If there are two types of people in the world, I’m Type B – at least by Garlin Smith’s definition. Unlike Garlin, I didn’t wake up at 4:30 am ready for a round of speed golf. In fact, I had to use the same strategy that I had on a morning flight – I just didn’t go to bed. I stayed awake as long as I could before I had to close my eyes, then nodded off for about an hour, before a quick series of alarms roused me in a panic. I drove my drowned ass over to Chester Washington Golf Course and wondered, what the hell is wrong with these people? This is going to ruin my whole day.
When I drive into the parking lot at 5.15 a.m., it is still dark, but seven madmen are waiting for me, wide awake, stretching and shooting. The golf course doesn’t officially open until 6 a.m. At first it’s just us, a skunk, a couple of squirrels, and a groundskeeper named Chuck.
Garlin, the founder and “Chief Evangelist Officer” of Speedgolf SoCal, cannot play today because he sprained his ankle two days earlier. Regardless, he’s an attentive captain of his squad of “unicorn hybrid athletes” who make sure everyone is checked in while they troubleshoot golf balls with electrical problems. And his injury has a little silver lining: it gives him the opportunity to drive around in a golf cart and comment without worrying about running and golfing at the same time – which is probably too much to juggle at the same time, himself for a hyper-efficient multitasker like Garlin.
The first threesome – Randy Balik, Jason Yasment and Rick Crump – starts in the dark and starts bumpy. Their balls randomly fly into the tall grass, one after the other, and they jog after them. Fortunately, the balls glow in the dark so that the game does not completely derail.
The sky turns a lighter shade of black as the next three guys tee off, although their first few strokes aren’t much better. This trio consists of James Jackson, Eric Johnson and Jimmy Johnson. Most SoCal speed golf members have known each other for years. Many are long-term friends or have trained together as athletes. Eric and Jimmy are father and son.
Both groups are slowly warming up and getting better over time. My body takes its sweet time to wake up watching her.
Garlin Smith, my host for the day
Seven years ago, Garlin saw the Masters on CBS and saw a section about a speed golf tournament in Oregon. “And it was these guys who looked like gazelles – I mean, these tall, slim guys running down a golf course with those little golf bags,” Garlin tells me. In the end, he couldn’t believe her results. One of the speed golfers surveyed shot something like a 74 in 45 minutes – a great number, especially considering that a full round of golf (18 holes) typically takes four or five hours.
Garlin was immediately drawn to speed golf because it combined two different, seemingly disjointed passions of his. A big part of Garlin’s appeal is speed golf’s efficiency of playing golf at four or five times its usual pace in what appears to be its proudest productivity hack.
After seeing Speedgolf on TV, Garlin searched for a local chapter but couldn’t find one, so he went out alone for the first time.
“I took a couple of classes and asked, ‘Hey, can I come out and play speed golf?’ They say, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ So I would say, ‘Let me be first in the morning.’ ”
He was immediately hooked and started inviting friends to join him. Shortly thereafter, Speedgolf SoCal was officially born. There are other groups around the world, in places like Japan and the UK, while nearby chapters like one in Palm Springs are also popping up.
However, there are only about 20 speed golfers who carry the torch for the LA subway. Every Tuesday and Thursday, dark and early April through October, they meet at the Chester Washington Golf Course in South LA, where 105 meets Western Avenue. They used to play in a few other places too, but COVID made everything more difficult than it used to be.
According to Garlin, there are only perks for courses that are willing to allow speed golfers. Its members pay discounted prices ($ 20 versus $ 37 at peak times), but he estimates they can earn an additional $ 5,000 in extra income over a summer while playing for an hour – out of necessity, to not to get stuck behind other fours – if the course were otherwise unused.
A foursome jogs off the tea box to find his second shot
The moon is still out when we hit the ninth hole. Garlin is in the middle of a fitness-obsessed hate speech – “I mean, I have a lot of friends who are much younger than me, in much worse shape, but they always ask themselves, ‘How do you keep in shape?’ and I say: ‘Just keep moving!’ ”- when Jason walks up to her, drenched in sweat.
“What kind of ball is that over there from the guy who’s taking a nap?” I think I knocked that guy out. I’ve strapped it. “
At least that’s what I think he said …? It sounded like quasi-delirious ramblings. Some people get high on drugs, and some people get high when they wake up before dawn to run around a golf course and hit balls. I am not here to judge, just to report the facts.
Jason throws his body against the golf cart and moans, “Oh my god!” As his sweat splatters Garlin and me.
“Hurt?” asks Garlin.
“How do you feel?” I say and wipe the droplets off the side of my arm.
“My body is tired, you know, just – these are not muscles that I normally use because I ride a lot of the peloton, so it’s not like flexing muscles,” Jason explains through wheezing. “So after doing that, I usually like … my hips and my back and just about everything … killing myself.”
“A good injury or not?” I ask.
“Is there ever a good pain?” Jason replies.
“Yes, it hurts,” I reply. “I’m pretty sure Garlin thinks it’s well hurt.”
Garlin nods eagerly and we all laugh.
Jason confirms, “Oh, this guy’s an animal!”
But Garlin is not your average animal. Garlin is a Type A beast who tries to maximize his day before he starts his job in ad sales where he rocks a mean spreadsheet. In fact, he enjoys ruining his Type B pals’ golf game – either by trying to get them out of bed before daylight or by having their wives ask why they are taking so long on the course.
“I think my friends are like, ‘What are you doing? You’re taking away our hall pass, ‘”says Garlin. “Your wives say, ‘How the hell does Garlin keep in shape, play fucking golf, and Kristen says he’ll be home by 7am? They tell me golf is eight hours and you are overweight and always come home with a smell of liquor and cigars. ‘”
Garlin says golf is addicting because there is an ideal score. “You always strive for this perfection, do you know what I mean?”
After observing my father and uncle’s relationship with gaming during my childhood, I would say that is true. But the nice thing about speed golf is that there is no time to think. Golf tends to be a mental game, but speed golf is mind boggling. In addition, the stop-start aspect gives speed golf the HIIT workout effect. And they run four to five and a half miles, depending on how straight they hit the ball.
It’s hard to write a scorecard while walking around a course with a kid-sized golf bag, so players usually have to keep their scores in mind or rather take a Type B approach and … just don’t count. But Garlin has a special system: pearls on a string. When he does a bogey he pulls you down and so on so that at the end of the round he knows how many he was over or under.
On the second nine, I meet a regular golfer, whom Garlin welcomes as “Big Mike” because our group is allowed to play through. I can tell right away Big Mike calls it what he sees it.
“What do you think of this speed golf stuff?” I ask him.
“I think it’s like when I was on duty,” he says. “It was called military intelligence – that’s an oxymoron. Well mind you, I’ve given them 30 years of my fucking life and I love them to death – stars and bars forever – but goddamn it’s crazy. ”
I have to agree with Big Mike. It’s not even 7 a.m. Most people haven’t even had their first cup of coffee when Garlin whips the car to the 18th hole. “Then all the fun is over,” he says wistfully.
Jason sprints past, now soaked, but he sings a different tune. When asked again how he is doing, he exclaims: “I’m fine!”
The first group finished their entire lap in a good 77 minutes. After being on the track with the sky turning from night to day, I am exhausted but happy. Yes, my work day is ruined and my fingertips are frozen, but I am getting the thrill. The morning air in LA feels cleaner than usual. There is a serenity in the square that is difficult to find in a big city with expensive real estate. It’s so peaceful that it kind of makes you dizzy.
“It’s a good way to start the day,” says Jason with a smile. But maybe one that requires rest. When we return to the clubhouse, he admits, “I’m ready for a nap.”
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