Tee Time for Rockers : It’s the Greening of America ‘90s Style as Musicians and Entertainment Industry Execs Make Golf Their Game of Choice
The group out on the Los Verdes golf range in Palos Verdes isn’t your typical golfing foursome. The men have long hair pulled back into ponytails; one is wearing a Ratt tour T-shirt, a tattoo that reads “BLOTZ” on his left arm and a pair of white golf shoes.
Their conversation isn’t about IBM stock or the latest BCCI scandal. It’s about what happened when the tour bus accidentally left some band members stranded at a truck stop and the mixes Axl is doing on his new album and was he really pulling those stunts on tour just for publicity?
This is golfing for the ‘90s, where the greens are populated with rock musicians, young studio executives and other atypical types who have discovered a love for a game whose traditions are solidly steeped in the world of retired Republicans and lime-green patchwork pants.
The list of rockers who have taken up the game includes Alice Cooper (considered one of the best, if not the best, golfer in the rock world), Tommy Lee and Vince Neil of Motley Crue, members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Warrant, Glenn Frey, Huey Lewis (who named one of his albums “Fore!”), Eddie Van Halen and Janet Gardner of Vixen. They play with each other, their road crews, and with their managers and record company execs at home and on the road.
Even on tour, after a band has stayed up till 4 a.m., they still somehow manage to make tee-off time. Tee-off time is sacred.
The current crop of players also includes Bobby Blotzer, the possessor of the “BLOTZ” tattoo and the drummer for the band Ratt, who was out on the course one day recently with drummer Glenn Symmonds, who tours with singer Eddie Money’s band; Gary Lee, bass guitarist of the band Neverland, and Lonn Friend, editor of RIP magazine, the headbanger’s bible.
“I learned to play in Hawaii,” Blotzer explains while sitting in the golf cart, waiting to play the next hole. “We had just finished a tour in Hawaii and we stayed on in Maui to write music. Every day I’d see my manager go out with his clubs, and I was getting really bored. I’d say, ‘Where are you going? Let me go with you.’ He’d say, ‘No,’ and I’d say, ‘I’ve played baseball, I can play this.’ ”
The first hole he “held the club like a baseball bat” and hit the drive about 235 yards. “I was like, ‘This is easy.’ I parred the hole, my manager couldn’t believe it. But it went downhill quickly after that. Being out there on a billion-dollar playground, though, I got the bug real quick.”
After a few lessons and some quality time on various courses, Blotzer has improved his game. So has Symmonds, who has been playing for six years. While touring with his band he grew bored cruising pawn shops looking for drums and instruments with the guys, so one day he tagged along with the bus driver and hit some balls on the local range.
“I basically learned by trial and error,” he says, longish hair tucked under a cap, black Ray-Bans covering his eyes. “Every time we did an overnighter (concert) everybody’d go into their rooms, sleep, watch videos--I’d be on the phone calling a cab, calling clubs.”
Give these rockers some credit for being savvy enough to “make exchanges,” as Symmonds put it, swapping course time for backstage passes.
“It’s amazing what backstage passes will get you,” he says.
“Yeah, but that’s a whole other story,” says Friend, and they all laugh knowingly.
The incongruity of golfing rockers may not seem so strange when they start to rhapsodize about how great it is to ditch the other band members for a few hours and escape to a beautiful setting.
“It relieves a lot of stress,” says Blotzer. “Maybe it adds to your stress when you’re hitting bad shots, but three shots later you’re hitting a couple of killer shots. It also has a little prestige to it. It’s interesting to be out hacking with doctors and lawyers.”
He adds that revealing he plays golf doesn’t have the same shock value it used to. “I even get people sending me golf presents and stuff.”
Not every player is as much out of the closet as Blotzer. Eddie Van Halen’s manager declined to let his client be interviewed for this story, even though the musician was happily willing to talk about his game when approached a few days earlier.
“That’s not the image I want to project right now,” said Van Halen’s manager.
Is golfing that much of a dirty little secret? Do managers and publicists really think fans will smash their favorite bands’ CDs if they find the musicians play golf ?
Janet Gardner doesn’t think so. The lead singer of the all-female rock group Vixen says her fans are well aware of her longtime love affair with golf, and so far it hasn’t hurt record sales.
“People always write to me and ask questions about it,” she says. “We spend so much time in rehearsal studios with no windows, and I’d much rather go out and play golf than go to a gym. And you can do your own thing. It’s sort of an art in a weird kind of way. You can swing however it feels right to you.”
Gardner, who has been playing golf since she was 10 and living in Bozeman, Mont. (her whole family plays), admits there is “a weird stereotype about golf that it’s something for the old folks’ retirement home. But it’s a pretty hip and really challenging thing to do.”
She claims she’s still “an oddity” out on the courses she plays around Ventura and Thousand Oaks, perhaps more for being female than being a rocker.
“A lot of musicians play, but I don’t know any girls who do,” she says. “Especially rock ‘n’ roll girls. For every one girl I see on the course there are probably 25, 30 guys.”
Golf courses have also become the new schmooze corridor for young execs in the entertainment industry and other fields. Some have taken it up just to relate better with their Japanese business associates. The Japanese are known golf fanatics.
And as their fathers used golf as a means of getting projects started and making deals, so do these 20- and 30-ish up-and-comers.
Writer and film director Claudia Hoover recalls a fellow director whose bonus after working on a movie was getting to play golf with the executive producer at the Los Angeles Country Club. “All the grips were patting him on the back,” she recalls, “saying, ‘You made it.’ No one ever told him his movie was good , but he was invited to play at the country club.
“I do think that a lot of people play because of their work. I know a lot of people who start a job and find out that the producer or director plays golf, and then they take it up.”
Hoover, 30, has been playing for four years, starting out when few women shared the course with her (that’s changed, too). Since then she’s noticed the subtle intricacies of how the game is played: “You can tell a person’s character and how they’re going to react in a business deal by how they play,” she says. “If they do something unethical while playing, if you ever got into a business deal with them, they’ll probably do the same thing.”
But she draws the line at using golf to further her own career.
“I have made quite a few contacts and met people I’ve remained friends with; fairly big writers, directors, but it hasn’t gotten me any jobs . . .,” Hoover says.
“Oftentimes you find yourself at parties with people talking about the industry, but on the course you can also find people who work in other fields and you can talk about books or something. I was on the course one day and there was this guy yelling into his portable phone about Warner Brothers and Columbia being interested in his project, and he was looking around to see if anyone was noticing. I just want to get away from the business.”
So does Taylor Lumia, owner of Orso’s restaurant and a former professional mountaineer who took up golf two years ago. He acknowledges that the course is a great place to get deals made--if that’s the agenda. “If I play with my employees or business associates, we’re out there not to talk about business, but to have fun,” he explains.
“I know that golf is a big, big networking tool for a lot of people. I could envision trying to open a restaurant and coddling people on the course to raise money; that might happen, but it’s not how I do things. I think that would take away from the experience of playing for me. And I think both endeavors would suffer.”
Will this influx of fresh, sometimes ponytailed and tattooed blood have much effect on the sport?
B. J. Violett, former managing editor of American Golf magazine, believes so.
“It might open up the sport as far as it being more accessible to more people,” he says. “Maybe having these kinds of people play will demystify it and people will stop thinking that this is just for rich people who belong to country clubs.”
And while rockers may be able to trade passes for course time at private clubs while on tour, being able to join one at home is another story. The staid, tradition-bound country clubs aren’t exactly chasing after heavy-metal rockers--no matter how much money they make--to get them to join.
“I think the old-boy network at these places is pretty strong,” says Violett, “and I think they’re too conservative to open up to a rock ‘n’ roll star. But maybe some of these guys who have money and influence will start their own club.”