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East Coast golf courses need to get over their self-important selves

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

Anyone who's ever moved into the East Coast corridor from more bumpkin surroundings (say Chicago) knows what a transforming experience it can be. It isn't long before you're darting in and out of 75 mph congested turnpike traffic like the rest of the locals, cursing out the timid fool with the Florida plates. It isn't much longer before even the most glacial of eaters is forging a pace that Takeru Kobayashi, that world hot dog chomping champion from Japan, would appreciate.

Hurriedness isn't in the DNA here. It's in the air, the water and the concrete. It's going to seep into your system no matter how laid back a person you think you are.

Which isn't all a bad thing. It's sort of amusing to go back to the Midwest and suddenly notice that your friends and family all seem to be clutching the side door handle every time you're behind the wheel. Everyone deserves to be introduced to the simple joys of a New Jersey left (flooring it to turn left before the oncoming traffic realizes the light's gone green). Like that grandmother from Detroit wasn't going to have a heart attack anyways.

Yet when it comes to golf, this easily-adopted, ever-present East Coast attitude is as annoying as the one guy on the Newark airport moving walkway who thinks it's a moving standway.

Golf is supposed to provide an escape from everyday life. Including the attitude and mores of turnpike life. Too many East Coast golf courses brim with the self-important condescension of a trendy NoLIta (fancy New York term for north of Little Italy) restaurant. It's super-serious, stone-faced sentries standing behind clubhouse counters acting like they're doing you a favor by agreeing to take your money.

A friend recently plunked down $180 at a decent New Jersey club for a round for him and his wife. When he asked not to be paired with another twosome on a slow Monday because his wife was a relative beginner who still got nervous playing with strangers, the pro rolled his eyes. He didn't even bother to try and hide it.

Look, if you're too cool for the room, get out of the golf business. This isn't the stage for a bunch of pricks who want to play that David Spade receptionist from 1990s Saturday Night Live. It's golf. Rumor is, it's supposed to be fun. For the golfer.

Just because people are packed on top of one nother on the East Coast and your tee time sheet is jammed doesn't give you the freedom to treat your customers like numbers. If anything East Coast courses should be even more grateful and accommodating considering what golfers have to go through around here to get in their rounds. Chances are they've been stuck in traffic, harried and harassed. Imagine being the stock broker who's logged 80 hours a week at Cantor Fitzgerald telling his wife he wants to spend six hours at the golf course away from her and the kids on Sunday.

Every round is precious to that guy. He deserves to be treated according.

Instead a recent month-long tour of East Coast courses, backed up by eight years of living and golfing here, revealed treatment that bordered on the comically bad. At Rocky Point, a Baltimore County public course that overlooks the Chesapeake Bay, an attendant screamed at his customers not to talk to a reporter. The customers crime? Daring to talk on a day when the garbage cans on the course overflowed. Later, the Rocky Point employee tried to explain it away by saying it was a corporate mandate. A corporate mandate to be a jerk?

The average golfer's sick of courses in this multinational, cross-ownership age hiding behind "corporate mandates.'' You're representing the course, you're the corporation that day. Don't tell the guy who paid good money for a torn up course that looks like it received its last visit from a professional groundskeeper when The Moonwalk was still all the rage that you'd love to give a refund but that unfortunately has to go through "corporate."

No excuses, just provide the service.

At Cannon Ridge, a Deane Beman-designed course between D.C. and Richmond on I-95, I watched a golfer who could apply for sainthood calmly cat nap in his cart as he waited in an endless line on the first tee. The guy left work early hoping to get in 18 and get back onto the road before the Washington Beltway turned into its usual rush hour sitstill. Instead, he got a starter joking about the huge group of junior players ahead of him.

Don't overbook your course just because you can. And if it is...here's a tough one...stop taking additional reservations!

East Coast courses have so much to offer, from breathtaking views to historic tracks to outstanding teachers. Unfortunately, too many golf visitors only remember the snotty, shoddy service they received. And don't give me that tired if they only took the time to know the real New Yorkers line.

You're a golf course worker. Your gruffness is not an endearing character trait, it's plain rudeness.

Maybe, I'll run into the clueless mope in the Toyota I cut off three times in traffic later in a Hoboken bar and discover he's really a great guy. From you, I just want service without the attitude.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Bad Attitude

    George Gallo wrote on: Oct 27, 2004

    Boy does your story hit it on the head. One Sunday morning I played a round at Hominy Hills in Colt's Neck, NJ. This is a very highly rated COUNTY course. In my foursome was a friend who is physically challanged. Prior to starting we were told it was cartpath only even for him. As we played a foursome behind us caught up and we let them play through. Several holes later we allowed another to play through. A few holes later a ranger came up and started to scream at my friend to drive the F***ing cart onto the course and not be an A**hole. When we tried to speak to the manager after the round, which by the way we finished in 4:15 even letting 2 groups play through and at the end we were 2 holes ahead of the next foursome, we were told she was not there and that the guy was a former Correction officer and he didn't mean anything. The next day I called the county office and was told both my friend and myself would receive a letter of appology. Well I am still waiting for the letter. The manager called and told she was there that day and did not know why her staff lied. Again a promise of a letter of apology and I am still waiting. It is a shame but in Monmouth county they still have not come to terms with the ADA or common respect.


  • Generalizations??

    Ed B wrote on: Oct 26, 2004

    So every golf course on the east coast is like this? I think your attempt to arouse responses from easteners is too transparent. I have played courses from Florida to New Hampshire and not found any consistent attitude on the part of golf course staff. Weak article.


  • Attitudes of the Elite

    Pat R. wrote on: Oct 26, 2004

    The bad attitudes of golf vendors at courses in the Northeast are not only at the exclusive clubs, but often accompany most private and semi-private clubs as well, as if the course is not required to follow the rules that all businesses open to the public must follow. Just because it's golf doesn't mean that the environment must be rooted in the elitist attitudes that formed its origins. Like any other sport with a requirement of facilities in order to play, the game and the businesses that offer a location to play it should serve its customers with the respect any other business is expected to offer without having to sacrifice the game or the logistics of its time constraints. Many courses are neither family friendly nor women friendly, adding to the impression that it remains a male-oriented activity in a male-only environment like the Elk club, in effect, turning the playing experience into an insult that one must pay dearly for. With that attitude, who needs it? It's no wonder that golf revenue is down. It's not just logistics and demographics. It's also attitude for many!


  • East Coast courses

    Nick Aramino wrote on: Oct 26, 2004

    You're right on, Chris; but it's not just the northeast, and its not just on the golf course or in teh clubhouse -- it's everywhere. Golf used to be considered gentleman's game; but it seems there are few gentleman left -- running the courses or playing on them. It's an entire "in-your-face" culture with no regard or value placed on the customer.
    My wife and I own 2 fitness clubs. Our membership fee is $29 a month -- about what you'd pay here for one round of golf. We treat our members and visitors like gold -- and it pays off. It is why we are so successful in a very competitive business. Too bad more businesses see to have forgotten that what goes around comes around.


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