Finally, all the madness and mayhem of the holidays is over. Now all we have to look forward to is six-page credit card statements and those dreaded New Year's resolutions that so many of us never keep.
With that in mind, there is no moment like the present to spend a moment reflecting on the past and dreaming of a future with fewer shots and more enjoyment on the golf course.
I believe that we need to find ways to protect the spirit of our game and its traditions. We should reward players who use skill over those who use technology, but we should embrace the technology that makes the game easier and more enjoyable for those who aren't playing it for a living.
To make golf even better this New Year, we need to make a few promises to ourselves and to our beloved game. Now if you will please place your left hand on the Rules of Golf, raise your right hand and repeat after me, "In 2014, I promise to ...
"Arrive at the course early and on-time." Give yourself a chance to stretch, hit a few balls and try out the practice green. By stretching and warming up, you reduce your risk of injury and your muscles are ready for action when you hit the first tee. Arriving early also puts your partners at ease. How often have you been on the range or on your way to the first tee and wondered if your playing partner was going to show or decided instead to sleep in?
"Always leave the course in better shape than I find it." It takes but a moment to repair that nasty ball mark that your ball left on the green, and doing so helps the green heal faster. When you take a divot, use your foot to push in the sides and then fill the hole with the sand provided. This action will make it more difficult for another ball to stop in the divot and helps the grass grow back sooner.
"Play ready golf." If you arrive at your ball first, grab a couple of clubs and send your cart partner to his or her ball. Save your socializing for when you're riding in the cart between shots or holes. I realize proper etiquette calls for letting the person farthest from the hole play first, but most of my friends and I ignore this if that person isn't ready to hit and someone else is. With just a little common sense we could cut down the time required to play considerably.
"Learn the rules." How often have you hit your ball into a hazard and not been sure where to drop your ball? Having an understanding of the rules is quite handy when you play in a tournament and suddenly realize that you may cost yourself more shots by not knowing what the rules allow you to do.
"Play in a charity tournament." It's a great way to support a cause important to you. It's also a great way to play courses that you otherwise may need to be the guest of a member to get on.
"Play from the forward tees." When you're struggling with your game, playing on an unfamiliar course, or the rest of your group plays from the white tees, join them. Take the opportunity to hit a fairway wood or an iron off the tee. You'll swing easier, since distance is no longer a prerequisite, and probably find your game again.
"Start an exercise regimen." This is the hardest one for me and probably for most recreational golfers. There are at least 32 major muscles involved in the golf swing. The better we learn to strengthen and properly stretch then, the better and longer our golf careers will be.
"Introduce someone new to golf." There are a lot of people who would love to try golf, but they either don't have clubs or anyone to play with. Invite one of those people, maybe even your spouse, to join you one day even if it's only to go to the practice range. You may find a new playing partner for life.
And finally and most importantly, "Play without keeping score." Play just for the pure love, relaxation and enjoyment of the game. Without the pressure and tension to make par or birdie to break 80, 90 or 100, you may be pleasantly surprised at how well you hit the ball. Golf is first and foremost a game and most of us do not play it for financial gain. Enjoy the fresh air, sunshine and a little time spent with family or friends.
James Stammer has been an avid golfer and golf enthusiast for nearly 40 years. He hosts the Thursday Night Golf Show on WSTU 1450-AM. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.