Golf’s ‘cool’ quotient intensifies for rock ‘n’ rollers
By Jim Sullivan
I once played a round of golf with a member of a world-famous rock band at Brookline’s Robert T. Lynch Municipal Golf Course. There was one stipulation: That I not write about us doing so.
I have been a rock writer for years, but at the time, around 2000, I was also penning the Boston Globe’s celeb-centered Names & Faces column, and, yeah, it would have been an item. But I agreed and understood. It wasn’t about exposing deficiencies in his game; it was about perception of the game itself.
Rock stars: Cool. Golf: Uncool.
After all, the song doesn’t run “Sex and golf and rock ‘n’ roll!”
This cool/uncool perception has shifted over the years. There’s a long list of public rocker/golfers: Huey Lewis, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea, Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee, Eddie Van Halen, Justin Timberlake, Bob Seger, Belinda Carlisle, Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine, Roger Waters, Kid Rock, Alice in Chains’ Jerry Cantrell, Mick Fleetwood, Stephen Stills, Sammy Hagar, Iggy Pop and, of course, Alice Cooper, who’s been at it longer than anyone.
I started playing at 12, nearly a half-century from where I am now, unconcerned about any cool or uncool aspect. It was something to do. I even understood, albeit abstractly, what the oldtimers were telling me: Golf was a sport you could play throughout your life.
Even if I wasn’t concerned about cool, Alice Cooper’s enthusiasm for the game headed off any potential jabs. If a rocker who, on stage, chopped the heads off baby dolls, rolled around in a straitjacket and was guillotined every night, could play this genteel, pastoral game, so could I. Alice was loud and he was proud – about being a rocker and being a golfer.
I’ve interviewed Cooper a few times and we always talk golf, at least a little bit, usually to start. I’ll ask where his handicap is (usually around 4) and he’ll ask how I’m doing (bogey golf, give or take.). I’ll moan about never being as good as he is and he’ll say something like, “Chin-up, Jim, if you played as often as I do, you’d be as good as I am.”
If he’s not on tour, Cooper will play six days a week near his Phoenix home. If he’s on tour, he’ll play at every U.S. tour stop and in Europe about twice a week. You often see him on TV in those celebrity pro-am tournaments.
Cooper, well-known for battling the bottle early in his career, admits golf was (and is) key to his recovery in his “Alice Cooper: Golf Monster – A Rock ’n’ Roller’s 12 Steps To Becoming a Golf Addict.”
“Ask anybody who’s ever been addicted to anything,” Cooper told me. “When they get into golf, it’s the same addiction. It’s like you hit a great shot and you will hit ten bad shots to hit one more good shot. It’s almost like that with any drug addiction. It’s very, very similar. But it’s not going to kill you.”
I remember reading about Iggy Pop, too, in a Creem magazine story in the ’70s. Iggy indulged in a lot of drugs back then and said when he wanted to clean up he’d visit his parents in Florida and golf. He lives in Palmetto Bay, Florida, now and my guess is golf access is a factor.
I think for many of us – certainly for these rockers and certainly for my late-night/concert-going/writing self – one of the main appeals golf has is that it has nothing to do with the rest of our lives. It’s four-and-a-half (or more) hours away from all that. It’s a different (slower) pace; it requires a different (sharply honed) skill set, one not easily mastered. And, it’s a great equalizer – the No. 1 guy in your foursome is the ace-of-the-day, not the guy who has achieved the most measure of fame in other walks of life.
Hugo Burnham, former drummer for the post-punk band Gang of Four, was 8 and growing up in Kent, England, when he first took to the links. He played with his grandfather. But he didn’t really didn’t take up the game until the band folded in 1983 and Burnham moved permanently to the United States. He was transitioning into the job of an A&R man, procuring talent for record companies.
Burnham, a longtime Gloucester resident, says the annual March industry confab South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, was what re-ignited his interest. “The Austin airport was overwhelmed with golf bags from all over the country on early-arrival Tuesday, as the tournament always kicked off early Wednesday mornings. It was a blast, with a fair amount of drinking and a lot of cigar-smoking. And prizes! And Alice Cooper! And Willie Nelson!”
“I embraced and loved playing golf during those years,” he added. “There was absolutely nothing un-cool about it.”
Alas, Burnham added, “When I moved back East and ended my A&R days, I sort of tailed off. A baby in the house and starting a new life as a college professor rather got in the way. I still have my clubs, and I still want to get out and play again. What did I shoot? Not telling. OK, not very well. But it was glorious when it went long and straight, and it was always a blast.”
I golf regularly with Dave Herlihy, now a lawyer and music industry professor at Northeastern University. He was also the singer-songwriter/guitarist for Boston-based alternative rock band O Positive.
“I started playing golf as a kid and was on the high school team,” Herlihy said. “And in O Positive, I’d golf during the day and rock out at night.”
“I was never embarrassed by golf,” Herlihy added “I never hid the fact that I played, but didn’t think it was cool either, I just liked it and didn’t give a damn what anyone thought about it. I did kind of chafe at the country club angle though, the exclusionary, privileged dimension. But golf as golf, I love.”
Oedipus, the program director for Boston’s long-running, top-rated (but now defunct) rock radio station WBCN, is another frequent golf partner. “My father loved golf, but we were too poor to play,” he said. “We watched on the TV together. I would sneak onto a public 9-hole to putt, but did not take up the game until the late-’70s when a friend bought me a used lefty set. Problem, as always, was finding the time to play.
“Golf is a mini-vacation. Golf, in some form, has always been part of my life. I never cared what people thought. Remember, I was the guy who was playing all of this noise on the radio that people hated before it became popular. I was the guy who had colored hair long before it was de jour. I … programmed a radio station that was the internet before the internet. We defined cool.”
Oedipus recalls a round with members of AC/DC about 30 years ago at Wayland Country Club. Guitarist Malcolm Young, who died in November, and bassist Cliff Williams traveled with their own clubs, he said, “We talked music, but mostly golf. We were hackers and we three had a jolly afternoon on the links.”
Oedipus said the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson told him “Golf is lame.” To that, Oedipus replied, “Sorry that you do not understand the personal challenges and elations as well as the comradery that golf offers.’’
Four years ago, I interviewed Huey Lewis about music for a half-hour. Wrapping up, I asked about his game. For 15 minutes or so, we were just two golfers, swapping stories.
Lewis said he no longer golfed on concert days. Fair enough, I thought. That showed discipline and commitment to his work. But backstage after a concert in Boston he admitted he’d lied. He’d played Myopia Hunt Club in South Hamilton earlier that day. And, he volunteered, he’d played poorly, shooting 82.
That evening, I came bearing a gift, a special golf ball that lit up – through the miracle of LEDs – when you struck it, so, in theory, you could find it in the dusk or rough or anywhere. Problem was, it felt like a rock to hit it and it didn’t exactly fly off the club.
But, Huey said “We need these kinds of balls at our age.”
He was right: We do. If only they felt and flew like a Titleist Pro V1.
Jim Sullivan covered pop music and culture for the Boston Globe for 26 years. He tries to play golf once or twice a week in-season. He currently writes for WBUR’s ARTery, the Cape Cod Times and a host of other outlets.