By Jay Mason
“Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an even smaller hole, with weapons singularly ill-designed for the purpose.” – Winston Churchill
I never played golf until I was 40 years old. Since I am now addicted, I wish I had started earlier. I might be better now, but that is very difficult to predict. I thought golf was a stupid game and could not see the attraction. Then I made a par or hit a really good shot and realized that there was more to this game than I imagined.
You learn a lot about yourself and others when you play golf. The first thing you realize is that there are rules that govern the game. Sometimes among friends the rules are relaxed, but the basic rules apply. Everyone has ample opportunity to break the rules, and someone who does that routinely is not often asked to play with the group again. Golf is a difficult game, and you learn about how much patience you and your fellow golfers have during the course of the match. If you are continually mad about your game, you also might not be asked to play the next time around. Golf is a game where little things matter. A small change to your grip or swing of the club can make a big difference. It is a microcosm of life. You are supposed to play the ball where it lies; that is difficult for some golfers and difficult in life.
Golf is played around the world and golf courses can be very beautiful. Most golf course designers try to preserve the local environment and build the course around it. Recently I played a course in Nashville, The Hermitage, where the swamp upon which it was built is still there. There were families of turtles basking on the rocks in the ponds, and if you didn’t hit your ball in the fairway, it would go into what we called the holler, which you would look into but would not walk into for fear of snakes or other animals. In the Southwest it is not uncommon to have golf courses that preserve natural areas. This approach is environmentally sound and rewards golfers who stay in the fairway. It also makes golf course construction more affordable since less fairway is required. In any event it is relaxing to be in a naturally beautiful setting trying to master a course and hit the ball in the fairway toward the green.
The most beautiful golf course that I have seen but not played is Pebble Beach in Monterey, California. I was in Monterey and had the chance to play for free but said no. I did not play golf at the time. I still kick myself for that decision. It now costs more than $600 to play 18 holes of golf there. It borders the Pacific Ocean and is one of the most beautiful courses on earth.
One of the most beautiful courses that I have played is Bighorn near Palm Springs, California. Every hole was immaculately sculptured, and it appeared to be an oasis in the desert. The native flora and fauna were seen as well. We had to use a forecaddie, and he would tell each of us where we should hit or putt the ball. I was not always able to do so, but it was fun to try.
But the most hospitable place to play is near Gallup at Coyote del Malpais in Grants, New Mexico. Manny Rodriguez and his wife, Julie, run the clubhouse, which has a pro shop and restaurant. They welcome you to the course as if you are visiting them at their home. Since Gallup’s golf course is in such bad shape, most golfers travel to Grants to play golf. After the game is over, you can sit down in a friendly atmosphere and enjoy good food and good company. I understand the new Mayor of Grants is trying to get rid of Manny and bring in a private management company to run the course. Grants does not have too many attractions, and it would be a shame to lose one of its best.
Now let’s talk about our golf course. Even though the City has tried to maintain the course, there is not much left to maintain. After many years of band-aids, it is time for a new course. Several families have offered to donate the land if the City wanted to build at a new location. If that is not desired, the current location needs to be shut down, a new drainage system installed and new topsoil brought in to replace the current soil, which is beyond repair. The golf course uses effluent water that would otherwise be released into the Rio Puerco. The USGA (United States Golf Association) estimates that a new golf course costs on average between $1.6 to $4.5 million dollars to build and $383,819 to maintain annually.* We spend more than that on maintenance right now. Let’s put our money to better use. We are that talented in Gallup, New Mexico.
Golf is not just a game for old white men; some of the best golfers in our region are Native American. I am sure they would come back to our course when it is rebuilt. The First Tee program has reached out to thousands of young people in the United States and has instilled values that those children carry in to their adult lives. In addition, as we develop Gallup, a good golf course is a necessity to attract new people and tourists to town. People fly to Albuquerque and drive to Farmington just to play Pinon Hills golf course owned by the City of Farmington. There is no reason that we cannot do the same thing in Gallup, and those same golfers can come here on their way back to the airport. Surely we are as clever and creative as Farmington and Grants. So let’s quit talking and do something positive for Gallup – Let’s build a new course or fix the one that we have. Golf is a game played by all ages, and we need to continue to improve the quality of life in Gallup.
* “Building and Maintaining the Truly Affordable Golf Course,” USGA website, 2014.