- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 30, 2003

CHICAGO — Old Tom Morris never envisioned this brand of bump-and-run golf.

It’s called Xtreme golf, an outrageous marriage pairing running with the somewhat sedentary sport of golf. In Xtreme golf, also called SpeedGolf, the goal is to shoot the lowest possible score while running between shots to produce the fastest possible time. A player’s total score is determined by adding his golf score to his running time.

And as you stand spaghetti-legged on the 13th tee of the Jackson Park Golf Course in South Chicago, you waste precious breath cursing the unconventional concept.

A searing heat has settled into both of your quads. Your arms are so numb from alternately toting what once seemed like a laughably light six-club bag that you can’t feel the weight of the 4-iron now in your hands.

The tee won’t stand still long enough for you to balance the ball in its ridiculously minuscule concave cradle. You briefly consider the shot required on the 183-yard, par 3 — a gentle, dead-handed, punch fade that needs to barely carry the front edge of the concrete these midwestern Neanderthals call a green. And you realize you’ll be happy with anything but a whiff.

You can hear the click of the iron from the player behind you as he approaches the 12th green. Oh, no, it’s the “Kangaroo.” He’s relentless in his pursuit — like a Callaway-toting K-9. Your body burns. The clock ticks. Go!

Welcome to the 2003 Chicago SpeedGolf Classic.

• • •

Flipping through the August 2002 issue of Travel and Leisure Golf, you notice a brief notation on Xtreme Golf. You chuckle at the concept; take a game predicated on patience, calculation and precision and add to it the seemingly contradictory elements of immediacy and physical ardor.

Fantastic. Even as the purist within protests, curiosity takes control, and you know that you must experience this intriguing abomination.

But where and with whom?

A quick Internet search reveals a handful of facts about the hybrid game. First, SpeedGolf is predominantly a West Coast phenomenon — there’s a shocker.

Second, the sport was basically invented in 1979, when Steve Scott, U.S. world record holder in the mile (3:47.69) and an occasional golfer, learned that Guinness listed the world record for the fastest round of golf at 30:22. Subsequently, Scott played a course in Anaheim, Calif., in 29:30, carding a 95 using only a 3-iron. It’s important to note that Scott did have teed balls waiting for him on every hole and did not have to retrieve balls from the cup, luxuries not afforded modern players.

Third, the sport is governed by USGA rules, with only three major exceptions. Players may leave flagsticks in while putting. Players may carry only up to six clubs. And with the exception of obviously irretrievable balls (which must be immediately replayed), the distance element of stroke-and-distance penalties is waived.

Finally, one Web site also yields a list of courses friendly to SpeedGolfers. The nearest to D.C. is in Bristol, Ind., so you phone them up:

TWT: “I hear you folks play Xtreme golf.”

Bristol: “Occasionally.”

TWT: “Do you have any Xtreme events lined up?”

Bristol: “When would you like to play?”

TWT: “You name it, and I’ll be there. I’ve had a tough time finding a game.”

Bristol: “I can call a few friends, and we can play next weekend if you like. … Just one thing, before I call these guys, how extreme are we talking?”

TWT: “What do mean?”

Bristol: “I mean, can you give me some type of ballpark dollar figure? Does $200 or $300 a hole sound extreme enough for you?”

Yeah, it sounds like an extreme divorce.

So, you put the confused hustler from Bristol on hold for a more desperate day.

And several months and a sleeve or so of misunderstandings later, you eventually track down Chicago-based James Kosciolek, one of the founders of a group called SpeedGolf International. Kosciolek and his Oregon buddies Tim Scott (no relation to Steve) and Chris Smith, stage two tournaments every year, at Oregon’s prestigious Bandon Dunes in April and Jackson Park in Chicago in October. You send in your $40 entry fee and book a flight to Chicago.

• • •

Jackson Park is one of golf’s rarest gems: a true inner-city course without a single short-track design debacle. Sculpted by famed Medinah No.3 architect Tom Bendelow a century ago, the layout is extremely short (5,580 yards, par 70) and mercifully flat. And your fears of having your Xtreme golf experience marred by some muni midden are allayed during a walking pre-tournament practice round you use to learn the routing and select which clubs to carry.

Of course, no amount of local knowledge is going to compensate for your lack of SpeedGolf experience or poor conditioning. The cause of the latter is a combination of domestic dissolution (see marriage, kids, apathy) and a strained hamstring. The cause of the former is simple ignorance.

Fact is, few folks are familiar with Xtreme golf (see Bristol), a reality which makes finding a place to train very difficult. Five calls to Beltway courses in search of some dawn SpeedGolf practice prove fruitless. Two pro shop attendants listen to your request and hang up without a word, likely convinced you are a prank. One tells you it would be “disastrous” to the course’s dawn maintenance efforts. Another gives you a lecture on how golf is intended to be a leisurely, smell-the-roses activity. And another openly mocks you for being a freak.

So here you are at a strange course, seeded fifth among 21 participants (determined by handicap and average 10K time) in a format in which you have never competed, preparing to run approximately four miles on a bad hamstring having never played a round of golf without a cigarette, much less at a jog.

Perhaps the only real practice positive comes courtesy of the Minnesotans, a pair of SpeedGolf fanatics who give you some quality insight into the Xtreme mentality. Bob Feldman and Cary Kangas, whom you join on the 12th tee, have driven (“you betcha”) 400 miles from Minneapolis to Chicago to compete in the event.

You quickly realize they represent the Yin and Yang of SpeedGolf disciples. The fiftysomething Feldman, an average runner (8-minute-plus miler) and average golfer (20-handicapper), plays for the love of the obscure sport.

“The first time I played, I was just blown away by how SpeedGolf just totally got rid of all the tension and instructional clutter that defined my normal golf game,” explains Feldman. “It was just golf in its purest form, you know? Just you hitting and chasing that ball like there was nothing else in the world. You ever watch a child chase a ball around? That’s how it made me feel, like I was a kid again.”

The fortysomething Kangas, on the other hand, is obsessed with the competition. He’s a 15-handicapper with a swing that screams “slice.” But the man has a serious set of wheels. And as he explains how he normally plays back home with just a 5-iron and a special cut-down putter holstered in his belt, you can’t help picturing him in line at a “Star Trek” convention. Here’s a man who has finally found his sports niche after years of desperately yearning for jockdom, and he’s determined to cram every smidgen of his soul into it.

Each time he fans his nasty little banana ball into the right nether regions, he dismisses the shot with the same mantra: “Tomorrow. It won’t happen tomorrow when I’m running, loose and in the flow. Not tomorrow. Tomorrow.”

Thank you, Annie.

• • •

Dawn breaks in surprisingly benign fashion for Chicago in October, greeting the field with windless, 55-degree conditions. You stretch a bit and stick a driver, L-wedge, PW, 7-iron, 4-iron and putter into the miniature, strapless stand bag Kosciolek has provided for each competitor. Scores are to be reported to volunteers spaced at three-hole intervals, necessitating the honor system. While final tee times (solo and spaced four minutes apart) are being set, you continue your model training regimen by trying to kickstart your system with three cups of coffee.

Tim Scott is first off as the only “professional” in the field. Without Smith to push him, Scott’s only real challenge is breaking the “world record” he set here the year before, when he won the inaugural Chicago SpeedGolf Classic by carding a 70 in 42:07 for a total of 112:07. You watch Scott crush a 300-yard drive and rabbit off the first tee en route to another staggering performance: 114:47 (71—43:47).

Sixteen minutes and three others later, the official timer finishes his backward count from 10, and you’re off. Well, sort of. Your caffeinefest and the tension of teeing off in front of a small gallery conspire to produce an ugly, opening smother hook that covers just over 100 yards.

Most of the next hour is a blur. You open bogey-par, but consecutive doubles on Nos.3 and 4 (thanks to fluffed L-wedge approaches) pretty much doom your goal of shooting 76 or better.

The biggest surprise is how awkward and energy-sapping it is to carry the small bag. The clubheads are rattling around. The asymmetric weight assaults your stride. Right hand? Left hand? Under arm? Chuck and chase? If only you had a quiver.

The second surprise is that running between shots has a surprisingly nominal effect on full-swing shots and even putting. That said, the exertion is murder on finesse shots like chips, pitches and half-swing approaches. Your 60-degree wedge is 100-percent horrid, costing you no less than six shots during the round.

The final tally is gruesome: 83 strokes (10 higher than in the practice round) in 64 minutes for a forgettable 147 (11th). You finish with three doubles, nine bogeys, four pars and two birdies (both of the two-putt variety on extremely short par-5s).

As for particulars, only one stands out — the pass.

It happens, fittingly, on No.13, the annoyingly intense Kangas (who starts in the seventh slot) shouting “Fore” as you stand over a birdie putt and sprinting through you on his way to the day’s second-best score of 128:18 (84—44:18). You briefly consider trying to Hoffa his scrawny hide in a handy bunker, but you know you’d have to catch him first.

Panting and humbled minutes after finishing, you encounter a perfectly composed Scott who informs you that if you’re a real man, you’ll show up at 7,000-yard, windswept Bandon Dunes in April for SpeedGolf’s version of the full monty.

Sure. When they move the Masters to March, you’ll be there.

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