When someone says, “I was born to do this,” you never know if they’re serious, delusional, or seriously delusional. But when I say I was born to be a golf nerd, it goes deeper than fandom. Nurtured by parents who ensured I had every opportunity to find golf, I grew up around ground zero of the modern game, and golf has been the center of my universe ever since.

Creating a Golf Nerd 101

To understand how one becomes a golf nerd, it’s important to look at the whole makeup of the individual and not simply their fascination with the game. (Want to know what kind of golf nerd you are? Take Golfweek’s golf nerd test.)

I came from a household that encouraged exploration; at least, that’s what I thought was going on. I found out later that when everyone was saying, “uh huh,” or “really? What else?” they weren’t paying attention. 

The turning point came one day when my mom blindly handed me a World Almanac and said, “why don’t you look it up?”. I would spend hours thumbing through the book of mind-numbing facts, and from 1988 until 2007, I received a World Almanac at Christmas.  It was around then I adopted the phrase, “did you know…” as my preferred opening salvo into any situation. 

Did you know Jack Nicklaus won 18 major championships? Did you know players used to drop the ball over their shoulder blindly while taking relief? Did you know David Frost was the last player to lead the PGA Tour in scoring average with a number in the 70s? Did you know Oakmont has hosted the most US Opens with nine? Did you know the Donald Ross Course in French Lick, Indiana, hosted the 1924 PGA Championship where Walter Hagen kicked off his run of four consecutive PGA titles?

Once my parents realized what they had done, they decided to feed the beast. 

Nature vs. Nurture

Diet is just part of the equation though. A traditional golf nerd is exposed to it at a young age, and given my proximity to the headquarters of the modern game, it’s no surprise I turned out the way I did. 

I was born during a two-year pit stop outside of Washington, DC, as my parents were fleeing Michigan for warmer weather. We landed in Jacksonville, Florida, exactly one year after THE PLAYERS made its debut on the Stadium Course. My dad was a latecomer to the game, but he was all in on golf. We joined TPC Sawgrass shortly after moving to the area, under the local family membership. This action officially sowed the seeds for my obsession. 

Before I could walk, I attended THE PLAYERS in a stroller. I was swinging a club before I was out of diapers, and my childhood Sunday afternoons were spent sitting at the foot of my parents bed watching golf as my father ironed his clothes for work that week.

We moved from Jacksonville in 1988 but were never more than a few hours away. Through the years, my dad and I would drive over to Ponte Vedra Beach at least half a dozen times annually to play Pete Dye’s masterpiece. The ritual was always the same: on the road before dawn, teeing off before noon, home before we turned back into pumpkins. 

Before my senior year in high school, my whole team snuck over to Ponte Vedra for a pre-season golf jamboree. None of us played worth a damn, but being humbled on hallowed ground is strangely inspiring.

The Downside of Being an Over-the-Top Golf Nerd

Growing up like this sounds alluring, but it’s truly a burden. Having so much golf beauty tossed in your developmental sandbox can really screw things up in the future. 

For example, I can’t enjoy being at TPC Sawgrass anymore unless I’m playing. The PLAYERS is fun to watch, and my wife and I attended annually when we lived in north Florida. But unless I’m stretching the limits of my long-game on the 8th tee or navigating a slippery seven footer on 11, I can’t be around the course. 

My sister’s rehearsal dinner was at TPC Sawgrass. If you watch next year’s trophy ceremony, you’ll notice a balcony overlooking the area behind the 18th green. I spent her entire rehearsal dinner sneaking out onto that balcony, dreaming of tight fairways and pot bunkers. 

It’s not unique to Sawgrass either. My aunt and uncle belong to the famed Oakland Hills Country Club in Michigan. My cousin got married there, and I spent the entire reception on the back patio begging anyone who would listen to give me a putter and let me just knock a few around on whatever green was near me. I was quickly informed that “knocking a few around” was frowned upon.

But they don’t understand. Very few people understand. When you grow up at the center of the golf universe surrounded by history and opportunity, golf becomes part of your genetic code. Everything is seen through a golf lens. Every road trip is planned with quick nines in mind. Weekend plans take the Tour schedule into consideration. No matter what you do, you can’t escape the urge to practice the putting stroke. 

Anything resembling the size and shape of the grip of a club becomes one. The other day, I was adjusting my grip on an unopened roll of Mentos. I keep a Wilson 8802 blade putter inside a rolled up putting green next to a half-dozen yellow golf balls in my car’s trunk. Mirrors constantly pose a problem—if you leave me in front of one for more than seven seconds, I’m checking my stance or alignment. And my local sports bar now switches one of their televisions to the Golf Channel when I arrive. 

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

It’s usually around the third bourbon when I start to question this life. But doubt never takes, and an archive of swings, rounds, defeats and memories overwhelm the nagging little devil on one shoulder saying, “haven’t you had enough golf for one lifetime?”

Not my lifetime.

I watched the Golden Bear, Tom Kite, Fuzzy Zoeller, and Calvin Peete battle Dye’s Stadium Course from my stroller in 1985. I caddied on the Nike Tour (now Korn Ferry Tour) at the 1995 Tallahassee Open when I was 12 years old and got to walk in a practice round with Tommy Armour III. I taught golf for multiple summers at a summer camp in Maine in the early 2000s. I have a low 9-hole personal best score of 31, but I’m still chasing 18 holes in under 70 strokes. 

The life of a golf nerd looks glamorous. We always seem to be having fun with the game, but the truth is, we’re cursed by a life chosen for us. It’s a never ending struggle to satisfy an urge without missing your calling. Too much golf and we lose perspective. Not enough golf and we forget who we are. Like an IV to a patient, a golf nerd needs a steady drip of trivia, challenge, and play to survive. 

Listen, the struggle is real. However, everything I’ve experienced to date is like a reservoir of golf from which I can pull as needed. Since leaving my parents’ nest, I’ve made my first hole-in-one, I’ve introduced my wife to THE PLAYERS, and, look mom, I’m writing an article in a golf magazine. Golf is still the shadow I can’t shake, but never before has a nerd been better prepared to carry out duties as a steward of the game. 

Looks like my parents knew what they were doing the whole time. 

Bud Copeland

A self-taught stick with a hack brain, Bud grew up playing golf year-round in north Florida. Born-again New England, Bud learned what an “off-season” is. He now lives in Salem, MA with his wife, daughter, two cats, and dog, Miller. He is the sole Y chromosome in the house, believes we did land on the moon and strongly advocates for walk-up music on the first and eighteenth tees.