When The Circus Comes To Town

There is an energy that gets generated when the circus comes to town. 

The pristine, natural settings of gorgeous golf courses become transformed by the high energy required to host a major golf tournament. Dozens of grandstands need to be erected—some more elaborate and complicated than others—and then cleaned. The large, spreading, white hospitality tents need to be staked into the ground and popped into the air. Someone has to surround them with the little white picket fences. 

The merchandise pavilions need to be erected and stocked with hundreds of thousands of dollars of hats, visors, shirts, sweatshirts and other golf attire and souvenirs. 

All of the television broadcast booths and camera towers need to be erected, anchored and draped in green to mask the scaffolding. Miles of yellow ropes need to be strung to let the galleries know what’s okay and what’s not. Hundreds of plastic trash bags need to be strung up on metal braces to give them somewhere to throw stuff away. And you have to feed them: primary and remote food and beverage courts need to be positioned throughout the grounds. And, of course, hundreds of portable toilets discretely tucked away and screened. 

The big, electronic score boards need to be installed and tested. Miles of electrical wiring and television cable needs to be strung along the ground in a way that it is unlikely to interfere with play. 

All of the satellite parking lots need to be prepared, the pickup spots designated with signs and a fleet of buses chartered.  The arrival areas at the course need to be organized to make it easy for the buses to get in and out and make clear to the patrons how to find their way back to their cars. 

And all of this gets animated by legions of volunteers who work for the tournament in return for access to it, tournament staff and logistics golf carts purposefully whirring around, smells from the grills wafting into the air. 

It is an amazing thing to see a golf course transformed by the circus—if you’ve never been, you should go at least once—and then become a thriving, living organism as the gallery clogs the pathways, fills the stands and lines the ropes. And it is just as amazing to play on it, not only because of the newly erected façade, but for its immaculate, tournament conditioning too. 

The greens have all been double cut and rolled—cut the night before, rolled flat with a heavy roller and cut again in the morning. The fairways have all been mown, divots filled with sand and smoothed over. The rough has been cut to a uniform length. Golf courses prepared for a big time tournament look like meticulous, impeccable grass gardens. 

All sparse areas of grass have been circled with white lines, the designation for “ground under repair;” free drop if you want it. All of the ponds, lakes and water features (water hazards) that you have to play over have short yellow stakes to identify them and have been circled with yellow lines on the grass. Those portions of the ponds, lakes and water features that you have to play by have red stakes to identify them and have been marked with red lines. The outer boundaries of the golf course have been identified with white stakes. There is no doubt whether your ball is in or out of the water hazards, on or off the golf course. 

The first tee has a tent with Tour officials dispensing official score cards, tees, hole location sheets, rules sheets and announcements. There are snacks in baskets and water and energy drinks in coolers. Walkie talkies occasionally crackle quietly in the hands of the tournament officials—they speak back into them in hushed tones. The group in front of you is out in the fairway. The group in back of you is just minutes behind. The gallery surrounds the tee to watch the show. 

This is the big time. 

Now the thirty players playing in the Tour Championship this week have been at this so long they don’t even notice it anymore, except perhaps, peripherally. The circus is set up for them to easily navigate to the players’ parking lot, into the locker room, over to the range and out onto the course. 

But one thing they instinctively know for sure: this isn’t the same as being all across the country beating balls on the ranges at their home courses. 

(Portions of this post are excerpts from my forthcoming book, Going For It! A Spiritual Adventure on the Champions Tour.)

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