Celebrating Golf. Actually – Celebrating the Universal Quest to Be Better in Life

April 20, 2024

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It was a perfect storm last weekend. First, it rained all weekend long. (Why can’t it rain during the week and leave the weekends for sun and fun?) Second, I got a dang cold again (my second one this year – don’t worry – I won’t talk about it any more). And third, the Masters golf tournament was on TV for 437 hours. I was stuck inside, and actually, I had no choice but to try to consume every one of those 437 hours. Best weekend ever.

My mother-in-law, an avid reader of my posts, is rolling her eyes right now. If playing golf is “a good walk spoiled,” as she (and allegedly, Mark Twain) would say, what in the world is watching golf on TV? For me, especially with a tournament like this one, it’s the chance to watch the greatest golfers in the world trying to do their best on one of the most challenging, and certainly one of the most beautiful, courses in the world. And I love seeing that even when they try to do their best, they fall far short of perfection. In fact, while a few professionals occasionally succeed under great pressure, it is far more common to watch even the best of the best blatantly fail in their efforts. And like all of us when we fail, they have to gather themselves and recover from each and every failure. One of my favorite books about golf is Bob Rotella’s Golf is Not a Game of Perfect. One of Rotella’s most impactful lines is about far more than golf: “Golf is about how well you accept, respond to, and score with your misses much more so than it is a game of your perfect shots.” I know it’s just golf, but I love how it makes all of us pursue excellence, reminds us of our imperfections when we fail, then makes us engage in new pursuits again and again. These are such good lessons for a life well lived.

And if the professionals fall short of perfection, you can bet that the rest of us only have glimpses. But that’s enough to keep most of us going. Every day we go to the course, it’s a fresh start and a chance to play up to our full potential. Boy did I fall short of that this past Wednesday – in fact, I did not even glimpse momentary greatness. But I’m already looking forward to next week.

I love golf. I love playing, and I love being a fan. It’s not for everyone. Though just like Barry Manilow wanted to teach the world to sing, Tiger Woods almost succeeded in making the whole world want to play golf. That’s why I started playing. In 1998, my then 8-year-old son Ryan, fully inspired by Tiger Woods’ greatness and coolness, and further motivated by his grandfather and uncle, both of whom were also very good at golf and very cool, said to me, “Dad, let’s start playing golf.” I was in. A quarter of a century later, we’re both still hooked. 

Golf made me a better father. Probably the best thing you can do as a parent is to give your child the gift of time, multiple hour segments during which they have your undivided attention. Golf takes a lot of time. Both Ryan and I fondly remember playing golf on Saturday mornings at a local public course, then splurging on a hot dog and a Slurpee (Diet Coke for me!) from 7-11 after. There’s no technology to distract you, there’s some friendly competition, there’s the beauty of being outdoors, there’s the constant desire for improvement, and every once in a while, we hit that perfect shot. Throughout it all, you are together and filling your walking time with conversation, bad jokes, and appreciation for what you are doing. I’m trying to think of similar activities that provide that long, uninterrupted time between a parent and a child – fishing, hunting, hiking, sailing – I’m sure there are more. Golf was our choice. Over 25 years later, we are still at it. I’m looking forward to playing with him up in Sacramento in June. It will be awesome.

Golf is a game that reveals character and attitude – another reason why it is a great way to spend time with a child as a parent. I’ve played with plenty of people who get far more upset than they should with bad shots, bad bounces, or any of the gazillion frustrating parts about golf. As the famous Arnold Palmer (of golf and tea/lemonade fame) said to an upset amateur golfer, “Enjoy the day. You’re not good enough to get mad.” I firmly believe that if someone is getting upset at silly stuff on a golf course, they’re probably also reacting irrationally at work or at home. If someone is cheating on the golf course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I once gave Ryan three-hole on course suspension (I was a high school principal, so it’s a suspension, not a time-out) after an over the top outburst. There’s just no need. We all get upset. We just have to let it pass, not take it out on others, reset, and move on. Bob Rotella again – “Not many people think that their state of mind is a matter of choice. But I believe it is.” Living with the glass half full makes golf and life so much more enjoyable. Again, these are great lessons for golf and life.

I know that golf is considered a game for the rich. Country club golf can certainly be that. Augusta National Golf Club, the home of the Masters, may be one of the most exclusive clubs in the world – I certainly haven’t played it . . . yet. Still, I’ve had the pleasure of playing some beautiful country club courses – Riviera, Cypress Point, Virginia, Del Paso, and Monterey Peninsula in California, Little Rock CC and The Alotian in Arkansas, and Kohanaiki in Hawaii. They are all amazing and I feel fortunate to have experienced golf at that level. What’s more amazing is that a person of my meager golfing talent is allowed to play on courses like that! But the courses I play regularly are public courses in Southern California. And my favorite of all of those is the Soule Park Golf Course in Ojai, CA. For the $35 senior rate (It pays to be old!), I can get a small bucket of balls and spend four and a half hours walking beautiful Soule Park. And every Wednesday morning, I join a group of misfits like myself who think that our public course is an incredible gem, competing for meager amounts of money and greater amounts of pride, laughing throughout the day, and each of us feeling quite lucky to be part of it. 

My friend Keith Brown is the general manager of Soule Park. Keith did not grow up with money. He started playing golf at a public course in Venice, CA, played golf at Santa Monica HS, and earned a golf scholarship to Cal State University, Northridge. Go Matadors! He has parlayed his golf experience and business acumen (he later earned an MBA at Northwestern) into an incredible career, and has been running the Soule Park golf course since 2017. I’ve watched him transform the course into one of the finest public golf courses in the nation.

Soule Park’s newfound success is a study in effective and passionate leadership. Since Keith took over the club, there have been dramatic improvements in every aspect of the course. First and foremost, Keith is a hands-on leader who appreciates those who work with him. He knows all his employees by name and truly values them as team members. Second, he knows his customers. If you’re a regular golfer at Soule Park, I’m guessing that Keith greets you by name and he somehow finds the time to banter, even though there are a million things going on that need his attention. But what is most noticeable is the transformation of the golf course. He has invested so much thought, expertise, money, and even love into it. For a public course, it is in remarkable condition. Thanks to Keith’s efforts, you feel like you are in a special place as you walk the photo-worthy fairways. Even the sand traps are perfect (until I get through with them). One of my favorite sights is witnessing the many golfers who love Soule Park, especially the ones who give back every time they play. They will carry several bottles of sand/seed mixture, and just fill in divots made by others as they walk or cart through their round. Their volunteer beautification acts enhance the efforts of all the employees, so that together, they keep the golf course in the best condition possible. It shows me that Soule Park is a community, and I am beyond impressed that so many golfers take pride in being a part of that community, going above and beyond to maintain and even enhance the beauty of their golf course.

Country Club golf can be exclusive. Even those who live next door to the property cannot get past the gates. Public courses, when done right, are the opposite of that. Keith has done his best to make Soule Park not only a community for golfers, but also a destination for all of Ojai, even those who don’t play golf. He has remodeled the restaurant, and it is often full of people coming in for breakfast, lunch, or even dinner, who just want to enjoy good food with incredible views. 

One of my leadership mantras is that great leadership does not happen in a year or two. Leaders must sustain that leadership – I believe that eight years is the right target – in order for changes to be made, and so that those changes can be sustained, even if there is a leadership change in the future. Thanks, Keith, for showing all of us that passionate, caring, and knowledgeable leadership truly makes a difference.

Soule Park is just one example of golf being the catalyst for all these things coming together: A community of people taking time out of what can be crazy, hectic lives to enjoy not just time outside playing a game, but time with each other; golfers committing not just to improving their game, but to improving the place they play the game in; a talented and committed leader willing to do what it takes, both professionally and personally, to create not only an accessible space for this to happen, but an amazing one; and, ultimately, a chance for a whole community – families, friends, and often perfect strangers – to be happier, healthier, and closer together, even if it’s just for a few hours on a beautiful afternoon. 

So yes. I love golf. I love all of the layers. I love how golf has helped me to develop and strengthen father and son bonds. I love enjoying the outdoors in beautiful places. I love the pursuit of getting better, the constant failure, the occasional success, and the eternal hope. I love watching the professionals succeed and fail. I love seeing leaders who can transform a community with their golf course. I look forward to getting stuck inside so I have to watch more golf. And of course, maybe, just maybe, I’ll play the round I know I can play when I get out there next. There’s always hope.

Have a good day, y’all,


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Post #106 on www.drmdmatthews.com


While Ryan is my main golf partner, I have enjoyed many rounds with Dawson as well. When Dawson broke 100 for the first time, a milestone for any golfer, he said, “Dad – golf is more fun when you don’t suck.” I’ve written that before, but it’s so worth saying it again. Dawson does not have the golf bug right now, but the minute he changes his mind, next month, next year, five years from now, I will do anything to play with him. Until then, we’ll find places that serve great hamburgers and steaks, watch movies together, enjoy hiking, and just enjoy ourselves in other ways.

7-11 serves a great hot dog. Those were days when money was a little tight, and the 7-11 budget was just perfect. They had chili, nacho cheese, onions, relish, and jalapeños, along with mustard and ketchup. I’m a mustard, ketchup, and onion guy. Thanks 7-11. And no thanks to Costco and Dodger Stadium. The Costco hot dog is one of the world’s great deals at $1.50 with a soft drink, and Dodger Dogs at the stadium are a ritual that must be adhered to. But both places, post COVID-19, have taken away the onion grinder. What a loss! Communist alert! My plan is to dice and freeze small bags of onions, and bring them with me whenever I go to one of these formerly fine dining establishments. Hopefully I can start a trend.

My story about watching golf on TV reminded me (I love when I remind myself of funny things) of my high school principal and English teacher, and one of the greatest humans ever, Father Tribou. He would occasionally go on a rant where he talked about how he loved going to a baseball game, but there was no greater waste of time than watching baseball on TV. As a high school student, I loved teacher rants. They were fun to watch, and they were a nice little break. Sam Kinison would have been my favorite teacher ever. Anyway, one day, while I was in college, my brother Bill called me up and told me he needed a good idea for a paper he had to write for that same Father Tribou. His grades were a little down, and he needed something that would show Father Tribou he was an excellent thinker. I immediately suggested, “Write about the beauty and excitement of watching baseball on TV, and how it’s way better than actually going to the ballpark!” I added, “Father Tribou loves that and he’ll give you an automatic A.” Exhibit ZZ among all of the more (worthwhile) reasons that I’m going to have some questions to answer at the pearly gates. Of course, my brother was crushed and mocked in front of his peers for writing that essay. Sorry, Bill. I do feel a little bad, but come on, that’s funny! 

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  1. Dermot Stoker says:

    Mike, you and I have played Golf at Soule Park together several times, your game is solid my friend, don’t sell yourself short. It’s also a great venue to display your enthusiasm for the game itself, as well as your outstanding sense of humor. I look forward to future rounds together, perhaps we might get our sons to join us. Another terrific composition Mike. Cheers, D. 🌴⛳️🏌🏾‍♂️

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      We are attitude champions all the time, and our golf is good sometimes. Look forward to seeing you on the course soon. Thanks, Dermot.

  2. Bill McGarvey III says:

    Hey Mike….Inspiration comes from you….(sometimes) haha! My son, Billy IV (30 years young) is a good golfer. At 70 years old, I haven’t played for probably two decades, and I’ve lived on a fairway (#5) for 27 years! I even have a gate that I can go onto the course anytime! Reading your composition and all the components that it suggests, you might have inspired me to go through that gate and get it on! Actually I would go to the clubhouse and pay my money and start at hole number one, with my son, who would thoroughly enjoy and experience, other than Overlanding, or camping with his dad! I’m still trying to wrap my head around the Communist onion conspiricy! Oh well….hit straight , walk with purpose and sink that difficult putt! Thanks for your insight and inspiration! Best Bill

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      I say go out there and be present for 18 with Billy IV, and maybe hit a few while you’re out there. On the communist conspiracy, there used to be a syndicated newspaper column under the pseudonym of Joe Bob Briggs. He would review drive in movies. He used a quantitative analysis – counting the number of naked breasts and pints of blood. And whenever a Drive-In Movie location would close, he thought the communists were behind it. No blood or nakedness with these onions, but I do feel a threat. Thanks as always for reading!

  3. Kelli says:

    Nailed it. I’m hitting the course today. I feel the same exact way. Can’t wait to get better!

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      I need to play with you and your husband. A lot of laughs I’m sure. Thanks for reading and play well!

  4. Ida says:

    I have started listening to Dr. Rotella’s book on my drive to the golf course. I have reduced my swing thoughts from 300 down to only 100. My goal is 1 or none!

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      It’s hard to believe you have 300 thoughts in 0.003 seconds of time you spend over the ball. Keep playing fast and with a great attitude. I’ll see you soon. Looking forward to earning $1.

  5. Mike Urbanek says:

    Hey Mike! Nice write-up about golf and those of us who enjoy it (as I intend to do again soon).

    But, I have to compliment you – Absolutely Great Shot leading off your newsletter today! I couldn’t have done better myself!

    Don’t worry, when I do show up to play again, you can buy me a cocktail. Take care!

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      I’m good for that cocktail, my friend. I look forward to seeing you out there.

  6. Blane says:

    Thanks Mike. Great piece reminding of my time with my Dad, my kids and now grandkids. Hope all is well.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Good stuff, Blane! It’s the stuff that matters. Thanks for reading!

  7. Gisele Nguyen says:

    Hi Mike,
    Loved reading your posts which always leaves me feeling inspired, and grateful to know you. Thank you for making a lasting impact at PYL and reminding us to be patient with our mistakes and misses. 😂

    I enjoyed seeing the time sequence pictures of you and your son. 👍⛳️ All the best to you! Thanks for writing and inspiring us, Mike!

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Always good to hear from you, Gisele! I look the same in both pictures I think! That is a 25 year time lapse, and I have loved the journey. PYL remains in my heart today and for years to come. I’m rooting for all of you.

  8. Paul Grisanti says:

    Another gem! I love that I can be having the worst day possible on the course and remain optimistic that somewhere I will hit that one pure shot that makes me want to come back. Very addictive! Your Photography makes me aware that I’m way overdue to go back to Soule Park.

  9. Susan Scheding says:

    Dear Mike,
    Out of my love be for you, I have accepted your love for the game of golf, and I’m very happy we have a mutual love of baseball.

    We also have a mutual love of onions.

    But carrying them around in your pocket while playing 18 holes of golf doesn’t really seem like such good idea…

  10. Ben Dale says:

    I hit a bag full of balls all over the course while you skillfully worked your way through a round. I remember you were really patient with me and my lack of ability. It was a fun day. I have a picture of us after the round framed above the workbench in my garage. We were young!

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