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Bob Dunn’s Playing Along: Hitting the links (if not the ball)

  • Cold Spring Country Club pro Mark Klotz, right, instructs Gazette reporter Bob Dunn in the fundamentals of the golf swing at the Belchertown course.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Cold Spring Country Club pro Mark Klotz, right, instructs Gazette reporter Bob Dunn in the fundamentals of the golf swing at the Belchertown course.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Cold Spring Country Club pro Mark Klotz starts off with the grip in his instructions to Gazette reporter Bob Dunn in the elements of the golf swing at the Belchertown course.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Cold Spring Country Club pro Mark Klotz starts off with the grip in his instructions to Gazette reporter Bob Dunn in the elements of the golf swing at the Belchertown course.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Gazette reporter Bob Dunn hits "pay dirt" during a lesson with Cold Spring Country Club golf pro Mark Klotz at the Belchertown course.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Gazette reporter Bob Dunn hits "pay dirt" during a lesson with Cold Spring Country Club golf pro Mark Klotz at the Belchertown course.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Gazette reporter Bob Dunn follows along as Cold Spring Country Club golf pro Mark Klotz demonstrates the proper grip.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Gazette reporter Bob Dunn follows along as Cold Spring Country Club golf pro Mark Klotz demonstrates the proper grip.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • A view from the 10th tee at Cold Spring Country Club in Belchertown.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    A view from the 10th tee at Cold Spring Country Club in Belchertown.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Cold Spring Country Club pro Mark Klotz checks Gazette reporter Bob Dunn's stance during an introductory lesson at the Belchertown course.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Cold Spring Country Club pro Mark Klotz checks Gazette reporter Bob Dunn's stance during an introductory lesson at the Belchertown course.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Cold Spring Country Club golf pro Mark Klotz instructs Gazette reporter Bob Dunn in the elements of the golf swing at the Belchertown course.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Cold Spring Country Club golf pro Mark Klotz instructs Gazette reporter Bob Dunn in the elements of the golf swing at the Belchertown course.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Cold Spring Country Club pro Mark Klotz instructs Gazette reporter Bob Dunn in the elements of his golf swing at the Belchertown course.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Cold Spring Country Club pro Mark Klotz instructs Gazette reporter Bob Dunn in the elements of his golf swing at the Belchertown course.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Cold Spring Country Club pro Mark Klotz gives Gazette reporter Bob Dunn instruction on his target from the 15th tee of the Belchertown course.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Cold Spring Country Club pro Mark Klotz gives Gazette reporter Bob Dunn instruction on his target from the 15th tee of the Belchertown course.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Cold Spring Country Club pro Mark Klotz gives Gazette reporter Bob Dunn instruction on his target from the 15th tee of the Belchertown course.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Cold Spring Country Club pro Mark Klotz gives Gazette reporter Bob Dunn instruction on his target from the 15th tee of the Belchertown course.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Cold Spring Country Club pro Mark Klotz, right, instructs Gazette reporter Bob Dunn in the fundamentals of the golf swing at the Belchertown course.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Cold Spring Country Club pro Mark Klotz starts off with the grip in his instructions to Gazette reporter Bob Dunn in the elements of the golf swing at the Belchertown course.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Gazette reporter Bob Dunn hits "pay dirt" during a lesson with Cold Spring Country Club golf pro Mark Klotz at the Belchertown course.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Gazette reporter Bob Dunn follows along as Cold Spring Country Club golf pro Mark Klotz demonstrates the proper grip.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • A view from the 10th tee at Cold Spring Country Club in Belchertown.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Cold Spring Country Club pro Mark Klotz checks Gazette reporter Bob Dunn's stance during an introductory lesson at the Belchertown course.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Cold Spring Country Club golf pro Mark Klotz instructs Gazette reporter Bob Dunn in the elements of the golf swing at the Belchertown course.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Cold Spring Country Club pro Mark Klotz instructs Gazette reporter Bob Dunn in the elements of his golf swing at the Belchertown course.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Cold Spring Country Club pro Mark Klotz gives Gazette reporter Bob Dunn instruction on his target from the 15th tee of the Belchertown course.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Cold Spring Country Club pro Mark Klotz gives Gazette reporter Bob Dunn instruction on his target from the 15th tee of the Belchertown course.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

Growing up among people who golfed with varying levels of enthusiasm, you’d think somewhere along the line I’d have picked it up.

My father took to the sport later in life, but only casually, and his enthusiasm for the links dwindled after a golf-cart accident involving a tunnel, copious amounts of beer and an agreement among all involved to not openly discuss the matter beyond that night.

After that, his small set of clubs sat unused in the basement, and he found other ways to get out of the house on weekends that didn’t involve the looming threat of being drunkenly thrown like a projectile out of small, gas-powered vehicles into exposed bolts on the sides of concrete tunnel walls.

Note: I wasn’t part of the non-disclosure agreement.

My mother and stepfather, on the other hand, embrace golf wholeheartedly and chose their retirement spot in South Carolina based largely on the opportunity to golf nearly year-round.

Even so, golf always seemed to me like something other people did, and something that you could only take part in at someone else’s invitation.

My father’s interest didn’t last long enough for it to become a thing we did. I was already well into what passes for adulthood and out of the house when my mother began hitting the links, and my maternal grandfather, who was also an avid golfer, had passed away before I was pleasant enough company to accompany him.

I did receive that invitation once, about 24 years ago, from a friend who had recently taken up the sport and who didn’t mind being seen with someone who had no business being on a golf course.

I somehow managed to hack my way through nine holes and was informed when returning my borrowed clubs that, in addition to my lousy play, I had also managed to break several rules of course etiquette, mostly involving putting my bag in improper spots, like on the green or in front of the spot I was teeing off from.

I figured there were all sorts of other ways to look foolish and get yelled at which didn’t involve lugging around metal clubs and getting sunburned, so golf became one more of those things that I don’t do.

Learning the basics

So, considering the whole point of this column is doing things I don’t normally do, the opportunity to learn the basics of a proper golf swing from someone who knows better seemed like a good way to spend a Friday morning.

Mark Klotz, 47, is the resident golf pro at the Cold Spring Country Club in Belchertown and took time out to show me the basics. He told me most people have a hard time with golf swings because 1) they over-think them and 2) they swing too hard.

“Swing easy,” he tells me often enough that morning that it becomes kind of a mantra by the end of the visit.

Klotz said hitting a golf ball should be easier than basic moves in other sports like baseball, tennis and basketball because, unlike those others, the ball you’re trying to make contact with isn’t moving.

Klotz said the appeal of the sport goes beyond the satisfaction of slapping a small white ball into a hole hundreds of yards away: It’s a sport and activity that can be shared among small groups of friends or family, and it provides time to talk and bond. He said his 21-year-old daughter often calls him up to shoot a round, which gives the pair an opportunity to spend a few hours talking and playing in a way they couldn’t if they were playing some other sport.

On top of that, Klotz says, business networking is still alive and well on the links.

“You can do some good business on a golf course,” he said.

Swinging the clubs

Arriving at the course, it’s easy to see how people can look at golf as exclusionary.

The parking lot is full of cars that I’ve only seen advertised during commercial breaks during televised golf matches as I doze in and out of consciousness wondering which luxury vehicle defines me best.

Then there is the facility itself. The place is beautiful, there’s simply no getting around it. The course isn’t landscaped as much as it is manicured. Lush green under blue sky creating the look of the place where the party I wouldn’t be invited to is being held.

Not so, says Klotz. Despite the sport’s reputation as a pastime only of the affluent, the overall investment to play golf regularly, he says, is less than many other sports considered “blue collar,” like hockey, for example, which can become quite expensive when considering equipment and other associated costs.

Klotz said for about $300, people can get a club membership, which if broken down over the course of a usual New England golf season is about $50 per month. A starter set of a half-dozen different clubs is about the only other thing one would need to begin.

A quick search online found starter sets of clubs for about $100.

Clubs can become an expensive addition to a golfer’s investment, Klotz said, but most casual golfers won’t find a use for the ones outside of those first six (a driver for initial tee shots, a putter for use on the green, a sand wedge for the inevitable trips to the traps, and three irons for mid-range shots after the first drive on the approach to the green).

Swinging those clubs is a skill unto itself, though.

First, I let Klotz know that, because I apparently have an innate ability to make things as difficult as possible, I’m left-handed and may require the appropriate clubs.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “So am I. All good-looking people are.”

Did I mention Klotz is my favorite golfer, ever?

He continues by disabusing me of a couple myths about a golf swing.

First, don’t swing too hard. The club is designed to do most of the work; there’s no need to try and hit the ball like you just caught it going through your stuff.

Second, contrary to what I’ve always thought, the club should hit the ground somewhat, which is good news, because I’m pretty sure I’ve got that part covered.

Making contact

We set up at one of the tees and, somehow with a few swings I manage to miss both the non-moving ball and the even-less-moving ground completely.

Alternately, I manage to hit the ground with enough force to send a chunk of the course — large enough to warrant its own ZIP code — skyward and somehow still not move the ball anywhere.

Klotz takes me through a proper swing a few more times: arms straight, follow through on the swing, pivot your body toward where you want the ball to go, hit the ground and, of course, “swing easy.”

Keeping all of that straight kind of makes not overthinking the swing difficult, but when all of those elements connected something amazing happened.

I hit the ball.

It wasn’t very far, it wasn’t very high, and it wouldn’t have shaved much, if anything, off my score, if I was keeping one, but it left the ground and, sure enough, went straight from where my left hip was pointing at the end of my swing.

If I had followed through properly, my left hip would have been pointing elsewhere, but you get the idea.

When everything works, there aren’t many things that are as satisfying as hearing the club slice the air, feeling the impact and hearing the high-pitched crack when the club connects with the ball, and listening through a hopefully very pregnant pause, waiting to hear the soft, distant thump of your ball landing in an accessible spot on the fairway.

Of course that’s just part of one of the basics of the game. We didn’t get into any of the rest like putting, chip shots, etiquette, draws, fades and other terms I learned from playing video-game golf.

Despite that, I’m thinking it might be time to join the family and grab a bucket of balls sometime and do some easy swinging.

I would just suggest standing well off to the side if you see me out there.

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