Thursday, February 16, 2017

Kindred Spirit: A Season in Dornoch's Rubenstein endorses my links golf novel

Just when I'd begun to succumb to the general dreariness of a Scottish winter, a ray of sunshine -- in the form of an email from Lorne Rubenstein -- broke through.

Rubenstein, based in Canada, is one of my favorite golf writers. His A Season in Dornoch, which recounts a magical summer he spent in the Scottish Highlands, is one of my favorite golf books. I can say without equivocation that his work has directly inspired mine.

So imagine how deeply gratifying it was to learn that he had read my novel, Machrihanish, and that he thoroughly enjoyed it. Then, to top if off, he posted a very generous review on the website of SCOREGolf, a Canadian magazine. I mean, among other references, he compares bits of my wee story to Michael Murphy's classic novel Golf in the Kingdom and to the lyrics to the late-great Leonard Cohen's song "Anthem."

I am humbled.

Rubenstein concludes with this:

"Read Miller's novel. It will stay with you. It returned me to my favourite golf anywhere, and it's stayed with me."

Thanks, Lorne! Your little shot of adrenaline has me thinking it's high time I layered up and got back into the swing of things -- no matter how blustery the weather.

Hope to see you on the first tee amid the dunes, somewhere down the road.




Monday, December 12, 2016

A Six-Pointer! Or how one of my playing partners aced a par four...with a stroke

Enjoyed a cool but dry and relatively calm round at Goswick Golf Club on Sunday. Alas, my game was about as drab as the cloud cover. But one of my playing partners -- Keith Turnbull -- managed to brighten up the proceedings by capturing lighting in a bottle on the 304-yard (from the winter tees) 8th hole.

Simply put, he aced it! Absolutely crushed his driver, propelling his ball on a penetrating tight draw arc unmoved by a cross breeze that, after a favorable bounce and a wee bit of roll, found its way into the cup. Double-eagle. Albatross. Whatever name you prefer, it was brilliant.

Now, links golf often presents blind approach shots where you can see the ball in flight but are not entirely certain of the result until you reach the green. Think of it as an extra dose of drama free of spoiler alerts. In this instance, the drama was further heightened as the ball was nowhere to be found when we set foot on the putting surface. Keith, not wanting to jump to an unrealistic conclusion, first checked the mounds behind the green -- assuming that his scorching tee shot had simply run through. It wasn't until that search came up empty that he asked another member of our group -- George Millar -- to check the hole. Lo and behold, there it was.

Bloody hell!

We had a Stableford match going at the time. So even though George and I managed a par with a stroke for three points, it paled in comparison to Keith's net zero for six points. Not that we felt the least bit put out by that trouncing.

Keith's partner, Paul, very thoughtfully extracted his smartphone from his bag to commemorate the moment with a photo. As you can likely deduce, that's Keith in the center with the ball, George on the left with the pin and me on the right with the goofy grin.

This moment of pure golfing joy, however, wasn't completely devoid of some controversy. On the previous hole, George made a net par for two points and Paul had a net bogey for one. As such, I assumed that exchange had earned us the honor on the 8th tee -- yet Keith stepped up to hit first. I raised a mild protest. But my playing partners informed that's just not how it's done over here. And you know what happened next.

For the record, the subtleties of Stableford vs. better-ball protocol were discussed and clarified over a bottle of Famous Grouse (compliments of Keith) in the clubhouse after the round. He was, indeed, in the right. His moment will live on untainted.

Keith said he's only had one other hole-in-one in his life, on a bit of a flukey mishit shot on a par 3. This one, however, requires no asterisk. Dead solid perfect. Well done, Keith.

And perhaps it will inspire the golfing gods to allow me just one such moment. After some 40 years in the game, it doesn't seem like too much to ask.

Cheers!

Monday, December 5, 2016

To the Bookstore: Golf writer Michael Bamberger very kindly endorses my novel

Christmas arrived early at Wee Egg Mon Publishing's worldwide domination headquarters. I just received an email from esteemed golf writer Michael Bamberger letting me know that not only did he read Machrihanish -- my debut novel -- but he enjoyed it. A lot.

Bamberger is perhaps best known as a staff writer for Sports Illustrated. His work can also be found on Golf.com. And he's the author of several books, including the wonderful To The Linksland and the George Plimpton-inspired debut title The Green Road Home.

Here's what he had to say about my wee story:

"Dan Miller's Machrihanish is spirited and transporting. Bobby Jones once said that 'there is golf -- and tournament golf. And they are not at all the same thing.' Well, Miller doubles down on that insight. Reading his novel, you realize again that there is golf and there is Scottish golf, and they are not at all the same thing. I downed this book in one straight shot! Thank you for writing it, sir -- and nicely played!"

As the locals would say, I am thoroughly chuffed and even more grateful. Emails like that have a way of putting the wind back in your sails.

If you'd like to know what the fuss is all about, just click here.

Happy Holidays!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Safe Zone: Looking for solace in an uncertain world? Try your local golf course.


Donald Trump is the president-elect of the United States.

There are two ways to process this improbable truth: 1) throw all caution to the wind and run headlong into this new if uncertain world order; or 2) retreat into a bubble hermetically sealed off from “reality.” If the latter seems like the more appealing strategy, can you imagine a better safe zone than a golf course? It’s sure looking pretty darn good to me at the moment.

I think we can all agree that, if we were able to step back and look at the game objectively, we’d have to conclude that it’s little more than a parade of seemingly sane adults who wield odd implements in an attempt to advance a small ball against a vast landscape, producing—at least on the surface—no tangible benefit to anyone, especially the participants. It’s patently absurd.

And yet, as an escape from the trials and tribulations of everyday life? There’s nothing better. Even the 45th president of the most powerful country in the free world—owner of 18 golf resorts—would have to agree with that.

As I see it, humanity needs golf’s gifts of stress relief and emotional healing now more than ever. At the risk of succumbing to self-plagiarization, consider this snippet from my novel, Machrihanish:

The seven men, even those who’d lost their morning matches, were anxious to return to the course for an afternoon round. After all, they had a lot of swings to make up for. But more than that, what they truly desired was to reestablish the proper balance between their private playground amid the dunes and, well, pretty much the rest of creation.

It’s that sweet separation that makes golf so endearing and, admittedly, to addictive. It stakes out a world within the world, where—on the first tee—they hand you an unblemished scorecard and all manner of new and wonderful experiences are suddenly possible. Then, 18 holes who knows how many shots later, you circle back to where you started, with the invitation—as well as the inclination—to start all over again.

Clearly, golf isn’t about the destination. You move about a vast expanse of open land yet never actually get anywhere, geographically speaking. So by process of elimination, the game must be all about the journey. Perhaps that’s why some of its adherents—most notably those who worship at the altars of Shivas Irons and Baggar Vance—liken it to the inward path traveled by the eastern mystics. So does that mean it’s the sports world’s equivalent of Seinfeld, show about nothing? Guess again. Golf is, in equal portions, absurdly simple and unfathomably deep, not unlike that 19th century children’s rhyme we all learned in kindergarten: “Stroll, stroll, stroll your way, gently down the fairway. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily—life is but a dream.”

I don’t know a thing about your political persuasion any more than you know about mine. But I think we can all agree that the world is becoming an increasingly unstable and unpredictable place, buttressed about by primal forces and deep-seated passions that resist moderation and restraint.

Still, each of us will have a role to play—no matter how large or small—in the unfolding scenes of this drama we call human civilization. But when that task becomes just a bit more than we can bear, I have a hunch the golf course will beckon like a spa for the weary soul.

I’ll be there. I’ll bet you’ll be there, too. The current president turned to it for solace. Maybe, just maybe, so will the man who will replace him. Perhaps the golf course can emerge, quite literally, as our much needed common ground.

May the gods of golf help us all. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

What a Stupid: I want to play golf again, but now Mother Nature won’t let me


To quote the late, great Hal David—lyricist to Burt Bacharach—raindrops keep falling on my head. And, dang it, I want to play golf!

Now, if you’ve read my most recent posts, you’re probably thinking, “Serves you right.” And, sheepishly, I’d have to concur. After passing much of the glorious summer in a low ebb, seeming to have lost my appetite for the game, I now find myself licking my chops. Yet, thanks to a rather abrupt change of seasons, I am as of this writing unable to satisfy my cravings.

To quote the late, great Roberto De Vicenzo (when he cost himself the 1968 Masters by signing an incorrect scorecard), “What a stupid I am.”

Hopefully the I’ll get enough of a break in the general dreariness in the next day or two to squeeze in one more round before I head off to Dallas and the day job for two weeks. The forecast, however, is not encouraging.

The good news is that the game’s flame within me has been rekindled. After a month’s layoff, I logged three rounds last week—two at my home club, Goswick, and a third at the new-to-me Bamburgh Castle Golf Club. The pictures illustrating this post were snapped during that tour along the Northumberland coast.


Those views, alone, should have been more than enough to get the juices flowing. But, truth be told, it’s what I was thinking and feeling on the inside that really turned the tide.

Simply put: I surrendered. After attempting for much of the summer to consciously “improve” my game—to foolishly pursue the notion that, by sheer force of will, I could “get better”—I finally circled back to where I was in March, switching off my conscious mind and switching on a sense of body awareness.

And a rather amazing thing almost immediately started to happen: I hit more satisfying golf shots. In turn, I began to have fun. And before I knew it, there was a skip in my step and joy in my heart. I was back in love with the game again.

Now, I should hasten to note that this transformation has been neither complete nor continuous. Not every swing of the club of late has ended in pure bliss. The mind/ego is an insidious and determined thing. In moments of weakness, it still finds its way back in. But, in this renewed state of being—that values process over results—I seem to be better able to let such moments pass. If anything, they’re an opportunity to observe and learn. Even an apparent negative has been turned into a positive.

And has been the case since I first stumbled upon his book, Extraordinary Golf, Fred Shoemaker’s words once again echo in my ears. The part about playing the game from a place of “fascination.” And wondering if we can swing the club, not in fear of doing it wrong, but in deep appreciation for how that motion—our unique take on it—feels. And waxing poetic about a game that, in the playing of it, actually makes us more fully human and alive.

That’s the golf I should have indulged in these past few months. That’s the experience I should have embraced on the authentic links of Scotland. That’s the opportunity that, caught in the throes of my small mindedness, I let slip away.

Indeed, what a stupid I have been.

But no more. I have awakened from my trance. As soon as the low pressure system parked overhead moves on, I am determined to act out of this revitalized sense of awareness. And it’s going to be fun!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Links Love’s Lost: Here’s hoping a forced absence makes my heart grow fonder

Golf from Afar -- In the distance, above the sandy beach, you can just make out Royal Portrush Golf Club in Northern Ireland. It will host the Open Championship in 2019 after a nearly 70-year hiatus.
When I last checked in, I let on that I’ve been grappling with a wee bit of trouble in paradise of late. In some cruel twist of fate, my passion for golf has waned—even though I find myself well situated in the game’s birthplace.

Go figure.

Now, I should make clear that the source of this malaise, as Jimmy Carter might put it, is assuredly of my own making. Scotland is still blessed with an abundance of riches when it comes to captivating links courses—both those that are well known and the many more that deserve to be. If you love golf, you really do need to make the pilgrimage here to experience it the way it was meant to be played. I sincerely hope my little Eeyore act doesn’t dissuade you.

Because, if I were to sit down and have a heart-to-heart talk with this fair land, I would tell it—as gently as I could muster—that “it’s not you, it’s me.” And, unlike failed romances gone by, this time it would actually be true.

The issue, then, is not what Scotland needs to do to rekindle the fire. No. It’s entirely up to me to stoke these embers.

So, what have accomplished since I last posted? In a word, nothing. On purpose.

Here’s where I’m going with this:

If my affair with golf mirrors that with a beloved, then perhaps the same motivating forces apply. And if that’s true, perhaps absence will make the heart grow fonder. In other words, if I abstain from playing golf, perhaps I will begin to feel the loss on a deep emotional level. Eventually I’ll miss it, desperately. At that point, I’ll be bound and determined to, once again, make the game one of my defining reasons for being.

At least, that’s the theory. And I’ve begun to put it to the test. With the exception of a quick 9-hole jaunt to introduce a friend of a friend (and his friends) to Goswick, my local club, I haven’t touched a club in nearly a month.

Now, while this cold turkey strategy has been largely by intent, fate has also lent a hand. In the midst of my self-inflicted angst, my mother very courageously decided to get her first U.S. passport and make her first journey overseas at the fine young age of 90 to visit with my wife and me.  She’s been with us the past two weeks and has one more week to go. Her adventurous spirit has been an inspiration.

Machrihanish Beckons -- This photo was also taken from Northern Ireland. But if you focus your attention on the silhouette of land near the center of the frame on the far horizon, you'll catch a glimpse of southwest Scotland.
We’ve had a wonderful time together, for the most part making half-day trips to local sites of interest. But we also took on a far more ambitious five-day jaunt to Northern Ireland in search of our family’s roots. Factor in a surge in day job demands as well as the ongoing challenges of living in a foreign country and, to be honest, there hasn’t been much room for golf—even if I had a hankering to play it.

But the game is insidious. Even with so many other seemingly more important matters to attend to, it has way of working its way back in. Consider Exhibit A and Exhibit B: the photos illustrating this post. Both were taken from County Antrim, where the McAlonan clan (my mom’s and, by extension, my ancestral family) once hailed.

As it turns out, the old homeland is only about a 10-minute drive from Royal Portrush Golf Club. It’s an absolutely fabulous links course that I had the pleasure of playing in 2000 on my first trip to Ireland. It’s also back on the Open Championship rota, hosting the game’s oldest major in 2019 for the first time since 1951.

The other photo was snapped near Carrick-a-Rede, a somewhat harrowing rope bridge—the first version of which is thought to have been hung by fishermen some 300 years ago to gain access to the salmon run near Ballintoy. Way off in the distance, along the horizon, you can just make out a land mass that happens be the Kintyre Peninsula, situated in the extreme southwest of Scotland. Each May, I travel there—specifically Machrihanish Golf Club—to reunite with friends from both sides of the pond. It’s one of my most sacred places on the planet.

Even when I try to keep my distance, the game—it seems—keeps calling back. And if I make the effort to retune my inner ear, I can hear its siren call.

As I do, and as I share this experience with you now, I can feel the subtle forces of attraction begin to stir. It’s telling me that my golf hiatus, while beneficial, won’t last much longer. And it’s reminding me that, while I might never fully understand why I play this ancient game, the simple truth is that I must.

If that’s not love, then I don’t know what is.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Blues on the Greens: Or how poor play is sapping the life force out of me

I love golf. I think. But it doesn’t always love me. Or so it seems.

And with that intentionally ambiguous opening salvo, I courageously aim to reboot this little blog of mine.

I am painfully aware of the silence these past two months, nearly an eternity in social media time. So for those faithful few who are still out there wondering, the least I can do is answer a few basic questions:

Are you still alive?

Yes. By all accounts, I’ve yet to shuffle off this mortal coil.

Are you still in Scotland?

Definitely yes. And, I should say, still gratefully so.

Are you still playing golf?

This is where it gets a wee bit murky. What I can say for certain is that, since my last missive in June, I have logged several rounds on some terrific links courses—such as Goswick, Crail, Machrihanish, Dunaverty and Western Gailes. But did my actions on these hallowed grounds constitute golf?  Highly debatable. A more accurate description would be futile attempts to flail away at the ball, occasionally interrupted by flashes of competence.

Thus my opening lament. And this long overdue post.

Trust me. I get it. Things have grown so quiet in this space that even the digital crickets have packed their bags and moved on. But perhaps, by jumping back in—even if I haven’t a clue of what lies below—I can regain my footing. Maybe, just maybe, I can rediscover my mojo.

The operative question, as always for me, boils down to just one word: Why? Why do I devote so much time, money and energy to what is ultimately a pointless pursuit? Why do I allow so much of my emotional wellbeing to hinge on whether my golf ball goes where I want it to go?

If you’ve read this far, there’s a good chance you often find yourself wrestling with the “Why?” question, too. If, like me, you struggle to come up with a satisfying answer, perhaps we can help each other out. I’m open to suggestion. At minimum, misery loves company.

Because, fact is, my poor play has me in a deep funk. And it’s not just a golf thing. The negative vibe stirred up on the course has begun to seep into my real life. I wouldn’t go so far as to classify it as depression. That would overstate my case and understate the fate of people who truly do struggle to function in the world. A more likely diagnosis is a bout of the blues, though it’s quite possibly the most virulent strain I’ve ever encountered.

As such, when I do play golf and things go poorly (as they inevitably do), I’m disinclined to want to bring that frustration home and wallow in it by writing about it. Yet, choosing not to process the bad juju doesn’t mean it goes away. The unresolved feelings simply get pushed under the surface, reemerging elsewhere in unhelpful ways.

Like, for example, disrupting a peaceful night’s sleep. Or restraining my embrace of each new day with joy and gratitude. Or clouding my awareness of life’s small but priceless blessings. Like a Scottish summer sunset. Or the supersized patchwork quilt that blankets the Scottish Borders at harvest time. Or the boundless energy of a Cavalier King Charles puppy (aka Winston).

It’s downright foolish if not borderline criminal to allow the inability to execute golf shots have such power over me. But the evidence would suggest that I do.

The good news? The first step toward solving a problem is to acknowledge that you have one. Hopefully, this post will check that box.

And maybe, after I press the publish button and share this confession with all who happen to stumble upon it, I can begin to heal.


Now that just might be a journey worth writing about. And, from where you sit, maybe it will make for a blog worth reading.

Hang in there with me.