New England Golf – A Unique Culture

Last week, over the Independence Day Holiday, we had occasion to visit New England and spend time with our new daughter-in-law’s family.  Being the ultimate golf explorer, I of course took the opportunity to sample the local/regional golf offerings and added 3 new courses to my “resume”.

These layouts in Western Massachusetts and Vermont clearly demonstrated to me the differences in “golf culture” between the different regions of our great country, and beyond.  Not only does the geography provide for differences in the style of the golf course, but the atmosphere can be dramatically different.

We all know that golf in sunbelt regions is typically played using golf carts at courses with large and ornate clubhouses and hotels.  Many facilities have a “golf factory” feel to them and there is a focus on volume of play and sheperding play around the course.  In many major metropolitan areas golf comes in various forms.  The private clubs often focus on walking the course, having captains of local business and industry as members and maintaining club traditions, in a “hushed” environment, often with numerous rules relating to dress codes, cell phone use and other issues.  Golf courses at these clubs are normally precisely manicured for the most perfect playing conditions.  By contrast, the daily-fee and municipal courses in these areas exhibit considerable economic, ethnic and racial diversity in their patrons and golf course playing conditions that are often less than ideal.  It’s also not uncommon to see a variety of “homemade” golf swings that produce good results that would be rare to find in the more polished environments of most private clubs.

I’ve visited golf courses in the farmlands of America’s heartland where nothing more than a sign on the mailbox at the first tee requested players to voluntarily deposit their (very modest) green fee on the honor system and those in other areas where one can’t tee off without showing the starter their green fee receipt.  In New England annual membership at the clubs we visited can be had for less than $2,000 for an individual and under $3,000 for a family.

What I experienced last week in New England was a unique mix of golfing culture often found in Scotland.  Two of the clubs I visited were private, but like Scotland seemed much more welcoming to a limited amount of public play, even if not publicized.  The courses were in very playable condition, if not manicured to the point of perfection and the clubhouses were comfortable and warm, if not impressive and overdone.  There were players carrying their bags, pushing and pulling trolleys (and motorized trolleys) and riding carts.  I didn’t see any caddies.

While golf in Scotland is an integral part of the fabric of their society, golf in New England seems much less important while at the same time being equally as simple, casual and unpretentious.  At first sight, it would be hard to differentiate the corporate executive from the hourly worker, and I even encountered a world class, hall of fame athlete whom I would’ve never recognized had he not spoken and I had not played golf with him some years ago.

Golf in New England is simple, refreshing and quite enjoyable.  There are often some “quirky” holes and in the simple and unspoiled atmosphere of New England golf you find yourself embracing that rather than being critical.  In each case the surrounding mountains and scenery were most pleasing and the quality of the golf experience excellent.  What was most enjoyable was the culture.  It was relaxed, comfortable and all about having fun.  I’ve often felt that golf needs more of that and I hope to see it more often as I visit more clubs around the country.