We Be Clubbin'

Young alternative rockers are spending more and more downtime playing golf. How the hell did that happen?

Alternative rock and golf are somewhat of an unlikely pairing. Sure, Alice Cooper plays golf, but he's old enough to be considered Marilyn Manson's grandfather. And yeah, mainstream people like Hootie and the Blowfish, Huey Lewis and Celine Dion play, but do they really count as musicians?

Musicians aren't generally known for their athletic prowess, but more and more of them are admitting to picking up the sticks. The appeals of the game for these non-jocks are many: It's the complete opposite of loud, smoke-choked clubs. It's a relatively inexpensive way to kill time in strange cities. Courses are plentiful.

Attractive to the alternative nature of musicians, golf pits people against their own abilities as much as it does their foursome, which is what hooked Jim Ward, guitarist for post-punkers At the Drive-In.

Crooked green, crooked green: Pavement's Scott Kannberg (far left) mixes indie rock with life on the links.
James Smolka
Crooked green, crooked green: Pavement's Scott Kannberg (far left) mixes indie rock with life on the links.
Goldfinger drummer Darrin Pfeiffer (far left) prefers to follow countryclub etiquette.
Carla Cummings
Goldfinger drummer Darrin Pfeiffer (far left) prefers to follow countryclub etiquette.

"It's not like, 'I kicked your ass!'" Ward explains. "It's not a macho, meathead, team sport. That's what I fell in love with. Growing up, I was really small, so I couldn't play competition sports because I had no skill. I'd just get squashed or beaten up or whatever. When I started playing golf, I realized that it was just me against the course."

Touring, as so eloquently noted by Bon Jovi and Bob Seger, is long lulls of downtime with an hour of performing once a day, especially for smaller bands that don't have to do hours of interviews and personal appearances. Musicians who golf on tour should be the most envied people on Earth. It's not enough that they get to live the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll lifestyle -- they get to play a couple rounds a week too? Still, there is some debauchery with golf. Ward slyly relates that the game "took on a new meaning when I turned 21 -- because then you can drink on the course."

Darrin Pfeiffer, drummer for ska/punk band Goldfinger, says being on the road is a perfect time to play. "On show days, there's nothing to do until 6 o'clock -- that's when you do your sound check -- so you just go play a round of golf. Get in a cab, play a quick nine."

"You've got so much free time and you can't always read a book," deadpans Pavement's Scott Kannberg. Pavement's bookish indie rock has a sizable underground following, and Kannberg has played old school courses in Europe on tour. "You've got so much downtime that you're bored, and it's a good way to spend four to five hours. I pretty much got into golf in '95 when we did Lollapalooza because we'd play one show every five days. If we're on a bus tour, it's easy to bring your clubs and get out in the morning, because you always arrive late at night or early in the morning. I get up and go to a course."

In fact, all of these guys agreed that the best part of golf, particularly on tour, is getting into the peace and quiet, enjoying nature and giving their eardrums a rest.

"We do live a very loud lifestyle and when the quiet comes in, the quiet's nice," laughs Mike Einziger, guitarist for rap/metal group Incubus. "It means you kind of have to wake up in the morning, which is difficult to do sometimes. You have time to get out and play -- if you can't play 18, you can certainly play nine. It's really relaxing. It's nice to be able to get out there and breathe in some fresh air instead of being in a hot, smoky club all the time."

Fresh air or not, punk, metal and alternative rockers like these guys aren't known for being courteous, kind and considerate the way Celine and Huey are. Non-mainstream music is supposed to challenge conventions; and golf is, frankly, a little stiff. Dress codes, etiquette, divot replacing, sand trap raking -- it's a far cry from cranked amps, aggressive rhythms and primal lyrics. Nevertheless, most of them find their own way to push the decorum envelope.

"I obviously don't look like a lot of the other people that are playing golf," says Einziger. "I've got these long dreadlocks and people will look at me and say, 'Oh, obviously he's a musician.' A lot of people look at that as something that is good for the sport, that it's expanding its appeal to a lot of different types of people. I think I would probably get a lot different looks if I was being disrespectful and loud and obnoxious, but that's not really in my personality."

"I grew up playing public courses," says Kannberg, who was initially reluctant to talk about his hobby because of its elitist reputation. "But when you do go to the daily fee places, they try to act like it's a country club -- you've got to wear a collared shirt and you can't wear jeans -- it's totally ridiculous. It's so against what the original game is like. You go over to England, Scotland, Ireland and stuff and everybody's carrying their own clubs and wearing jeans and a tank top."

Pfeiffer agrees that acting proper isn't entirely for him. "The [punk rock] attitude, I can relate to it a lot, but at the same time I'm almost 31, I'm married. I can't walk on the course like, 'Fuck you,' and cranking the Dead Kennedys on my boom box," he says, laughing. "I definitely dress a little loud. I'll wear polos, but they'll be bright colors. I obey the proper etiquette; I don't want to piss anybody off."

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