become stagnant both in golf and in my life. I began playing golf at the age of 13, and I am now 45, yet based on my scores—in the last year, as high as 116—a person knowledgeable about golf might guess that I am relatively new to the game. And as for my life ...

It is accurate to say that I am not happy. Certainly, I've had moments of frivolity, periods of contentment and instances of hopefulness, of believing that circumstances could theoretically align themselves in such a way that I would believe that life predominantly consists of pain-free moments. But, so far, this belief is only theoretical.

The paradox implicit in my dour assessment of life is that I am a travel writer and photographer; nearly everyone who learns what I do for a living tells me that I have the greatest job in the world and dreams about abandoning his or her occupation for the chance to do what I do. And I am certainly not begrudging the fact that I get paid (albeit nowhere near princely sums) to participate in activities that others pursue on vacations: hiking, biking, skiing, fishing, hunting, rock climbing, hang gliding and, as often as possible, golfing. I write a monthly outdoors column, and I have experienced adventures that most athletic types would give up their health insurance to experience. To see some of my work, please visit:

More stagnancy and decline: I have lived in the same ho-hum apartment in Los Angeles for nearly 10 years; I am severely indebted; the 50 stories a year that I had had published in monthly publications the previous two years have dwindled to fewer than 30, the sullen economy shrinking advertising budgets and, in turn, pages of editorial, or killing magazines altogether; I have not completed either of the novels I've started, having stalled long ago on the magnum opus that was supposed to launch me into the literary statosphere (or at least allow me to stop writing for magazines that neither paid me well nor showed me any respect), and I have left Exit Wound, the detective story that was supposed to allow me to prove to myself that I could complete a novel, mouldering on the hard-drive of my computer, there to mock me silently every time I sit down to write another travel feature; and I have not had what I would call a healthy, supportive, inspiring relationship in 22 years. Maybe ever.

Since adventures are not love, and since a loveless life, however thrilling, will inevitably feel empty, at least to people who value and seek love as I do, I've decided to change, beginning with my golf game, then progressing, one stroke at a time, one day at a time and one blog entry at a time towards a healthy game and a happy life. I am, however, not deluded enough to think that if I were somehow to claw all the way down to scratch that I would be happy—since, afterall, golf is only a game, though one many of us are quite passionate about. I will, however, have worked at something daily, contemplated methods to improve, implemented them when I could and made progress towards a goal. My intention, of course, is to apply this same diligence to other aspects of my life—namely to writing, to sorting through the wreckage of my past and to establishing and maintaining a healthy, loving relationship—and perhaps then my pains will dissipate and life's bounties will become manifest, rather than theoretical.

I will now head to the Rancho Park 3-Par in West L.A, then will report back on my first round of this new year, the first round of the new me.

Yours in Progress,
18 Below

The first round of the new year began with a well-struck wedge to 12 feet from 98 yards; the birdie putt was too hard, but I made the par. Yet, with the exception of a few solid irons and one nice lob wedge to four feet, I played as poorly as I have in any of my dozen rounds on this course, shooting a 10-over-par 37. I didn't three putt, though, so I'm using that as my positive take-away from Day One.

Now I will begin to read Harvey Penick's Little Red Book, then exercise, then write a magazine column, then wade back into Exit Wound. Of course, this plan is only theoretical.


  1. Hey Bruce,
    This is great stuff. I'm forwarding this to my cousin, the golfer-dude in Ontario who proclaims golf is 'his church'.

    I do believe you're onto something here. Keep at it. One foot in front of the other...

  2. This blog actually makes me think about exploring the game of golf. Other than miniature golf, I have had absolutely no interest in the sport. But, maybe following your blog posts might change that. Keep writing!

  3. Hey 18 Below,

    It's been reported that Tiger has cost the game of golf and its sponsors some $11 billion. So, it's up to you to help the sport get back on its feet and you're off to a good start with your blog. Who knows? This could be the sequel of Eat, Pray, Love with Smile,Swing,Follow-Through. Best of luck to you with all of your New Year endeavors.