Life on tour is anything but familiar. Each week we are in new places, sometimes cities, but usually small towns. Unless you're a tour veteran, it is likely your first time touching the new turf each week. So we get comfortable being uncomfortable. I didn’t make up that phrase. It’s standard sports psychology lingo, except I’m not talking about golf. I’m referring to everything outside the game - learning the ropes of booking hotels, adjusting to time changes, figuring out best times to practice, where to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat. When we are constantly changing environments, we are surrounded by new cultures. Our menu choices constantly vary, which makes maintaining a consistent diet difficult. Then there are grocery stores. Sometimes the towns are limited to one. Other times the options are endless. Regardless, they are always different. It’s rarely a Publix, Whole Foods, or Trader Joe’s.
It sounds hectic but there is something cool about it. We are constantly learning different cultures, terrains, and landscapes from a whole different perspective than the typical tourist. It’s like we begin to live our “normal” lives in these towns. Come Saturday or Sunday, we aren’t using google maps or asking Siri for dinner recommendations. By then we’ve learned the roads, restaurants, and retail stores.
This past week things were different. For the first time, I returned to a tour stop that I visited last year - Pinehaven Country Club, home to the Twin Bridges Championship near Albany, New York. From the moment I stepped off the plane, things were easier than I’ve experienced before. A short drive from my home in Pennsylvania, my mom drove up and picked me up at the airport. After a 20-minute drive from the airport, we were pulling into Pinehaven. The first sign I had that this week would be slightly easier than ever before was finding a bathroom. I didn’t have to run circles around the clubhouse - I already knew all of them. Then came the convenience of knowing the practice facilities and the pros and cons of each one. Having played the course multiple times, nine-hole practice rounds were enough. Even those were easier - I had the hole locations saved from last year so I didn’t have to spend the mental energy figuring out where the rules officials might put the pin.
After my practice round, I didn’t have to pull up maps right away to get back to the hotel - I remembered the first few turns. I even remembered how to get to a local grocery store that Google didn’t know existed (with that I even impressed myself).
I had one day off before the tournament started on Friday. After an early morning practice session, I would usually return to the hotel and search the top things to do in these small towns. Having visited this region of upstate New York before, I already knew how I would fill my day. My mom and I headed up to Saratoga Lake for a relaxing afternoon and lunch at our favorite spot, 550 Waterfront. It was a haven far from home.
On our way back, we passed a local country store, Lakeside Farms, with a huge sign “Open Daily for Breakfast and Lunch.” In the spirit of adventure, my mom and I decided that we had to go before we left. With an afternoon tee time on Saturday, we headed there that morning. We sipped on smooth coffee and split an Apple Cider donut - a routine my mom and I used to follow during our annual summer family vacations to Vermont. It all felt so familiar.
Following Saturday’s round, we stayed at Pinehaven for dinner waiting for the Concert on the Course - an event we had been looking forward to since the start of the week. As country music fans, we had a blast watching Maddie and Tae and Michael Ray perform for the players, patrons, and partiers. My cowboy hat goes off to Pinehaven, Twinbridges, and all the tournament sponsors for pulling off such a world-class event in back-to-back years.
Somewhere in between all of this I did play golf - pretty solid golf, too. The course was comforting for me. The pine trees, bent grass, small greens, and thick rough are customary to northeast golfers. I’d finish tied for 21st, my highest finish in the five events I’ve played this year. I’m proud of that, but I’ll walk away with a lot more memories than fist-pumping on eighteen to finish with a birdie. I’ll remember the haven I discovered far from home. Because if there is one thing that I’ve learned from this second year on tour, it’s to always stop and smell the roses (or pine trees) along the way.