It’s that time of year again. The leaves are changing color and starting to litter the ground. The goblins and ghouls won’t be too long after. But, for me, one of the real signs of the fall are the yard signs, mostly colored red and blue, that are becoming more and more prevalent on nearly every street you pass.


Some of them have donkeys. Most in this part of the country have elephants. At this point, they’re nearly impossible to ignore. If you’re somehow able to avoid the impossible onslaught of yard signs, you can’t miss their point by turning on the TV or opening Facebook or Twitter. The never-ending bombardment of political ads isn't just about polarization. At this point, its bordering on pulverization of our collective attention.

Most are names of people I’ve never heard of. Most are for offices I’m surprised anyone really wants. We think golf course superintendents have a thankless job, try being an elected official… Just kidding Supers, you’ve definitely got it worse.


I read a quote from the great Tom Coyne in one of the latest issues of The Golfer’s Journal and while I don’t have it right in front of me, it went something like, “my wife asked me what my golf buddy and I talked about during our four hour round and I honestly had no idea.” I know the feeling.

When it comes to golf, I’m not thinking about all that other stuff. I’m thinking about the next drive, missing that overhanging limb, leaving my approach below the hole. Sometimes I’m thinking about what I did on that terrible drive, how I sent my punch shot so high that it clipped that overhanging branch, how in the world am I going to snake-in this downhill putt. Maybe I’m a simpleton, but for as frustrating as the game of golf can be, I don’t think about all the other stuff happening off the course.


I don’t know how many people I’ve had the pleasure of playing golf with this year. I know that I’ve played with a lot more people than I was expecting to when the pandemic hit everywhere and I’m definitely thankful for that (again, shoutout you supers for keeping us going!). But, what is really striking about all that golf with all those people is that for most of them, I probably couldn’t tell you who any of those people were voting for. Just like the writer Coyne’s wife, it blows my own wife’s mind that I could spend that much time with a person playing golf and not know that detail about them. She knows me too well to know that it wouldn’t come up in a four hour conversation with someone.


That isn’t to say that some of the people who’ve played with me don’t know how I think, and could therefore infer how I vote. My best friends know I’m not shy sharing my opinions after we get off the course, have a few too many beverages, and all start telling lies to each other. No one changes their minds but we’re solving the world’s problems one can, or cocktail, at a time.

There’s a time and a place for political theorizing. And for me, and nearly every golfer I’ve had the pleasure of playing with up to this point, that place isn’t on the course. It doesn’t matter if you lean politically toward the left rough or the right bunker. When we’re on the course, it seems like we’re all trying to keep it pretty much down the middle.


And considering some of the conversations I’ve had in the past several months off of the golf course, writing that I’m “trying to keep it down the middle” while playing golf is kind of remarkable. Hardly seems like anyone is keeping it down the middle in this day and age, yours truly included. It doesn’t matter if you’re surfing your favorite social media app, driving through your neighborhood, or trying to watch a football game: the pieces of our lives that typically divide are the ones being shoved in our faces at every turn. It’s no wonder trying to find the middle is so difficult.


There was this old saying you use to hear after playing a little league game: "it's not whether you win or lose, it's how you played the game." To be honest, I never really believed that. If I'm playing, I'm playing to win. That's kind of the point, right? But when it comes to all of the political stuff all around us everyday, it seems like we might have gone a bit too far. It's like winning is the only thing that matters (or at least preventing the other side from winning), regardless of the damages caused along the way.


To put it in golf terms: if I go out to play, play well and get beat, it's still a pretty damn good day. If I go play focusing on just winning, that likely won't be fun for me or anyone else I'm playing with that day either. Losing with that type of mindset usually takes a day or two to recover from too.

Writing this has opened my eyes to the own contradictions in my own life. How can I care about all that stuff so much in my everyday life and then just seem to forget about it for four hours while playing a round of golf? How can something seemingly so important just be switched off like that?


I think the realization I’m having is because it was never that important to begin with. I don’t think about political stuff when I’m spending time with my boys in the backyard. I don’t think about political stuff when I’m cheering on the Wildcats. I don’t think about political stuff when I’m curled up on the couch watching a movie with my wife. And I don’t think about political stuff on the golf course. Those are the important things in my life. I guess what I'm saying is that there isn’t any reason in ruining the things that make me happy with thoughts and conversations that don’t.


We still have roughly a month to go before the yard signs and political television ads are nothing more than bad memories of a terrible year. Maybe your favorite politicians will win the jobs you want them to. Maybe they won’t. Maybe mine won’t either. Good thing my happiness doesn’t come from what happens behind the curtain in the polling booth. I’m still going to hang with my boys in the backyard, enjoy my time on the couch with my wife, cheer on the Cats, and tee it up at my favorite places, old and new, all over this great state.

It’s doubtful we’ll be able to avoid, or escape, every aspect of political polarization in our life. We may be too far gone at this point. Hell, you may not think it’s a problem and want to just keep on going down this path of polarization. That’s fine. I’m not asking you to do anything and I’ll still play golf with you. I’ll be the one in the left bunker, or the right rough, and I'll be doing my damnedest to find the middle of the fairway. That looks like a good spot to be.


As always... We’re glad you're here.

-tMP

It was almost exactly one year ago. And here we were, once again driving in the early morning darkness of a September morning to another unknown golf course to have a "business meeting" and a match. The destination this time: Clay Center Country Club just south of the county seat of Clay County.

Clay Center Country Club basking in an early September morning sunlight.


I had driven by the course on my only other trip to Clay Center a couple years ago. I was in town for my day job at the time and the cold, rainy weather that day scared me into staying in my suit and tie. I was glad I had another opportunity to get back up there and play on this remarkable piece of ground in north central Kansas.


As I pointed my father in-laws borrowed Chevy Cobalt northwest out of Manhattan (shout-out Dan for letting me borrow his ride; my wife needed our car with the car seats in case of an emergency shopping trip), I was thinking about the last time my business partner and I loaded up early in the morning to play golf in some random corner of this state. September 2019 seems like it was so long ago. Think about how naive we were: COVID-19 wasn’t in any headlines, we thought a face mask belonged on a football helmet, and our world hadn’t been turned completely upside down. A lot can happen in a year.


I won the race between the two of us to the parking lot in Clay Center. I left Manhattan with plenty of time to stop and get some cash as I had insider knowledge that this course still ran off the old honor box system, at least when the enormous clubhouse was closed. Unfortunately, I guessed wrong about the amount, which meant a trip into town to find another ATM. I chuckled a little bit to myself as I made my way back over the Republican River and into downtown Clay Center and thought, “how ironic that the Middle Pin has a solution to this problem that I seem to find myself in every time I play someplace new…”

Par-three second hole features a dramatic chute with plenty of contour.


We were grinding our way through the front nine and a howling south wind that definitely had us on tilt the first several holes when we were greeted by a familiar face coming around the cart shed by the practice and near the sixth tee box: our fellow Medicine Lodge native Brett.


Brett was the reason why I had been to Clay Center before. He invited me up to talk to the local Rotary Club about a year earlier. Brett is a couple years older than me and he and his wife settled in Clay Center several years ago. They are active in the community and you could tell he was at least a little excited to show off the course to a couple “out of towners.” I gave Brett a heads up that we were coming and he was the one that hooked us up with a cart from one of his buddies. Unfortunately, a lingering back injury kept Brett from playing with us all morning but he threw his wedges and a putter in a cart so he could at least hit a few golf shots in-between catching up on each other’s lives.


I feel like I say this all the time about golf courses in Kansas, but the course itself featured a lot more hills than I expected. There might be one hole on the entire course that doesn’t feature some slope and the hills go all directions: up, down, and side to side. I’m also writing this without any background history, so this might be way off, but the course also just feels old. There are some gigantic cottonwood trees, especially in the gullies and valleys of the course, that help give it that feeling but even the trees lining the fairways seem like they’ve been there decades. Some of those trees are even featured in play, like the one blocking the green on the par-three fifth hole. The trees and contours of the land give this course a lot of character.

I was three under on the par-five sixth hole for the day. A lonely highlight of a tough round of golf.


While you’re going to be aware of the undulation and the foliage of the course, you might not even notice that there aren't any water hazards on the entire property. When Brett told me that I was a little shocked, especially considering there would be so many natural spots for a dam here or there to catch some runoff. But don’t let that fact fool you: what this course lacks in water hazards and yardage, it makes up for in plenty of other ways from the quick greens with subtle breaks to the uneven lies all over the course. Two of the longest holes, the par-four third and the par-five eighth, also point straight into the prevailing south wind and both are on the perimeter of the course bringing out of bounds very much in play.


We battled our way through nine holes to a pair of pretty terrible scores at the turn. Brett shared stories about the community, the people, the houses we were seeing, what he and his family had been up to. Of course, we talked a little bit about the “good old days” when we didn’t think about back injuries, kids starting school, and the work we all had to get back to on Tuesday after the holiday break.


We both picked it up on the back nine. Kevin birdied the tenth. I dropped in my eagle putt on the fifteenth and took back the lead. The lead was short-lived though as my case of the meltdowns struck on the seventeenth putting me down one on the par-three eighteenth. My par to Kevin’s bogey put us right back where we were at the beginning of the day: all square.

The par-five sixth hole green is guarded by two of the three bunkers on the course.


As I was driving my borrowed car back to Manhattan to spend the rest of the weekend with the in-laws, I couldn’t help but think of how much has changed in the last year. I’ve got a kid who is starting school this year. I’m going back to school this year too, both as a teacher and a student. Those are some pretty big changes… There have been new purchases, new experiences, new friends, new courses, new low scores. There have been hard times, stressful situations, coping with the new normal of life after COVID-19, new ways to ruin a good round of golf. About like looking at my last several scorecards, life has been an emotional roller-coaster at times in the past twelve months.


It’s always great to play golf. It’s always great to see friends. But the one thing I didn’t realize I needed was that drive back home to reflect on life and where I’ve “been” for the last year. I’ve had plenty of quiet times through all this and plenty of lengthy car trips to get that perspective but I hadn’t done it. It took a day like that, in a place like that, with people like that, to trigger a memory like that. Personally, it’s been a busy year. Professionally, it’s been a busy year. In some ways, I hope I never have to repeat some of those things that have happened since the last time we raced daylight to a golf course somewhere in this state. In other ways, I’ll miss some of the things I’ll never get to relive again. Weird that’s where my thoughts took me as I barreled down highway twenty-four back the Little Apple...


Kevin and I both parred our first playoff hole and when I bogeyed on the second, all Kevin needed to win was a three foot putt. Which he made. Of course. He won this round.


Later that same evening, my four year old overheard a conversation between my father in law and myself. We were discussing going to play a twilight nine before it was time for dinner. My son loves to golf and does it daily, either outside with his real clubs or inside with his toy ones. I've seen it a lot this year with the additional time we spent together hunkered down at home. And he's been to the course with me several times, mostly to the driving range but occasionally to walk nine. In all of those times it was me asking him if he wanted to tag along. Or his mother strongly suggested to both of us that he go with me. This time was different. He heard our conversation, walked up and said, "Can I go to play golf too?" Just another way how much things have changed in the last year...


I hope the little one remembers and cherishes this as much as I do...


It was the perfect way to end a day of reflection on the past twelve months. Next time you get out to play, take a second to think about your last year. Think about the good times and the struggles. Think about the eagles (or birdies or pars) you put on the scorecard of life this year. Think about the meltdown holes too. It's certainly been that type of year. But, I think you'll come away from that exercise rejuvenated, like I did, and that's just worth doing every once in awhile.


As always... We're glad you're here.

-tMP




It’s such a simple question but sometimes I have to say it to myself just to make sure I’m on the right track. "So what? What is the purpose of this?"


I heard it a lot in graduate school. "So what? Why should people care about the countless hours of work I put into a project?" For a historian like myself, answering that question is paramount. Of course, I always try to have some perspective in answering that question though too. It isn’t like I’m a brain surgeon or attempting to cure cancer. Most people can wrap their minds around the purpose of work like that and I’m in no way putting anything I've ever done on that level. But still, answering that simple question explains so much. I believe there are certain things worth knowing and sharing with others to inform them too. That knowledge of the past helps to make our world better today and tomorrow. History doesn't repeat itself exactly, but there are certain aspects of our lives that are easily translatable from our predecessors. That’s what makes answering the “So what?” question so important.


To put it another way: this is our answer to why we are doing what we're doing with the Middle Pin. If you're familiar with Simon Sinek's Golden Circle TED talk, we're trying to get to the heart of this whole thing. If you aren't familiar with that link above; it comes highly recommended on our end.


The Haters may say, "So, these two guys really like golf. They write about it, take pictures of it, talk about it on social media, try to help golf courses help themselves with websites, etc. So what?"

Haters: "Two guys like golf... So what?" Me: "Watch this."


I think to understand our answer to that simple question, you need to understand a little about where we come from. We both grew up in a small town (shout-out Medicine Lodge, and it's suburb Isabel, where I'm from; you can find more about our partner course and community here). I’m immensely proud of the places I still call home, even though I haven’t lived there for nearly twenty years now.


Yet growing up there, for as great as it was, I didn’t fully understand all the things in life that place just didn’t have. Things that are just a few minutes down the street where I live now were day trips growing up. A trip to Wal-Mart was thirty minutes, one way, to Pratt or Alva.


For entertainment, it was the same story. Want to go to a movie? Well, if the drive-in outside of town wasn’t open, you better load up now to make the 7 PM show time. Maybe you’re feeling competitive and want to go bowling? Call, reserve a lane, and tell them we’ll see them in thirty minutes.


Except, now, if you want to go bowling where we grew up, it’ll take over an hour to find the nearest place. Pratt’s bowling alley closed down several years ago, like so many other amenities in rural America. In fact, according to this list from Kansas Bowling Association, there are only 32 bowling centers in Kansas outside of Wichita/Sedgwick County, Johnson/Leavenworth/Wyandotte Counties, Manhattan/Junction City, Lawrence, Garden City, and Salina. To give some perspective: the closest Kansas bowling alleys to Medicine Lodge today are Cheney (66 miles one way), Wellington (72 miles one way), and Great Bend (79 miles one way).

Bowling alley in Howard, Kansas, circa 1910. Primitive for sure, but better than nothing, I guess. From Kansas Memory.


I don't mean to pick on bowling, but it is kind of an easy target at this point because it hasn't always been that way. There was a time when almost every county seat town, and even some towns smaller than that, had a movie theater and/or a bowling alley. Hell, I remember going to the movie theater in Kiowa one time, a town roughly half the size of the metropolis of Medicine Lodge. My wife still talks about the birthday parties she celebrated at the lanes in Leoti. The buildings might still be there, but all that remains of those places today are memories.


Understanding that history helps answer why we're doing what we're doing. It's sad to think about but our argument is that it doesn’t have to be that way with every amenity in a small town.


Right now, almost every county in Kansas has at least one golf course. That means for many people, they’re never more than thirty minutes away from likely the only all-ages, (mostly) publicly accessible, form of physical activity. There are over 200 golf courses in the state and, while we've seen some closures in recent years, it hasn't been nearly has drastic as the closures of movie theaters, bowling alleys, and other forms of entertainment.


Like I said, history doesn't repeat itself exactly. However, the lessons learned from the closing of other entertainment options should serve as a warning to those of us who enjoy this particular game. It seems like we're at a unique point in time to do something to make sure our game doesn't go the wrong direction. And that's exactly what we're trying to do with the Middle Pin.

Places like these matter to your community. They matter to us too, including Walter.


A community is made up of the sum of its parts. Think of a town like a pizza. How pissed off would you be if the next pie delivered to your house was missing a slice or two? I’m enraged just thinking about it. And I have the same feeling seeing small towns lose a piece of who they are too.


Golf matters because these communities’ matter. The golf course is just a tiny aspect of what makes them, well, them. We can’t, and won’t, save every piece of every community. We don’t have the time, talent, or skill set, for that kind of work. But we do feel that we can help when it comes to golf.


“So what? It’s just golf. Who cares?” For one: we do. For two, you’re right, it’s just golf. But even if you don’t play, it’s part of your community. And there are some of us out here pulling for the place you call home, whether you know it or not.


Look forward to seeing the place you call home soon and, as always...


We're glad you're here.

- tMP

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