Top 5 Reasons a Golf Membership is Better Than a Gym Membership

By Rory Hughes

(from Golf Chicago Magazine, May 2015)

It’s spring cleaning for the house, the car, and
more importantly, the finances. Time to review
discretionary spending and start making choices.
Must you eat at McDonald’s twice a day? Is NFL
Redzone a necessity? Aside from the bacon-cooking
alarm clock, can you reduce the Skymall purchases?
Finally…gulp…golf membership or gym membership?
On the surface it’s an easy decision. The aver-
age gym membership costs $800 per year. Let’s say
the average golf membership is five times that, or
$4,000. Bump that to $5,000 to account for inci-
dentals. Huge margin, right? And the gym is a great
place to “get your heart rate up,” and “build core
strength” blah blah.

Well, if you’ve canceled your membership at your
club, there’d better be a grace period, because after
much careful, totally biased research, I’ve come up
with the Top 5 Reasons a Golf Membership Beats
a Gym Membership. If you’re not the CFO of your
household, make sure he or she reads this.

#1 It’s Social
Meeting new people at the gym is at best pathetic, at
worst creepy (see John Travolta). Those troglodytes
chatting next to the weight bench didn’t just begin a
lifelong friendship; they’re buddies who are Googling
pickup lines for the bombshell on the treadmill.
Not only is a golf course void of the gym’s predato-
rial climate, you can meet a friend for life; perhaps
even more remarkable is that you can spend four
hours and say nothing and not feel awkward. Golf
provides a natural rhythm, a give and take with an
implicit understanding that you can reveal as much
or as little as you like; over time this can lead to real

#2 It’s an Escape From the Onslaught of Digital

Notice that, increasingly, gyms are feeding our screen
addiction. First there was one TV, then there were 30,
now every machine has one. We can hook up our cell
phone so we can listen to our music but watch their
TV. We’re distracting ourselves from ourselves. We’re
doing something we hate, so we trick our brains into
thinking we’re elsewhere. As we agonize toward the
30-minute mark on an elliptical, we jump between
Dr. Phil, TMZ, and Arkansas-Pine Bluff vs. Weber
State. The golf course, on other hand, is nature plus
play. No screens necessary (shame on those of you
who use a phone app for your rangefinder. Sacrilege!)
Even when we’re playing poorly, we’ve walked several
miles in a natural, serene environment, mimicking
the hunter-gatherers of yesteryear (some hunt more
than others).

#3 It’s Food-friendly
I don’t mean energy bars and “juices” with unpro-
nounceable ingredients. I mean real food and drink:
bacon-egg-cheese sandwiches, hot dogs, hamburgers,
coffee, Pepsi, beer. Some guys have a system. My uncle
starts every round with a full house (three Advil, two
beers), then a Red Bull and vodka at the turn. I only
drink water until I know I won’t break 80. Can you
imagine drinking a beer on the treadmill? I don’t
think the software can add calories.

#4 It’s a Game
We say “I’m playing golf today.” versus “I’m going to
the gym today” in the same way we might say “I’m
going to the doctor for a prostate check today.” These
poor souls schlep around the gym with a clipboard,
tick-marking every lift, tracking progress — they’ve
added three pounds in two weeks — hooray! What
they’re trying to do is turn the gym experience
into a game. But it’s not a game. It’s an obligation,
the same way taking the trash out or flossing is an
obligation. I’m going to modify Joan Rivers’ famous
quote about jogging: “The first time I see (someone
at the gym) smiling, I’ll consider trying it.” Even
during my worst round of golf my face does not
show the pure anguish of a gym rat. Fine, there’s a
brief “workout high” for 15 minutes afterward, but
how about a “golfer’s high” for four hours during?

#5 It’s Story-worthy
“I had just hit 3,346 steps on the treadmill. Cavuto
barked on one TV, Van Susteren on the other. The
manager was interviewing a prospective personal
trainer…” Gripping, right? Dying to read on? Nothing
great ever happens at the gym. Conversely, things
happen on the course that you can’t help sharing,
even with people who don’t care. When my wife asks,
“how was golf?” I tell her about the hook 8-iron on 5
that I stuffed to two feet for a double save. She doesn’t
care per se, but I still want to relive it. When she asks,
“how was the gym?” I either change the subject or
lie about how long I was on the Stairmaster.

Remember, I’m not talking about tour players — they
play golf for a living, so this meathead fad — sorry
Rory, I preferred you doughier — is for the world-
class golfer who wants to hit it 325 instead of 320.
We mortals simply want to play as much as possible;
if you’re like me, you’re dividing your membership
fees by the number of times you play in order to
justify the cost. Make this the year you stop doing
that. Acknowledge the gym as an unnecessary evil,
the course as much more than a line item on your
budget — as your beacon of physical, mental, social,
emotional and spiritual health.

Compilation of 45 anonymous responses to “What comes to mind when you think of the gym?” and “What comes to mind when you think of the golf course?”

The Things We Carry

from Golf Chicago Magazine (April 2015)


Since Neanderthals scrawled in blood on cave walls, we have been defined and connected by our stories. And every story has included the core elements of conflict, setting, character, plot line, and theme. I’m an English teacher by trade, so I tend to look at the world through a narrative lens. And although my life is its own epic, I’ve yet to find the hero.

The following chronicles the story of eight 30–40 something men — ranging from wildly successful to hopelessly depraved — and their descent upon a California retirement community to escape the soul-killing winter for a “healthy” golf competition. Format: half Ryder Cup, half I’m-still-not-sure-how I-lost. Below is the study guide, with footnotes for key vocabulary. You will be tested on this.


Palm Desert, CA, Super Bowl Weekend, 2015; headquarters is a 7-bedroom McMansion equipped with pool, putting green, 9 Flatscreens and a $4,000 massage chair; fridge is jammed with 100 bottles of Stella Artois, 80 eggs, and a vat of pickles.


To preserve identities — and marriages — I will use aliases — to be fair though, this is what we actually call each other.


Named after the cruise director for The Love Boat for assuming the thankless job of coordinating housing, tee times, grocery shopping, including shab provisions; others suspect he secretly relishes cat-herder role because it’s a diversion from work; refers to himself in third person after bad shots; also known as “Greek Tragedy” for shooting a pair of 79s and earning no points.

Ryzer Soze

Named after the enigma from The Usual Suspects; his refrain to our citing the official rules of golf: “You guys and all your rules…”; prefers Crown and Coke over coffee as a morning jumpstart; his Hard Resets generally include an antique.


Only drinks alcohol if his round is shot; most offended by players not knowing where they lie: During a pivotal match with Soze, “What do you lie, partner? Soze looks back down the fairway wistfully, “One..two…three..four…five…six…” Digital: “F — — it, nevermind.”

The Yeti

Large, lumbering and white as Stewart Cink’s mid-season head; known to chortle loudly at night (or your backswing); full nomenclature: “Eastern Slope Hairless Yeti”; swing resembles an epileptic baboon swatting mosquitos, hence also known as “The Yeti Project” ; only 23 handicapper with the game acumen of a tour caddy; laying seven, 80 yards out on a par 4, “What do you like? Cut 48 or draw 52?”


Tour pro wardrobe, toddler mental game; excuses are as abundant as matching belts: after blade yank from 130: “Damn it, did you hear that chicken chuckwagon me in my backswing?”

Pastor Frank

Protects his “flock” as the resident chauffeur — drives the “bus,” which resembles a church van except that it teems with alcohol, cigarettes, painkillers, and malcontents, chef — makes coffee and eggs every morning, and spiritual guide — I read his lips a few times: “May God have mercy on their souls”.


Bet his wife they would have a boy when the ultrasound officially determined a girl: ”Double or nothing”; after a full day of intense gambling on the course, demands action in shuffleboard, Donkey Kong, and Backgammon. Julie’s rebuff of the Backgammon challenge genuinely offends Rockefeller, prompting him to retire to the massage chair awash in self-pity; in a rare moment of self-reflection, “This is the first time I’ve had a dip in and a cigarette going at the same time on this trip. I don’t know what’s taken me so long!”


The Yeti asks Julie to “leave the pin in” because he’s “gonna miss” a 45 foot putt, to which Julie responds “No.” Yeti proceeds to drain a 45-foot snake for birdie and a halve. Later, Purple nearly dies choking on a Safeway jalapeno popper, then nonchalantly quips, “you can’t get those at Kroger.”


Pete Carroll snubs Beast Mode for a quick slant; concurrently, Purple, and gulping Sake, exclaims obstinately, “I’ve got the dinner under control!” as the grill, directly behind him, loaded with eight ribeyes, erupts in flames, jeopardizing our $2000 deposit for the third time.


Yeti falls into a deep shab-sleep in the massage chair again.


Pastor Frank, the winner with a 19 Index, returns the van to Enterprise full of empty beer cans, a bottle of Crown, a bag of eggs, and a jar of pickles.. Rockefeller: “If they’re industrious enough, they’ll find some full Stellas.”


I’m teaching Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried to my juniors. It’s an examination of war, of boyhood and brotherhood, of love and loss, but most importantly, of the power of story. O’Brien contemplates the space between what we remember, what actually happened, what could have happened, and how we are shaped by the blurred lines between: “Stories are for joining the past to the future…for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity…”

While it would be disingenuous to suggest that a Guys Golf Weekend is analogous to a Vietnam tour, the game of golf — like war-provides the ideal framework for a good story. It’s full of drama (Purple’s jalapeno brush with death), tragedy (Julie’s stellar play earning him no points), comedy (The Yeti saying or doing almost anything), and even Providence (the Pastor’s improbable win). What’s more, with golf, all of these can manifest themselves over the course of not just an entire weekend, but a single round, even a single hole. If you doubt that, just tune in to CBS around 5:30 every Sunday from now until late August.

And so perhaps this is why we’re so drawn to the game — in my case it’s obvious that I’m a sucker for character pieces — because we know every time tee pierces ground, a great story awaits.

Cabin Fever North of the Inferno

from Golf Chicago Magazine (March 2015)

For months you’ve longed for respite from the
stifling, omni-gray winter drudgery. Whether
it’s Derrick Rose’s knee, Jay Cutler’s pouty-face, your
boss’s snicker while you scan the Fantasy waiver-
wire (no, Odell Beckham is not available), in the
winter you’re a bit more agitated and depressed,
hopeless and dark. And cold. Damned cold.

But the Midwest ethic is hardy — it’s hearty. You
wake neighbors at 5 a.m. with guttural, scraped-
windshield sounds, then drive to work in darkness,
then drive home in darkness, then try to avoid an
ankle sprain as you scale the icy steps into your
high-energy-bill home. Chicago winter means ten
extra pounds, three more inches on the beard,
two shots of whiskey neat instead of vodka on
the rocks. You quickly transition from basking in
leaf-crunching, pumpkin-patching, autumn glow
to wondering what it feels like to open your front
door without swearing.

What kept you going? Maybe your screensaver
is the 12th at Augusta, the 7th at Pebble, or some
nondescript “hidden gem” resort course in St. Lucia
(it’s actually a goat track but your colleagues will
never know). Maybe it’s the R15 waiting on a rack at
the golf show, like a frightened puppy at the humane
society, eager to join a loyal and loving master.
And the transition from not golfing to golfing
for a Midwesterner is more dramatic than that of
our southern and western counterparts. My uncle
in Tennessee and my brother in Colorado often
gloat, “Yeah, it’s crazy. Sometimes we’ll just get a
70 degree day out of nowhere.” Hell hath no fury
like a dormant golfer scorned.

But in the final analysis, we might just have it better.
During premarital counseling my wife and I read
a book based on the central question, “What if there
is no such thing as heaven or hell?” In other words,
what if here, on earth, some of us are actually living
in heaven and some are living in hell? That there is
nothing “after” this; it’s all happening here and now.
The Chicago golfer experiences both, every year,
at their extremes. So we’re the Yin and the Yang,
the “it’s always darkest before the dawn” and “no
joy without pain” cliches. We embody the death
and rebirth archetype.

Frozen, barren, dead ground is replaced by lush,
vibrant, green blankets of rolling hills and fertile
plains, dotted with 4¼ inch holes, in which our
climactic winter dreams are realized: a steaming
nature-pool of pars and birdies and eagles, of won
skins and dragged in five-footers, of rounds with
your dad and a cool drink in the sun afterward.
In the winter, we turn to Guinness or Italian beef
sandwiches or Breaking Bad reruns, but as the sun stays
out a little longer, and the snow-covered ground turns
to green-mud slop, our souls swell with excitement. We
sneak a quick nine at the muni-down-the-street with our
daughter, skip the beef sandwich, and fire up the grill
for chicken or a salad. Hope replaces cynicism. Activity
supplants sloth. And now, instead of every decision beg-
ging the question, “will this help me endure the winter?”
it becomes “will this help my golf game?” which can be
directly translated to “will this help my soul?”

And besides, we “figured something out” in our
swings last year. That statement is in quotations
because it’s not my original thought; it’s plagiarized
from everyone who has ever gripped a club. The inevi-
table statement to follow in May: “What happened? I
thought I figured something out in my swing.”

I really did figure something out. I saw it in an
insomniatic Golf Channel blur with Michael Breed and
Paul Azinger. It was something so simple that I hadn’t
internalized in 25 years of playing: release the club at
impact. I wrote it on my hand, then on my scorecard,
then typed it in my iPhone, where it now looks exactly
like this: “Swing thoughts loose grip release club finish
forward posted August 30th at 3:21 pm.” Those three
simple thoughts changed my ball flight from weakish
old-man push slice to pro-style draw. It got me to a 5.9
index. And yet, I want to go lower.

In philosophy, the Hedonic Treadmill refers to
our human nature to always want more, no matter
how much we have. Think John Daly with chicken
wings and Budweiser or Tiger Woods with Perkins
waitresses. We’re like this with cutting strokes.
Golf equipment sales are predicated on this idea,
and though we know rationally that a ball or iron
or driver will only mask a weakness, we keep buy-
ing. You, my friend, are hereby permitted to jump
on that “treadmill” — goodness knows it’s better for
your soul than a real treadmill. It is time for rebirth.
So as the chill subsides, Derrick Rose plays two games
in a row, Cubs hope replaces Bears hate, and your boss
lets you out early for a quick nine, appreciate the privilege
of the yearly winter of discontent. I read a newspaper
headline in January, “Kitten freezes to death, stuck to
the front porch.” I mean really, how much less would I
appreciate a round at Cog Hill without that image seared
into my brain? I doubt some guy in L.A. or Phoenix
would. For us, that first round will be sweeter, the first
dig into turf more precious. So as soon as a flag goes up
within 30 miles, head out and play. Buy the new driver.
Pay for a lesson. Re-up at your club. You lived through hell. You deserve it.