Date: September 07, 2015
Author: Tom Fee

The world is a golf course

When you're a child, the world is your golf course.

My favourite photo of my childhood is a picture taken of my brother and I playing a course we created at Bernier Island, a deserted island 50km off the coast of Carnarvon in Western Australia.

During rest breaks on our long family road trips, we would stretch our legs and smash gumnuts into the vast acres of nothingness that stretches along WA's North-West Coastal Highway.

But when we moved to Perth for boarding school, it all ended. Golf, I thought at the time, was just too expensive on those fancy grass green courses.

Thankfully, golf had only cost me $10 a year at my hometown club. And anyone wanting to learn the game was given free lessons by the greenskeeper.

Carnarvon Golf Club was more than just rough around the edges — and a certain level of golf fanaticism was necessary to keep you coming back.

Carnarvon is more "sand course" than "sand greens course". Everything from the greens to the fairways to the rough was sand. Even the lone "water" hazard on the 12th was sand, barring some freak act of nature.

The golfers were covered in it, too. You would come home thinking you had developed an incredible golfer's tan only to see most of it wash away in the shower.

With nothing but dirt to hit off, we didn't just have a club-length preferred lie on the fairway, but the added luxury of teeing up. Ironically, because of the lack of official bunkers (we contested that the whole course was one) the course had an easy rating of 69, and the CCR was slashed to 67 with teeing up in place.

As a short-hitting junior, Carnarvon's length made it anything but easy. The insanely low CCR inflated my handicap to levels of banditry never before seen.

I cleared 50 stableford points twice. My first came the first time I broke into double-figures with a 90 off the stick. The other came in a 4BBB event — but since I scored on every hole, the handicapper saw a chance to step in and put an end to the madness.

Lowering my handicap meant everything thanks to an almost unhealthy sibling rivalry. Name a sport and my brother would be defeat me in a variety of soul-destroying ways. He would switch to batting left-handed and still score backyard hundreds against me. And years of professional tennis coaching still failed to get me to a standard better than the natural talent of my casual-playing brother.

Golf gave me my only quantifiable victory. When we left Carnarvon for the big smoke, the board in the clubhouse confirmed my status as No.1.

Fee, T. 14.
Fee, J. 15.

To add to the rivalry, we bet a sleeve of Optima balls on the first to reach a single-figure handicap. Sadly, neither us of kept playing, so I imagine Mum used them as she raided the mountains of prize balls we left behind.

In Perth, the golf courses seemed like another world in comparison to our sandy upbringings. When I arrived at boarding school, I decided to save my money and focus on tennis, proceeding to waste my savings on a $350 racquet with that was "on sale" from $500.

That's 56 hours of trolley pushing at $6.20 an hour to buy something that was promptly stolen from my room. At least I didn't waste it on a golf membership, right?

Well, if I had bothered to look I would have found that $350 could have gone to two or more years of membership at Hartfield Country Club, just five minutes away from my school. Even now their juniors pay just $230 a year.

These prices are no anomaly with golf one of the most affordable sports for kids to play in Australia.

Now I work in golf, I bemoan the unfair stereotypes that hurt our game — and regret my ardent belief in them in my younger years.

Now I know better, I'm back into club golf.

Memberships at 29 might cost more than as a junior, but I still was able to take advantage of one of the many youth discounts on offer.

Thanks to a newly developed slice, my handicap is back into bandit territory. And there's nothing like the highs and lows of handicap golf.

It's addictive and I feel like a kid all over again, except with less sand.

It's well known in the golf industry that family pressures are a catalyst to golfers giving up the game, but from my experience nothing brought our family closer together than golf.

Every weekend, without fail, we would go to a course together — sometimes driving five hours to Geraldton just so we could play on grass.

Now we live on various corners of the globe, but golf chat dominates our phone calls and messages.

Mum enjoyed our conversations so much that she once bought me a year's worth of Foxtel so we could still watch golf together, even though we're 1000km apart.

In my first round back as an official golfer, it was appropriate that I was paired with a mother and son. Where else would you find a teenage boy willingly spend four hours of his weekend with his mum?

Golf now has some added benefits I never considered in my junior years. It's such a release to be able escape the pressures of the city while on the golf course, and the friendly "everyone knows each other" nature of the clubhouse is a godsend in a world that is increasingly isolating.

With all of this newfound space and community spirit, it's almost like I'm back in the country.

This is how I "Rediscovered my Drive" for Golf Month.

Of all the great activities going on this October, it's Exmouth's Annual Joe Facey Memorial & Open Day that interests me most.

Joe was that Carnarvon greenskeeper who coached me for free just to help grow junior membership. His family will head up for the day to celebrate — another sign of golf bringing people together.

Joe gave me my first set of clubs — an incredible set of persimmon graphite irons and woods. For six months, he held back on giving me anything above the 5-iron, meaning that club became overused to an extent where I had to have the head reattached.

No advancement in modern technology will ever create a club that will feel as good in my hand as that 5-iron.

Sadly that club is long gone, as is my ability to shoot under 90.

But I still have the goal to beat my brother to single-figures.

Golf is the game for life, so I've got plenty of time to get there.