"Careful kid, this could change your life."
The following is a dive into what golf has done to change my life. If you’re so inclined, I’d love to hear your story. Reply to this email with a submission and I will read it. The story that gets me going the most will get published in our next ‘Founder Files’ (author will be contacted beforehand for permission).
I wasn’t warned. Were you? Did anyone stop you at any point and say, “careful man, this thing is dangerous, I once knew a guy who got into this and it changed his whole life!”
No, not drugs. Well, not the ones you think of when you hear of someone getting hooked and then going down the “wrong path”. Radically, the game of golf and all it entails, is as deeply addictive and possibly more so than the mind-altering pleasures we commonly refer to as “drugs”.
I was 19 when I got my first hit. I’d played before that. The occasional nine holes with friends. Driving range dates. I’d even played on the team in my last year of high school. But I didn’t have the money or the inclination to play golf consistently. Not consistently enough to get hooked. It would take an earth-moving endeavor to suck me into the game that would guide the next 25, and likely more, years of my life.
Enter Doug Warden, golf dealer. The mid-forties man from Kansas was gathering investors, plotting land purchase, and building a business plan for a golf course management company and he was starting in my hometown; Washington, Missouri.
As aforementioned, I was 19. I’d been skipping as many 101s at junior colleges as I had night shifts at Blockbuster Video. I was primed for direction. The rumors of a golf course project in my hometown had been flying for months and one day I decided to find out for myself if the land off HWY 100, about 5.5 miles between the new Wal-Mart and interstate 44 (the drug highway of the mid-west), was actually under reformation.
With my best friend riding shotgun, I pulled my black, 92 Civic Si up the entrance of a gravel road on the south side of the highway. We walked down the gravel path long enough to get nervous and then cut into the tall, blonde, grass-field to the east. From there we craned our necks over each hump in the terrain until it was fully in view; Wolf Hollow Golf Club was real. And it was magnificent.
It took me just one application and 4-6 phone calls to the head pro to land a job washing range balls and pulling out carts. A job I can’t believe I maintained. In recollection, I’m pretty confident it was my proximity to marijuana users that kept me on board. I didn’t smoke weed and still don’t like it (though I’ll admit I wanted to be a part of that crowd at some point), no it was just the proximity to it. I was a skateboarder. And every adult in the mid-west knows that skateboarders are druggies. Obviously that’s not true but that’s what kept me my job. Turns out the guy responsible for keeping me on board at the course was a pot-smoker and he needed a new supplier. “I can get you weed” I told him. And therefore I could be late to the 6AM call time as often as I was and still keep my job. And this job – washing balls, pulling out carts, and supplying weed – would afford me all the range balls I wanted. And that was my first hit.
From there I would search the dirt for all the secrets. In a year I’d get to scratch. Six months after that I’d be offered, and accept, a full scholarship to a D2 school in Jeff City, Missouri. I’d start coaching golf as a career after dropping out of the educational program at Lincoln University. After a few years I’d be good enough to start competing in local tournaments. Eventually I’d crave deeper fields of competition and move to California to play on the Golden State Tour. A few obscure mini-tour wins later I’d send it all and play a circuit of ‘Monday Qualifiers’ on the PGA Tour ending the year with PGA TOUR Qualifying School. If you want the details of my life on the road, living in cheap hotels, and often my car, you can search “On the Road Sam Goulden” on youtube.
After 16 years of 16 hour days in the dirt, I’d move on to app development, digital golf coaching, and in general, golf-entrepreneurship. Every single decision, consciously or unconsciously, was based on my infatuation, enthusiasm, and addiction to golf.
No one cautioned me that golf, this hobby, this pastime, this seemingly meaningless endeavor could, and would, determine the path of my entire adult life. And I guess I’m glad they didn’t. Though, I’m sure it wouldn’t have mattered. Once an addict, always an addict.
I now live in Manhattan Beach, California and do my best to manage an online golf instruction platform, a golf bag company, and a golf-centric social club. All because I took that one hit. Could be worse. Could have been crack.