The Spirit of Golf & Life is Alive & Well at the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open!

The 18th hole at En Joie looks like a mini Valley of Opportunity especially during the DSGO! Photo Credit: DSGO

The 18th hole at En Joie looks like a mini Valley of Opportunity especially during the DSGO! Photo Credit: DSGO

I grew up here in the Valley of Opportunity which was actually the valleys of two rivers—the Susquehanna and the Chenango—that merged and from where then city of Binghamton (1834), then Johnson City (1892), and finally Endicott (1906)—our Triple Cities! Most recently you may have been introduced to the Greater Binghamton Area, also known as Broome and Tioga Counties, in the 2014 romantic comedy movie The Rewrite starring Hugh Grant, Marisa Tomei, Allison Janney, and J.K. Simmons. It’s home to me in spirit and in reality for a quarter of a million people where the Spirit of Golf & Life is alive and well, as exemplified by this year’s 10th annual Dick’s Sporting Goods Open (DSGO) on the Champions Tour and previously by the 36 years of the PGA TOUR’s B.C. Open.

At the Johnny Hart breakfast picture pose with Mike Goodes, Tom Purtzer and David Marr (Left to Right).

At the Johnny Hart breakfast picture pose with Mike Goodes, Tom Purtzer and David Marr (Left to Right).

The spirit of the community is evident in the DSGO Thursday morning kickoff event—The Johnny Hart Memorial Christian Fellowship Breakfast. Professional golf in Broome County was named after the comic strip B.C., created by Johnny Hart, who was born and raised in Endicott. Johnny Hart’s B.C. characters were used in advertising the B.C. Open and linger on eternally in the atmosphere of the En Joie Golf Club, a municipal golf course, which hosts the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open.

For me personally the spirit of golf and life will forever be intertwined and associated with an inscription I received in Ben Hogan’s book—Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf. Written in 1957 with Herbert Warren Wind, my older brother LP gave it to me as a gift when I was 11 years old and trying to learn everything I could to improve my golf game. More importantly he inscribed the book with the following: “Golf is a lot like life, the more you learn and understand about it, the easier it is to meet its challenge.” The challenge of golf, while appearing to be external in rough, bunkers and water hazards, is really internal in how we perceive those challenges and the strengths and weaknesses inherent in being a human being. Indeed, golf is the greatest game ever played.

The gravestone of Ernie Smith, with its PGA of America emblem, tells you where his heart lies. His wife Cornelia and he were a loving golf team up at Ely. No surprise their life longevity were exactly the same too!

The gravestone of Ernie Smith, with its PGA of America emblem, tells you where his heart lies. His wife Cornelia and he were a loving golf team up at Ely. No surprise their life longevity were exactly the same too!

From the club’s website: the En-Joie Golf Club first opened in 1927 under the original design of Ernie Smith. The golf course was originally built by George F. Johnson, the benevolent owner of the Endicott-Johnson Shoe Company. Mr. Johnson loved the game of golf and couldn’t see any reason that his employees shouldn’t love it as well – except for the fact that they didn’t have any time to play. A problem that he resolved by building a golf course for them to enjoy. Mr. Johnson created the golf course as a place of recreation for his employees who worked at the local shoe factory in Endicott.

Ernie Smith would go on to design a golf course for Binghamton that opened in 1933—the Ely Park Municipal Golf Course. Ely Park is a sporty golf course atop Mount Prospect that overlooks the valleys of the Susquehanna and Chenango rivers. Well ahead of his time, Smith, a consummate PGA Golf Professional built a par-3 course where junior golfers could learn to play golf in a fun and skillful manner. I was one of those junior golfers, learning to golf with my Dad on those little nine holes that average about 100 yards in length. When I was 14 I watched local pro Richie Karl make a 35-foot birdie putt on the 15th hole at En Joie to beat Australian Bruce Crampton in a playoff and win the 1974 B.C. Open.

The title to the Ely Park Golf Course history I am working on...

The title to the Ely Park Golf Course history I am working on…

The spirit of my life seems to revolve around the game of golf and growing up in those Valleys of Opportunity stretching beyond those ten miles separating the Ely Park and En Joie municipal golf clubs. So inspired by my experiences in golf and the game itself, three years ago I ventured out on a 100-day, 14-country, 18,471-mile ‘Journey to Olympic Golf.’ My goal was simple: to see the new Olympic Golf Course being built for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and along the way visit the Olympic cities of Atlanta, St. Louis and Mexico City. I wanted to extract the Spirit of the Olympics and combine it with the history and tradition of the game of golf and define the “Olympic Spirit of Golf,” a golfing experience no one, not even Hagen, Sarazen, and Jones or Hogan, Snead and Nelson or Palmer, Nicklaus, Trevino, Watson or Player ever experienced. That odyssey changed my life and my perspective of the game, soon to be the sport of golf.

The Olympic Golf Course is ready! Photo Credit: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The Olympic Golf Course is ready! Photo Credit: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

That is why it grieves me so much that some of the best golfers in the world have chosen not to compete in the Olympic Golf Games that start in Rio in about a month. The younger kids like Rory McIlroy and Jason Day may be too young to get it. A guy like Adam Scott should know better. Certainly any golfer on the Champions Tour eligible to compete would get it, know better and represent their country in a heartbeat if so able to. But that is not the case.

Sadly there is no discussion or conversation on the resolution of any issues associated with competing in the Rio Olympic Games—namely the Zika Virus, Crime and Political Crisis.

Zika Virus? What about a Spiderman-like suit to wear that is impervious to a mosquito bite. The reverse to the 2010 Ryder Cup rain suit debacle. Technology to the rescue? Has anybody requested one or tried one on for functionality? In the Southern Hemisphere August is February. Are there really any concerns of mosquito bites in Florida during the winter months?

Crime? C’mon, have you read the newspapers in America recently? In Chicago, nearly 3,000 souls are shooting victims each year.

Embattled President of Brazil Dilma Roussef. Photo Credit: Google Images

Embattled President of Brazil Dilma Roussef. Photo Credit: Google Images

Political Crisis? Yes that is real, according to Peggy McInerny, the President of Brazil Dilma Roussef was removed from office, stepping down for a period of 180 days while an impeachment process proceeds on charges that she violated the country’s law on fiscal responsibility. Roussef is by no means the only politician in trouble. More than half the members of Congress are currently under investigation as part of a massive corruption scandal linked to the state oil and gas firm Petrobras. In Roussef’s place, Vice President Michel Temer is now at the helm and assembling a new government in what Roussef defiantly charges is a nonmilitary coup.

But it is in the best interest of Brazil, the city of Rio de Janeiro and all countries of the world to see a successful Summer Olympics in Rio’s wintertime. Is our political crisis any different? What leadership have our politicians demonstrated collectively against domestic mass violence and terrorism? Even amidst political uncertainty, security and order will likely be maintained in Rio during the Olympic Games.

Please understand that this perspective is the perspective of a regular guy so inspired by Olympic Golf to drive an old 1992 Infiniti M30 through Mexico and Central America all the way to Panama City, Panama. Then fly to Colombia, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and finally Brazil to walk the new Olympic Golf Course, at the time a well-designed golf course, with golf architect Gil Hanse. No security, no plan, no idea how to complete the ‘Journey to Olympic Golf.’ But I did and so can any golfer, given their resources and the support of the International Golf Foundation, the International Olympic Committee, and the PGA TOUR.

Vijay Singh in his first appearance at the DSGO!

Vijay Singh in his first appearance at the DSGO!

As for Vijay Singh’s excuse for not representing Fuji in the Olympics?

Per the PGA TOUR, Singh said the outbreak of the Zika virus, deemed an epidemic in Central and South America, was not a serious concern in skipping the Olympics, “but you don’t want to get it.”

Golfweek quoted Singh’s excuse as “The timing of it, you know, I have to focus over here (on the PGA Tour),” Singh told Golf Channel. “I would like to play the Olympics, but the Zika virus, you know, and all that crap.”

He’s right about one thing, it, including the reasons golfers have cited, is all a bunch of crap!

How many women have withdrawn? Maybe I am being sexist but aren’t they at the biggest risk when it comes to the very real Zika Virus pregnancy concerns and crime?

Olympic Golf returns after 112 years... a new Spirit of Olympic Golf will prevail... despite all the controversy and withdrawals!

Olympic Golf returns after 112 years… a new Spirit of Olympic Golf will prevail… despite all the controversy and withdrawals!

So far the four Americans to qualify—Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler have not withdrawn… yet… sad to have to even qualify that but the reality is we will have to wait and see who actually shows up to play in Rio.

The Olympics, in my opinion, is an opportunity for the players and the business of golf to learn something about themselves. But the first step to learning is to be willing and for golf that translates to being one of many sports in the Olympics versus being the dominant game in your own mind and in your own backyard. Let’s let go and see how the Olympics can impact golf!

No matter who the 60 men and 60 women will be to compete in the Olympic Golf Games in Rio, golf the game, the sport will be fine. It’s an amazing golf course with an amazing Olympic broadcast partner so golf will be nicely displayed to the world and we will see what the Olympic Spirit of Golf truly is.

Maybe we are all just still learning and growing in golf and life?

Back to competitive golf and the 2016 Dick’s Sporting Goods Open…