About 18 years ago I wrote a feature on golfer Tom Sieckmann for a local lifestyle magazine. I ran across the article recently while boxing up old press clippings during my move. There was Sieckmann on the magazine cover, leaning back in a cheap plastic lawn chair next to a bucket of golf balls, a driver leaning on his left shoulder like a lazy rifle.
Throughout the 2,000-word profile, I tried to get Sieckmann, a successful PGA golfer from Omaha who had taken home nearly a million in prize money and even won the Anheuser-Busch Open in 1988, to distill the meaning of golf -- to explain what it meant to him.
“You’re out there, by yourself, and every 10 minutes you have to make a fairly important decision that can affect your day, your week, your entire career. And you have plenty of time to think about it -- that’s kind of a bad thing,” he said.
I just nodded without looking up from my notebook. I knew virtually nothing about golf at the time. I’d never even held a golf club before. But none of that mattered when I was handed the assignment. The underlying story wasn’t so much about golf as much as Sieckmann himself, who at age 40 had reached a point in his career when he began to let go of the game as a profession and focus on his family life, which he said, can take a beating as a pro is on tour.
Don’t go looking for Sieckmann’s name on the leaderboard at this weekend’s U.S. Senior Open because he’s not entered, though you might spot him on the grounds as he’s listed as the director of golf instruction at the Omaha Country Club, where the tournament is taking place.
It would be another 15 years before I could apply any of Sieckmann’s wisdom to my own golf game. I always pegged golf as a rich man’s sport, a game played by businessmen and assholes in loud golf shirts who smoked cigars and made catty business deals while judging everyone else’s swing. There was something intimidating about the game and the courses themselves, which felt like a world in which people who grew up like me simply didn’t belong.
Ironically, it would take a business trip where I was practically forced to golf before I had a chance to find out I had nothing to be afraid of. There I was, driving around a closed course in southern Missouri in a golf cart with three women, laughing it up over Miller Lites. No one gave a shit that we could barely hit the ball.
After I got back to Omaha, my brother took me to Dick’s where I bought a $199 set of Callaway clubs, a box of balls, some tees and a white leather golf glove. I have since mastered (OK, played) the city’s three 9-hole muni courses. If watching this weekend’s geriatric tournament gets your juices flowing to finally conquer your fear and play the game, this is where to start, because there’s absolutely nothing intimidating about these courses, and yet, each holds its own challenges.
The first thing you’ll notice after you check in at the club house and pay your $11 greens fee is that the foursome in front of you likely includes a pregnant mother or a 9-year-old or a person holding a cane instead of a putter.
The easiest of the three 9-holers is Westwood Heights Golf Course at 12929 West Center Road (right across the street from the Target store). One local “pro” told me despite the amateur quality of all three courses, Westwood really is designed for beginners. Maybe so, but tell that to the chop who just knocked three new Pinnacles into “Hell’s Creek,” which dissects the grueling 146-yard second hole. Scary. Still, after playing Westwood a few times, you’ll think of it as sort of an extended putt-putt course, the longest hole a mere 175 yards.
The infamous Warren Swigart Golf Course is next on the difficulty level. Tucked away in Maple Village at 3865 Parkview Dr., this one actually boasts a few sand traps, though they’re more like gravel traps. The longest hole is the Par 3, 228-yard 6th, whose green is out of reach for most beginner’s drivers.
While playing Swigart recently, a young couple followed us in a golf cart. Unless you’re sporting a walker or a guide dog, a golf cart is unnecessary for any of these courses. That is, of course, unless you’re drinking. All three munis sell beer, and sure enough, while the couple waited for us hidden behind a clutch of trees, they slammed down Silver Bullets.
Finally, there’s the creme de la creme of Omaha muni 9-holers, the gorgeous Spring Lake Golf Course at 4020 Hoctor Blvd., located near South 13th St. It’s a par 66, which means six of the nine holes are actually par 4s, including the mammoth 290-yard third hole.
Despite a lack of water or sand hazards, Spring Lake is hands down the most challenging of the three courses. A converted dairy farm, you’re either hitting down into a valley, up a hill to a blind green, or over a dell onto a table-top. The biggest psychological barrier is at the 9th hole, where you’re forced to strike your ball over live traffic on 16th Street.
Although I've played for a couple years, I’m still pretty bad at golf. I “top” the ball on the tee half the time, and I always rush my putts. Still, I’m beginning to gain enough confidence to consider taking on one of the city’s 18-hole munis, such as Elmwood or Benson Park.
I still have a lot to learn about the game. As Sieckmann told me way back when, even the best pro gets taught a lessen every time he or she goes out on the course. Who knows, maybe if I run into Sieckmann this weekend, he can give me some pointers. And this time I’ll understand what he was talking about.
Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, the media and the arts. Email Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org.