Touched by fire!

Gregg Patterson is on a mission to show the glorious golfing game in a completely new light. Here he shares the mission, the passion and the journey.

I’m a Deficient. I’m a terrible golfer. I prefer nine holes to 18, lots of talk to lots of silence, lots of laughter to lots of groan, larger holes to smaller, three clubs to 14. A Deficient. I enjoy spending two hours on the course laughing and joking and tossing balls out of bunkers then two hours in the clubhouse sipping pints and talking to My Buds about life and love and The Journey toward The Big Abyss. I never golf alone. I don’t spend hours perfecting my shots on the practice range. I never pay the big bucks to play the great courses.

But ‘Club’ – which is the beating, pulsing heart of The Country Club Experience – has been my business for decades, my drug of choice, my daily high,the love of my life. I’m addicted – deeply and hopelessly impassioned about The Relationships, The Community and The Stuff that makes ‘Club’ a joyous must-have life experience.

But in spite of my Big Love for Club, I’m A Deficient, one of those managers who’s ‘done good’ in The Bizz, could ‘talk the golf talk’ but lacked Big Buzz for the ‘I’m serious about my game, the score and where I play’ golf enthusiast’s golf experience. I can yak about irrigation, pin placement, mowers and sharpening machines. I can talk about the history of the club and make member feel good about playing the game. But…I’m a Deficient. I lacked Big Buzz. I wasn’t Touched by Fire. I had the Yak but none of the heat.

The Journey to Buzzdom
I, The Deficient, at the tail end of my career, wanted to be bathed in The Golf Adventure and to experience The Romance. I wanted to feel The Buzz, to embrace The Heat and be Touched by Fire. Then lightning struck.

My good friend from Scotland, Kevin Fish, who is an experienced and accomplished golfer (he can shoot PAR on a North Berwick links course!), a Big Cheese Educator with the CMAE and Scottish Golf, wanted to give me ‘the eyes to see’ the game the way enthusiasts see it, to touch my psyche and light my fire. He knew I, like millions of other ‘no golf for me’ types inside and outside of club management, could ignite and burn for the game if the proper spark was provided to their psychic tinder.

And in his Basket of Answers, he had The Spark! “Why don’t you attend our five day, CMAE sponsored Management Development Programme here in Scotland at St. Andrews,” he said, “and see if you get The Buzz for The Game after a week of deep immersion in the magic of golf?”

St. Andrews. The Home of Golf!
Scotland. The Home of Scotch!
Scotland. The Home of Haggis!
Scotland. The Home of ‘Let’s Have a Pint With The Lads’!

Why not? So I signed up, albeit skeptically. Five days in Scotland. At the home of golf. Primed for serious ‘debriefings’ with The Lads at the local Fyfe and Whistle.

Touched by Fire
Kev picked me up at the airport in Edinburgh and during our drive to St. Andrews he delivered a proper upbrief in preparation for The Experience. History. Heroes. Hysteria.

We arrived at The Home of Golf. The town of St. Andrews was grey and stoney and ancient and reserved and everything you’d imagine a Scots town to be. A golf town and a university town. Historic. Romantic. Old.

We located ourselves at the classic two-hundred year-old hotel on the 18th fairway with a view of the ocean and a vast sandy beach. After a warm-up networking opportunity with The Students in the hotel pub, I was primed and energized for a week of ‘going deep’ into the game of golf.

The attendees were an interesting collection from all over the world. Some were from up-the road in Scotland, some from the States, some from Europe and some from the Middle-East. Some were short, some tall, some wide, some narrow. Some were golf skeptics like me, wanting to get The Buzz they didn’t have. Some were serious hard-core golf enthusiasts who were on a pilgrimage to The Home of Golf. But we were all connected, in search of The Fire.

The programme was designed for dumb-as-a rock ‘Not Yet Touched by The Fire’ club managers like me. Workshops with reps from the Royal and Ancient (R&A) on the science of agronomy, the rating system for courses, the wildlife that flourishes on the course, on the evolution of The Rules, of tourneys and equipment testing. Behind the scenes visits to the training center, the R&A Clubhouse and to the Golf Museum. Long talks with a world class club fitter at the Training Centre. Into the bunkers and watching the greens keepers build bunkers like no bunkers I’d ever seen. Wandering the Old Course like a local with dogs and kids and lots of talk. Onto the vast sand beach where Chariots of Fire was filmed. Pubbing in town, yapping where Nicholas and Trevino and Palmer went pubbing. Lots of connecting and reflecting with people who’d made The Journey and wanted to experience the magical side of the golf adventure.

And everywhere in town, on the course, in the pubs and at the university, there seemed to be a subdued ‘We’re Scots’ buzz about the place and the game and the country. I was shown The Golf Experience as I’d never seen it before. By the end of the week I was a poet of putting and a hopeless romantic in love with the place, the game, the technology and the traditions of golf. I was finally Touched By FIRE!

On the plane back to the States, I began pondering why I’d been touched by The St. Andrews Experience. After three glasses of on-board vino, The Big Five sprang to mind.

First, it connected me, A Deficient, with the romance of the sport – The Old Course, The Traditions, The History, The Monuments to the game (and St. Andrews is a Monument to the game with a capital M).

Second, it gave me, A Deficient, insights into the technology of ‘doing golf’ – whether it be rules, agronomy, club design or mowing machines.

Third, it gave me, A Deficient, an opportunity to talk to, listen to and experience The Buzz from the deep specialists of golf.

Fourth, it gave me, A Deficient, lots of time for beer and bull with other students of the industry who wanted to be Touched By Fire. 

Fifth, and lastly, it gave me, A Deficient, a deeper understanding of The Business of Golf so I’d be in the conversation when pros or greenskeepers or industry consultants spoke about the machinery side of The Golf Experience.

The summing up then; the MDP at St. Andrews was an enlarging and enriching experience. Big stuff for an old geeker – A Deficient- like me.

Stoking the Fire
I’m still a terrible golfer. I’m still a ‘two hours on the course and two hours in the bar’ type of player. Traditionalists and high octane ‘in my mind I should be a pro’ club champions still give me The Look, The Smile and The Chuckle when they stoop to speak to me, as if I was a lower form of animal life.

But I’ve discovered that there are LOTS of ‘we want to be touched by The FIRE’ would-be golf enthusiasts types like me out there in the marketplace, primed to make golf part of a richer, more rewarding life. We who want to deliver The Joy of The Game to the Masses need to focus less on par and more on The Romance of Course, The Poetry of Play and the Pyramid of Technology.

I’m on a Mission now to give the non-golfing world a new set of eyes, to show them The Game in a way that makes Par inconsequent and rules irrelevant,that conveys the soothing glories of grass, wind and fresh air, that encourages a closer look at the complexity of course design, grass types, drainage quirks and the glory of that one good shot in four hours of play. So, the MDP touched me with The Fire and gave me The Buzz. It taught me to look deep, see the poetry, embrace the romance and to enjoy the journey!

Article published in Clubhouse Europe issue 11