Sometimes in sports, as in life, two negatives can make a positive.
For me, distance running and golf are clear negatives. I have no real qualms with distance running. It's an admirable and demanding pursuit, even an Olympian one. But it's one I don't have the passion or patience for unless someone with a large blunt object is chasing me. And if golf -- at least the version with the electric-powered carts -- is a sport, then so is outdoor poker.
Thus, in my thinking, the notion of combining running and golf would seem a spectacularly bad one. But such is not the case. Far from it. Someone actually thought to incorporate the strengths of both activities to create a sport hybrid that is engaging, a sound workout and, above all, fun. It's called Xtreme golf.
According to the Web site (www.extremegolf.com), the sport was born in 1979 when a former American record-holder in the mile decided to find out how fast he could play a round of golf. He was inspired by "The Guinness Book of World Records," which then listed 30 minutes and 22 seconds as the quickest round. He beat that by almost a minute -- and the feat helped popularize the activity, which picked up momentum in the mid-1990s when national tournaments were organized and broadcast on ESPN.
The sport follows the same rules as golf, except the time taken to complete the course is factored into the final score. For instance, let's say you are a stinky golfer like me and shoot 100, but you run the course in 50 minutes, 13 seconds. Your final score would be 150.13 -- a total that would have placed you in the middle of the pack in last year's national tournament in Hawaii. (The first-place score in the same tournament was 84 strokes and a time of 45 minutes and 59 seconds for a total of 129.59.) As in golf, low score wins and the winner more often than not is usually an accomplished runner rather than a skilled golfer.
Probably the biggest challenge facing newcomers to Xtreme golf is where to play. Despite its novelty and national tournaments, many golf course managers simply aren't familiar with the sport. I had to travel to Valencia for a round. (The Web site lists other places in Southern California to play and includes tips on how to persuade managers to allow you to play on their courses.)
Grant Garrison, the golf pro at Vista Valencia Golf Course, occasionally leads a small band of enthusiasts on Xtreme outings and hopes to start a league this spring. Garrison sometimes encourages his students to try the accelerated version of the sport. He believes that Xtreme golf may cure a common weakness of many players: overthinking.
"After a few holes, they stop worrying so much about each shot and find their rhythm," Garrison said. "Then, they start to play their best golf."
His words proved prophetic for me.
I arrived at the 27-hole course before 8 a.m., and after hitting a few on the driving range, Garrison gave me a few extremely valuable tips that helped correct my natural slice. Given my lack of ability, the choice was made to set out on the par three course.
After being delayed by rain, we set out. We each carried a nine-iron and a putter for the nine-hole course, where the longest hole was about 125 yards. Our pace ranged between a medium jog and a light run. We played a dozen holes in a little more than a half-hour. The brief breaks came only to stop and swing the club, and for me, as a beginner, when I forgot where I put my nine-iron after putting.
The emphasis on foot speed has many implications and there's a definite adjustment period. Other than at the first tee, players do not wait for others to shoot.
This extends even to the putting green, where it's not uncommon for more than one player to be stroking the ball toward the cup simultaneously. (And again for purposes of efficiency, the pin stays in the hole.) The Xtreme golfer's motto is: "Grip, rip it and run like hell."
Naturally, these rules produce some chaos, which is some of the game's fun -- and danger. There's a chance of actually beaning another player, but for someone like me who had trouble keeping the ball on the fairway, nailing such a small target seemed pretty remote.
Nevertheless, out on the course, Garrison refreshed my memory about the meaning of the word "fore!" It doesn't mean "watch out," as I originally had thought; rather it means "if you don't move immediately, you will get hit." I never had to use the term, but it was good to know just in case.
About 10 minutes into the game, you quickly realize why the wardrobe for Xtreme golfers differs from the regulars puttering around in golf carts. Forget the wallpaper-collared golf shirts, because you're going to be sweating. T-shirts do the job fine. Also, running shoes will carry you a lot faster than spiked golf shoes, so leave those at home.
To lighten the load, Xtreme golfers carry as few clubs as possible. We had only two, but if we were playing a big course, we'd probably carry a couple more, maybe a wood and a mid-iron. Shorts with deep pockets are also a good idea. They're useful for carting around extra balls and tees.
But the key to any round of Xtreme golf is getting there first. Once the regular golfers arrive, the ones that take five minutes to line up each shot, forget about teeing up. This, of course, usually has to be arranged with individual golf courses. As for the workout, it was as productive as a comparable amount of time on an elliptical trainer -- my standard routine for maintaining cardiovascular fitness. The steady pace kept my heart rate within recommended training zones and, thanks to the scenery and newness of the game, the time passed quickly.
I slapped my share of duffs and slices, but as the game went on, my shots improved, largely because of Garrison's earlier advice. Despite our decent clip, physical tiredness didn't adversely affect either of our games. Besides, in Xtreme golf there's just no time to dwell upon a bad shot because it's time to hit the next one.
Despite a round filled with single bogeys and worse, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. And somewhere, midway through the game, the exquisite logic of Xtreme golf came shining through to me: Hit the ball to run -- and run to hit the ball.
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Snapshot: Xtreme golf
Duration of activity: 30 minutes
Calories burned: 411
Heart rate*: Average, 124 beats per minute; high, 163
Time in zone*: 23 minutes
Where to go: Vista Valencia Golf Course, 24700 W. Trevino Drive, Valencia
* This information was obtained using a heart-rate monitor. Time in the target heart-rate zone is a measure of the intensity of a workout. Target zone varies based on age, individual heart rate.
Martin Miller can be reached at email@example.com