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Par For the Chords

Par For the Chords
For a summer excursion, a look at how golf and guitars go together

There are many who would contend that golf and rock ‘n’ roll are two mutually exclusive concepts. But if one really is oil and the other water, the old axiom about the two not mixing is simply not true. A great many rock stars and guitar aces today know how to swing not only onstage and in the recording studio, but also out on the links.

Perhaps the editors of Golf Digest, the game’s longtime leading publication, put it best in December 2006 when they noted that:

Rockers are often rambunctious rebels whose uninhibited behavior and id-driven songs are meant to challenge and even change the status quo. Golf is proudly staid and tradition-bound. One group rocks out, the other zones in. It’s logical that a brick wall would exist between the two. So how is it that more rock musicians than ever—not to mention musicians in general—are playing the game?

Take a look at several selections from Golf Digest’s 2007 listing of the top 100 musicians who play golf (handicaps at the time in parenthesis):

  • Vince Gill (0) won the PGA’s Distinguished Service Award in 2003.
  • Dweezil Zappa (6.3) and Eddie Van Halen (18) play at Lakeside Golf & Country Club in Los Angeles.
  • Longtime Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters (11.7) plays at Sunningdale near London.
  • Stephen Stills (15.9) once traded guitar lessons for golf lessons with the late Payne Stewart.
  • The Eagles boast two golfers: former guitarist Don Felder (10.2) played the Dunhill Links championship tournament in 2006; founding member Glen Frey (12.6) is a member at the Bel Air Country Club in Los Angeles.
  • R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills (18.9) once parred 12th, 13th and 14th at Augusta.
  • Neil Young (18.6) played in the 2003 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
  • Mötley Crüe singer Vince Neil (18) plays at Blackhawk Country Club near San Francisco.
  • Steve Miller (18) is an avid golfer, as is Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander (25).
  • Bob Dylan (17) and Michael “Flea” Balzary (25) have played at Malibu Country Club.
  • Doors guitarist Robby Krieger (6.8) is a member at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif.
  • Toby Keith (15) is a part owner of Belman Golf Course in Norman, Okla.; Willie Nelson (16) owns the nine-hole Pedernales Gold Course near Austin, Texas.
  • Even drummers golf: Alan White of Yes (5.6), Adrian Young of No Doubt (1.3) and Tico Torres of Bon Jovi (12.1).

One of the earliest and most notable guitar aces to embrace the game was Glen Campbell. A former Beach Boy and member of famed Los Angeles studio musician collective the Wrecking Crew in the 1960s before launching a hugely successful solo career, he is a wholehearted and devoted golfer with a 6.5 handicap, and he still plays at age 74. His namesake Glen Campbell Los Angeles Open Golf Tournament, held annually at the Riviera Country Club from 1971 to 1983, was a major event on the PGA circuit, and Campbell himself was ranked among the top 15 celebrity golfers by Golf Digest in 2005.

Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson is an especially avid golfer. Lifeson appeared on the debut episode of the Golf Channel’s Personal Lessons on July 3, 2006, with friend and golf pro Rocco Mediate, playing a round at Tuscany Reserve in Naples, Fla., where both men own homes.

Lifeson appeared in the winter 2010 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine in a feature story (“Iron Man”) in which GA followed the mega-platinum-selling guitar hero (9 handicap) around Coppinwood Golf Club north of Toronto as he expounded at length on his addiction to the game.

“I’ve definitely got the bug,” Lifeson told Guitar Aficionado. “I think you always want to challenge yourself with something, and golf is certainly challenging.” It’s not at all uncommon for him to play four or five times a week if not more when Rush is touring, and friends such as Mediate and PGA tour pro Mark Calcavecchia have high praise for Lifeson’s estimable skill and enthusiasm.

Amid the special features on the DVD version of acclaimed 2010 Rush documentary Beyond the Lighted Stage, a film crew follows Lifeson out onto a course, where he plays a few holes and waxes philosophical (and humorous) on the appeal of the game.

“For me, when I first started playing golf in the early ’90s, that was the perfect thing,” he says in his commentary during the footage. “To get out of your hotel room; to get on a golf course; you’re there for four or five hours. You hit some balls; maybe have lunch. If it’s a day off, you might play a second round. It’s just a wonderful escape from being in that hotel room and going through all that same stuff that you always do. I get outside; I meet other people. I love it.”

“Golf is all about tempo and rhythm and not trying too hard—not getting in the way of your swing,” Lifeson adds. “It’s much like playing an instrument—you get out of the way and just let your instinct take over; let your hands take over and play.”

The godfather of rock star golfers, however, has got to be Alice Cooper, a man whose love of the game knows no bounds. At the height of his worldwide popularity in the 1970s, Cooper delighted in being a shock-rocker iconoclast, happily engaging in such un-rock-star-like activities as appearing on Hollywood Squares, hanging out with Groucho Marx and, even more outlandishly, openly hitting the golf course with boundless enthusiasm and, as it turned out, enviable proficiency. This is a star, after all, who titled his 2007 autobiography Alice Cooper, Golf Monster.

Golf became more than a mere pastime for Cooper, though. He has on many occasions credited the game with helping him to overcome alcoholism, a phenomenon he has referred to as exchanging one addiction for another.

“I am obviously a golf addict,” Cooper wrote in the introduction of Alice Cooper, Golf Monster, after describing an especially successful debut round at Pine Valley. “I am the first to admit it. But it didn’t used to be that way … my addictions used to be much more destructive, and the road to redemption was a long, painful one. Even though golf and rock ‘n’ roll are two very different animals, both remain very strong forces in my life. If rock ‘n’ roll made my life, then golf saved my life.”

He caught the bug in 1973, during the full height of chart-topping worldwide Alice-mania. One of his road crew invited him out to play a round at the Valencia Country Club, north of California’s San Fernando Valley.

Cooper, who at the time had never played before and didn’t even know why he would want to, accepted. Once there and ready to tee off at the first hole, one of those great and rare life-changing moments occurred. In Alice Cooper, Golf Monster, he recounts, “And without ever holding a club in my life, I took a swing at the ball and watched it sail 160 yards toward the first flag.”

The shot was straight; it was the rock star that was hooked.

Thirty-seven years later, Cooper plays several days a week (3 or 4 handicap), has participated in several Pro-Am competitions and is as close to being an actual pro golfer as anyone else in rock music (although he calls himself an amateur in his book). He has appeared in commercials for Callaway golf equipment, was a guest of veteran British player and broadcaster Peter Alliss on A Golfer’s Travels, and wrote the foreword to author Gary McCord’s Golf for Dummies.

And through his own Solid Rock Foundation’s Alice Cooper Celebrity AM Golf Tournament, held annually since 1997, Cooper has raised enormous charity sums that have helped countless children.

So who better to summarize the strange but strong connection between golf and rock ‘n’ roll? Leave it to the Coop, in the final chapter of Alice Cooper, Golf Monster, to reveal with characteristic wit, brevity and eloquence, that the twelfth step of golf addiction is simply this: “Keep on Rockin’!”

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