For Keith Hinkley and Other Longtime South Bay Golfers, Hitting the Green Offers a Safe and Sane Outlet During Stressful Times

Staying on course.

This year our way of life came to an unprecedented halt due to COVID-19. Retail, restaurants, gyms, concerts, college and professional sports—including the PGA, NBA, NFL, NBA and NHL—all shut down. Golf was the first to return after just a few months, with the introduction of single-person golf carts. An estimated $85 billion industry yearly, according to the PGA they lost almost 20 million rounds of golf in that initial shutdown.

One golf enthusiast, Keith Hinkley of Redondo Beach, remained sane during the shutdowns by growing his game. Keith says golf is a game that not only challenges him; it also brings him extreme satisfaction. He quotes a line from the movie The Legend of Bagger Vance: “What I’m talkin’ about is a game … a game that can’t be won, only played.”

Golf brings a unique set of challenges and joys. It is not cheap, but playing on public courses rather than joining a private country club makes the sport more affordable.

“So many variables are involved. Similar to surfing, there’s always something new coming at you. it’s easy to get stuck in a negative cycle because the game is so challenging.”

Keith was not ready for golf at age 10 when his father attempted his first introduction. Fast-forward a decade, and Keith started playing with his friends but admits his game was “horrible.” At the time, he was impatient with his skills and became known for having tantrums. “I was the slicer!”

A golf swing is imperative to playing a decent game. New golfers don’t always learn how to do this properly, and it shows in their swing and their game. Terms like “hookers” and “slicers” refer to how the shot curves in the air. Slicers are typically the hardest to teach properly because the shots take a dramatic shift from left to right. Ultimately, Keith sought the help of a professional and started taking lessons in Long Beach.

Keith commits a good portion of his weekly schedule to getting out there and playing. “I just feel it all boils down to heart rate and your demeanor. If you get all emotional or exasperated out there for any reason, you are not doing yourself any favors,” he explains. “Trying to stay on an even keel is part of the challenge for me and something that took effort for a hyper-intense person.”

With wind and terrain unpredictable, no two golf games are the same. “So many variables are involved. Similar to surfing, there’s always something new coming at you,” adds Keith. He says it’s easy to get stuck in a negative cycle because the game is so challenging. “You can’t bring the same hyper-intensive mentality you might bring to other sports. Golf is a different beast.”

Keith is not a member of a club but instead plays regularly with a group of guys. Chris Warshaw of the Bro Golf Club sees the advantages of a club. “Our group, which has been around for almost 20 years, is made up mostly of old South Bay locals and has golfers of every ability—from scratch to real hacks,” he says. “Since the pandemic began, our members have easily played two or three times more than normal. We’ve had record turnouts for our tournaments. Getting out on the course has been one of the few ways to escape.”

It isn’t necessarily a game you play against others regularly because you and the course are the real competitors. “The reason it was a dying sport in the United States is that it is hard to get decent at, and it takes a lot of time to play a round of golf,” explains another golf enthusiast, Terry Nolan of Hermosa Beach. “Many times, though, you just go out and play and don’t have a competitive game going but are trying to score your best just for your satisfaction. It is fun hitting long drives and scoring well for your ability.”

There is a unique camaraderie amongst golfers, and thanks to the handicap system, golfers of all abilities can compete against one another on a level playing field. “Everyone is playing against the course to a certain extent, but there are times you play against another player,” says Terry. “The goal is to have the lower score between you and your opponent on each individual hole you play. Or you may be playing in a tournament when you will try to make the best score you can, as you are competing against everyone else’s score.”

Now that you have the itch to get on the green, how does one get a tee time during the pandemic? Tee times are so hard to come by that some players have set alarms to wake up just to get online and get a spot. “I have friends who are members at Palos Verdes Golf Club, and the demand for tee times has been so large that the club had to come up with a completely new system to handle it,” shares Terry.

Keith notes there are plenty of ways to up your game at home as well. He suggests that now is a great time to invest in your equipment and practice your grip and setup—all imperative to a good swing. “Make reasonable expectations,” he advises. “Getting frustrated is okay, but lessons build a strong foundation.”

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