Brent Kelly and the nice folks at about.com did an interview with me about my book and blog. Please check out their terrific golf site at www.golf.about.com and if you want to read the interview there the link is http://golf.about.com/od/golfcoursearchitecture/a/qandq_jayflemma.htm.
Golf Course Architecture Aficionado Turns Passion into Book Project
Jay Flemma is a New York-based entertainment, copyright and trademark lawyer who is passionate about golf. So passionate that he decided to make golf, and writing about golf, an avocation: Jay began visiting golf courses around the world, searching for the best public golf. Courses that are terrific places to play, that are open to the public, and that don’t break the bank. As he writes on his blog, “If you are sick of skyrocketing green fees, boring layouts, scrambling for tee times, and those muni-course blues, take heart. We make egalitarianism a part of the game again. We tell you which courses are worth the money and why.”
Jay’s efforts have culminated to in two intertwined projects: a frequently updated blog on golf course architecture and great public golf values, A Walk in the Park; and a planned series of golf guidebooks under the same name. The first book is currently planned for a Spring 2006 release, with regional volumes to follow.
Along the way, Jay has visited numerous countries, most of the states and hundreds of golf courses. You can follow along with his travels at his blog; you can also find some of his golf course photos here on About.com Golf. We spoke with Jay recently about his project and his passion.
1. Give us a basic outline of your book project and A Walk in the Park.
I’m writing a series of purely public golf course travel guides under the A walk in the park trademark. I have played over 200 “ranked courses” in various magazines as well as some courses ranked highly in their state and am evaluating them by two main factors – 1) excitement of design and 2) value. The goal is to tell the consumers which courses are really worth their hard earned money and why. Then they offer playing tips, interesting stories from the designers and pros and travel tips, like when is the most economical time to go. For example at $260 per round, Troon North could break the bank – but at $75 in the summer its a steal! Yes it gets hot, but you can put together an epic trip in the southwest with a little extra sunblock and water. Then every 9 months or so we will do regional volumes – “A walk in the park Florida” or “A walk in the park Virginia-Carolina” etc, until we cover the nine regions into which we divided the country. We’ll also update the national volume every four years or so to add new courses and intersperse volumes of British courses or private courses too. The goal is increasing the accessibility of public golf to everybody and helping people get the most bang for their buck.
As a bonus, I have had the good fortune to meet and interview some terrific course designers. So the book will feature interviews with the greats such as Mike Strantz and Brian Silva – sharing their philosophies on design and the golf world. Their insights really give the project an added dimension thats informative and fun.
2. What motivated you to take on this project, and when and how did you get started?
There were three main factors.
First, most golf books are pretty much useless. Some are “top 100 or top 50” and include private courses. These books sell poorly because who wants a book mostly filled with courses you CAN’T play? That’s no fun. Next, some guides offer hundreds of courses with a little blurb about each one – but the blurb is inaccurate. Lets take Zagats for example. If you believe them, then 5 of the top 11 courses in the country are in NYC. Also, its written by the people writing in who will naturally favor their nearby course. Take their entry on Montauk Downs. They say its “Shinnecock Hills for the Masses. A fantastic links course. Skip Bethpage and play here.” That’s so wrong as to be laughable – that is if it did not totally mislead the consumer! Montauk is a classic RTJ parkland design. It has no links elements whatsoever except 1) its near the ocean and 2) its windy. Other than that, the approaches are severely uphill and are not welcoming to bump and run shots. There are many forced carries, especially on approaches. Don’t get me wrong, Montauk is a solid course, but its not a links and is not on the same level as Shinnecock or Bethpage. To skip Bethpage to play there would be to skip the Louvre Museum to go to out for a nice dinner.
Second, living in NYC golf prices are outrageous. Everything is supposedly justified at a $125 greens fee. Well guess again. once you know that you can play Richter Park for $40-$60, why waste the additional $65-$85? Moreover, many resorts offer not only high prices, but cookie cutter designs. I want to show people great designs and show them they too can get out there and share the joy that is the golden age of golf course design we are living in right now.
Finally, I’ll never forget it…I’m standing on the 8th hole of a local muni, when i kid runs out of the woods, grabs the flag I’m aiming at, throws it over the fence near the green and drives off in a waiting van…this is in the middle of a 6-1/2 hour round…no…people need to know that great golf is just a slightly further drive from where they live. Friends don’t let friends golf slum. There are so many choices, but only a few great ones – but they are out there. I have dedicated this pursuit to shining the light on the great $40 diamonds in the rough and will also show people the best time to go play the great $250 at a lower rate so they too can share in that epic golf experience. Golf is an EGALITARIAN game. its played by 3 year olds and 93 year olds alike. Its meant to be enjoyed by entire families, not just aristocrats.
3. How have you fit your “regular” job around this project?
I’m lucky in that my straight job is I am an entertainment lawyer with a strong focus on music, trademark and Internet Law. Sometimes I look for long weekends on the calendar and take off in the car or jet to a locale and play 36 a day. Sometimes I’ll look where clients are playing concerts or filming a movie and I’ll fly out and play with them. For example, when rock band Bowling For Soup played Texas, I got to play in Austin and San Antonio. When Ominous Seapods toured Montana, Idaho and Oregon, I got to play Coeur D’Alene and Pumpkin Ridge (among others). Whenever I have a lecture that I give on entertainment law or Intellectual Property in some distant place, the clubs go with me. Lastly, I get two weeks a year, so I have had weeks in great places like Arizona, New Mexico, the Carolinas…pretty much all over. i tabled my foreign travel lately to finish volume one – which has been 6 years of my life, but what a journey. I’ve met great golf companions from Bangor to baja and from Sarasota to Seattle.
4. What are a few of the courses you’ve discovered along the way that were great surprises for you?
Wow! Talk about giving a starving man a menu! The nice thing about it is when I plan a trip its “OK here’s the locale, here the 5-7 places I have to play, go to it.” The most special time is when I’m off to someplace about which I have no idea and I’m pleasantly surprised. As for the biggest surprises, for courses which I had high expectations going in, I still was floored by Bandon Dunes/Pacific Dunes, Coeur D’Alene, Troon North, Sedona, Ventana Canyon, Sawgrass, Whistling Straights and Royal New Kent. They are all incredible. As for places where I had NO IDEA what to expect and got totally floored, Tobacco Road (run, don’t walk), World Woods (so good I go back EVERY year at New Years), Hiawatha Landing, Paa-ko Ridge, Pumpkin Ridge and Red tail just to name a few. I know I’m leaving some out, but off the top of my head, those are all stunning for different reasons. But each one of them is an unforgettable golf adventure and a great golf value.
5. What are some of the best bargains – for regular golfers – that you’ve discovered? Great but relatively little-known courses that folks can play without breaking the bank.
Old Works, Bethpage, PGA Village (I love the Dye Course, but don’t get intimidated!), Anything by Mike Strantz – he is the king of champagne golf at beer prices, Hiawatha Landing, Conklin Players club (easy and short, but fun and impeccably manicured), Pumpkin Ridge just for openers. But also Vegas, Arizona and New Mexico greens fees drop sharply into a really affordable range in the summer, so dint miss Troon, Greyhawk and Ventana Canyon.
6. What’s your favorite golf road trip that you’ve taken while working on this?
The answer will surprise you. I have taken some epic trips – the Dunes of Oregon, Sawgrass, Arizona, Colorado, but the most powerful for me was the three days in Myrtle Beach when I not only played the Dunes and True Blue, but I got the privilege to meet and interview Mike Strantz. It was the most powerful and moving moment of my golf career. First, my golf friends and I cherish each one of his bold, progressive designs which are also rich in risk reward options. Its one thrilling shot after another. But here is a man who is so much more. He’s a cancer survivor, a devoted husband and father, a sensitive artist, and a warm gentleman. His whole extended family opened their world and hearts and welcomed me in, taking the time to teach me about designs and sharing all sorts of stories about his career. It was heartwarming. The feeling of love that emanated from his whole team and extended family to him and his work was more than palpable – it was staggering.
It really helped hone my own understanding of why this game is special to me…its a microcosm of so much of life – the love of family, the faithfulness of friends, the benefits of hard work, the joys of great victories and the grace needed to deal with setbacks and most importantly, the fortitude to keep on living whatever dream it is you chase. Golf did all that for Mike and it does it on a similar level for so many people. Thats why my book is so important to me – I want to share that same love and sense of adventure I feel out on the course with the rest of the golf world. i know so many people feel it at times. Hopefully, they’ll pick up my book and take an adventure that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives too…and its a feeling that should and can be shared by everyone – not just the richest of us.
7. What’s the timetable for publication of the first book, and for following volumes?
I’m aiming for the first volume to be done in time for a spring 2006 release. Then one more every nine months or so.
8. Whats the best thing you ever did for your score?
Easy! Get a walking bag! I feel healthier, my rhythm has improved and I’m not standing around out-thinking myself over the ball. Since I started only walking the course, I have doubled my fairways hit off the tee and my greens in regulation, not to mention shed 5 pounds.
9. What are you looking forward to most in the coming year?
Playing at least one more time with my 80 year old dad and my mom (I love you guys!), meeting and learning from Brian Silva, seeing Hawaii and also Utah’s canyonlands, a Midwest swing where I have no expectations and can be totally surprised, meeting more avid lovers of the game and sharing the great love that unites us as players, shedding some strokes off my handicap, tackling Kiawah Island, Tobacco Road (hopefully several times!), watching my friends that are just learning the game get better and better and enjoy the game even more, and finding those perfect words to describe those otherwise indescribable golf masterpieces.