Buy a Birdie Today

By: JJ Gowland

There’s nothing so devastating as starting the season with high hopes than having them dashed by an elusive birdie. After winter weather forces time off from the game, we Northern golfers dream of a new year and overcoming early-season disappointment. It may be possible to buy confidence.

Money can’t buy love but maybe it can buy confidence. I’m not talking about the “confidence game” where shysters and sandbaggers play with their own set of rules and trap you into a deal that turns out like a used car without a steering wheel. I’m talking about gaining or regaining self-assurance on the golf course.

In the spring, after a five-month hiatus away from the golf course, Northern golfers anticipate immediately reuniting with the skill level achieved the previous fall after we’d played golf for six straight months. We walk out to the first tee and expect the best. With hopes as high as the spring grass and an imagination fertilized by early-year PGA tournaments on our high-definition screens, excitement runs as rampant as dandelions on pesticide-free fields.

We’ve done all the winter exercises to stay flexible, strengthened our “cores,” and practiced putting in the living room so much that there’s a permanent rut in the carpet. We’ve even spent a few chilly days at heated driving ranges and see no reason to misinterpret the successes yet to come. When the golf season opens, we visualize victory, daydream about lowering handicaps, prepare to master the nemesis hole, and plan to concentrate over every shot for all 18 holes.

We set goals.

The moment of truth gathers steam as we push a tee into the ground, surrounded by our buddies. The confidence is as high and thick as the uncut wet rough.

Bravado builds. Declarations are made: “This year I’m going to lower my handicap by 10 strokes.”

Some golfers, like my friend Mike, have smaller goals. Some believe one step at a time will win the day, similar to Mike’s simple plan. “This year I’m going to consistently birdie the 8th hole.”

Last year, Mike finally discovered the secret that worked for him. It went like this:

The 8th hole, at 535 yards from the white tees, is our club’s longest par-5. Right in the middle of the fairway at about the 260-yard mark there’s a large oak tree. The fairway narrows to about 20 yards of fairway on either side of the tree. Many players can hit a drive that rolls past the tree and into a shallow valley. Here, the hole becomes a slight dogleg left to a distant green. The green is bordered by sand traps left, right and back.

Wednesday night is our weekly businessman’s nine-hole tourney and dinner event. Many years ago a tradition arose. Mike’s group of regular players bet on the 8th tee. High scorer bought a round of martinis for the other three golfers. Though he’s now a mid-level single-digit handicapper, for years Mike was the high scorer. He just couldn’t get a birdie here.

The foursome’s martini tradition became a weekly challenge, and soon other golfers heard about it. From the clubhouse deck those who had finished their rounds watched for the last group to approach the seventh green and would then race out to the 8th tee to play the martini challenge. Sometimes there were 10 golfers on the 8th tee, all vying for a free martini.

One evening, Mike told his buddy Alan, “I just can’t buy a birdie on this hole.”

Alan said, “Give me a five bucks.”

“What for?”

“Just give me five bucks.” Alan repeated.

Mike gave Alan the five bucks.

Alan pocketed the five dollars and grinned. “Mike, Tonight, I’m going to let you buy a birdie.”

Mike pulled out his own driver and hit a superb drive. With his 3-wood he hit a perfect second shot, and two-putted for birdie.

The next week, as Mike and Alan walked from the 7th green to the 8th tee, Mike handed Alan five bucks.

Alan was mystified until Mike said, “I’m buying another birdie.”

Sometimes it seems silly to fall back on superstitions but, when all else fails, it might not be a bad idea. You might have a good-luck charm like a favorite ball marker, a winning tournament shirt, an unwashed golf ball, or a favorite club that helps rebuild confidence. When my confidence wanes to the point of wanting to quit, I pull out my charmed club, a 5-iron.

For Mike, his lucky charm was paying Alan five bucks on the 8th tee. It must work as, since then, Mike has never lost the 8th hole martini challenge.

Jill J. Gowland has a BA in psychology from McMaster University in Hamilton Ontario, and worked as a psychiatric clinician for five years. Following that she did a 10-year stint in sales and then worked as a marketing manager in the high-tech software and the security/access-control industries.

Before attending university, J.J. served tables in a golf course coffee shop and has been an avid golfer for more than three decades. Jill has been associated with the golf business as a director and shareholder of a privately owned golf course for more than 20 years. Jill studied comedy at Second City, Toronto, has written and directed stage plays, taught improv comedy, is a published poet. She has blogs on, has written for Ontario Golf Magazine, and is a golf novelist. Jill lives with a fluctuating handicap in Oakville, Ontario, Canada.

Her latest book, “Confessions of a Sandbagger,” (ISBN 1-4137-5527-4), a trade paperback, was released in December 2004 and is available world-wide and directly from the author. For ordering information, visit Also, see Bob Spiwak’s review of “Confessions of a Sandbagger” at

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