The Golf Conundrum – A Justification

To Golf Or Not To GolfI recently went on a weekend golf trip to Arizona with a good group of guys. One might imagine that, in general, the demographic of guys who go on weekend golf trips would tend toward a bro-ish, self-absorbed, perpetual adolescence mindset. I hope that generalization’s not true, and for our group, it wasn’t.

Still, I was lamenting the fact that, for all the decency that was embodied in that group of guys, there we were spending enormous sums of money on a game, on lavish living, on material excess. I said as much to a friend back in Longmont, and the conversation pretty quickly turned to my own complicity in that excess. The eclectic in me, the revolutionary, has always frowned upon a complacent, bourgeois existence. Yet here I am, a comfortable, wealthy, middle aged white guy who golfs a lot.

The Golf Conundrum

I golfed sporadically (and spasmodically), at best, up until my late 30’s, whereupon I decided I needed a twilight sport to transition into from my beloved soccer. I was becoming the grizzled old slow guy on the soccer team, and I wanted to go out with at least a trace of dignity intact. After a knee injury and ensuing osteoarthritis in both knees, I limped through an over-40 soccer tournament in Vegas a year ago, while my team carried us to victory. Two months later, it was still hard to walk up and down the stairs – I hung up the cleats for good (?).

Golf had been my rehab after knee surgery. Golf was how I recovered from the Vegas tourney. Golf is one way I’ll stay in shape as I stroll down the proverbial back nine. I live two blocks from a short but challenging course. I walk there and walk the course a few times a week, weather (and other obligations) permitting. It’s less than $700 for an annual pass.

I golfed a lot in 2017. I keep a spreadsheet of my various jobs and projects, and golf made it to the top spot last year, comprising 383.5 hours of the almost 1600 total project hours I logged. I golfed in Colorado, Hawaii, Alaska (really!), Oregon, Wisconsin, and Florida in 2017. I spent a lot of money on golf and the trips associated with it.

To be blunt, I was golfing as Trump dismantled policies to slow climate change (he was golfing, too, apparently). I was golfing while hurricanes ripped apart Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and much of the Caribbean. I was golfing while over 30,000 Americans died from gun violence. I was golfing while women began to expose the widespread tragedy of sexual harassment and assault. I was golfing while genocide was committed against the Rohingya in Myanmar. I was golfing while over 700 million people didn’t have enough to eat in the world.

In 2014 I wrote a post called “Climbing the Totem Pole of Magnanimity,” in which I posited that I was some kind of dog-like creature around the middle of the totem pole (in other words, I had a long way to go to achieve magnanimity). My goal was to inch my way up that pole. So, in light of all this golfing I’ve been doing, one might expect that I’ve slipped down on the totem pole. But, actually, I believe I am now slightly higher on the pole; maybe I’m now in between dog-like creature and head-holding guy. How do I reconcile this?

A Justification

Golf is elitist. By this I mean that it’s expensive, it takes a lot of time, it uses a lot of land and resources.1 It’s not very accessible to most folk. But what if I’d said I’d gotten in 60 days of skiing in the mountains instead? Would that be more acceptable? Or what if it was biking, or running, or exercising, or yoga, or meditation. These are noble pursuits, right? Much more so than slapping a ball around with a glorified stick, right? Granted, some of these other pursuits are less costly or have less of an environmental footprint, but all could be equally time-intensive.2

About a decade and a half ago, I realized (while I was about 20 miles into the Firecracker 50 mountain bike race in Breckenridge (I only finished one lap of 25 miles)) that endurance sports were not for me, so I focused most of my exercising activity on soccer. Endurance sports still aren’t for me, but I have upped my game in the workout department (last year, at age 44, I bench pressed more than I ever have). I will continue to use workouts to help stay in shape. I ski and mountain bike once or twice a year, and that’s good enough.

I don’t believe in the oversimplified idea that 10,000 hours of practice will make you a master at something (even the author of this idea thinks that’s oversimplified); if I practiced for 10,000 hours at the 100 meter dash under the tutelage of the world’s best sprinting coaches, Usain Bolt would still crush me. But golf is different from such a pure athletic sport as running. The PGA tour is like a Dr. Seuss book of characters: Long-Leggers, Bar-ba-loots, Loraxes, Sneeches, Yooks and Zooks… All body types seem to be represented – which gives a fairly average guy like me hope that I might be able to play this game, too. Maybe 10,000 hours (or preferably a lot less) of deliberate practice at golf could actually work for me (as it did for Dan of The Dan Plan before injury took him out).

At the risk of boring those of you who don’t give a rip about golf, I have to say that it presents a stimulating challenge for me. It’s an opportunity to let the eclectic blend of ideas that continually flows through my head take a back seat for a few hours – to breathe and focus on the task at hand. Robert Pirsig had his motorcycle maintenance – I have my golf. 

Besides the meditation and exercise and getting outside, I love tracking the numbers. I keep a spreadsheet of my stats, and despite how crappily I feel like I play many days, I’m getting better, albeit in fits and starts. True to my eclectic nature, I’m always tinkering, so as soon as I start to get some semblance of flow, I decide I can do better in a certain area and I regress for a while until I get that figured out – it’s chaos punctuated by brief bouts of equilibrium, but the general trend is progressive.

All of this is to say that golf, like many challenges, helps make me a happier, healthier, and (dare I say it) wiser person. There’s a lot of “self” in this, though.3 Self improvement is a huge industry in the United States: dieting, exercise, self-help, mindfulness, early retirement, lifestyle, impressing your lover in bed… All of these are supposed to make our selves happier.

But the end goal of self-help, as I see it, is other-help, which is, after all, the key to fulfillment. Self improvement can pave the way to living a more virtuous life, but we have to strap on our packs and walk down the path of righteousness for it to count. We should be continually striving to improve ourselves, and at the same time striving to make the world better for others – each of us has to find that balance.

Anybody can choose virtue, but it’s a lot easier for guys like me who dine on a cornucopia of fortune and privilege. If you’ve been around the Cottage much, you know I’m fond of the saying “From each according to one’s ability, to each according to one’s need.” The fact is, my good fortune has afforded me the ability to do more for others.

So, in addition to self-improvement qua golfing, what have I done for others? Before my recent semi-retirement, my primary source of income was from painting houses. That created value, in the sense that it improved the structural and aesthetic condition of neighborhoods. Still, I would say that my wife, a public school teacher, is creating a lot more value for society.

In 2017 I had the luxury of doing less painting: according to my spreadsheet, I spent 16.5 hours painting, mostly for a neighbor. With my newfound free time, I had more time to devote to other projects, many of which I hope inched me up the aforementioned totem pole. I spent over 400 hours working on various art, video, photography, and writing projects (including this blog).4 In addition, I worked for 42 hours with my dad on The Cooperative Society Project, aimed at assessing (and facilitating) a global shift to a less conflict-oriented, more cooperation-oriented society. I put in over 50 hours experimenting with and promoting entomophagy. I added another 50 or so hours of volunteering on a project to improve our community. And I put in over 60 hours helping to coach my son’s soccer team.

So, while I golfed more in 2017 than I did in 2014, I think I also spent more time on projects that make the world a better place.

There’s a probably-not-so-funny idiom whereby the spouses of golfers are called golf widows. I know guys who neglect their families in favor of hitting the links. There are times when I probably should do something with the family in lieu of golfing. But, thanks to my flexible schedule, most of my golf time is when the kids are at school and my wife is at work. I feel like more golf has not translated into less family time – in fact, although I don’t have this on my spreadsheet, I think I spend more quality time with my family now than I did a few years ago (I’ll see if my wife can corroborate this).

So, everything is perfect and great with my golfing. It’s all good, and I should probably golf more. I am virtuous and magnanimous and all that. I rest my case.

The Verdict


I’m guilty because I haven’t really found the balance yet between leisure time that benefits my self and projects that benefit others. In fact, that balance is shifting: as I have more time and means (ability) to do more, I should be re-thinking what my responsibility is to give back.

I’m guilty because, even though I devote more time to projects that are supposed to benefit others, those projects could be more effective. If you write a blog, paint a picture, write a book, and nobody’s there to read/see it, does it have meaning, or is it the sound of one hand clapping?

I’m guilty because I could be a better empathizer, listener, advocate. I could be a better husband, father, friend.

I’m guilty, but rather than saying some Hail Marys, I’ll try a different approach – there are concrete steps I can take to adjust my focus. Forgiveness is easier if the forgiven is trying to improve.5

The 10-40 Plan

Peter Singer, in his book “The Life You Can Save,” proposes the Formula, wherein people donate 5% of gross income to charity, reduce their environmental footprint by 10% each year until they can go no further, give 5% of their time to their community, and take democratic political action at least 10 times a year.

Since I don’t have much income these days, and my wife is half time, I have a different idea. Most of our wealth is in the form of equity. I’ve set up our finances in a spreadsheet that allows me to get a decent idea of how that wealth has grown throughout the year. My idea is to donate 10% of our increase in wealth each year, so if our nest egg increases by $50,000, we will give away $5000. As time goes on, if we feel more comfortable in our retirement, we will increase this amount.

Part of effective giving is giving to effective causes. The Life You Can Save website has vetted a number of these organizations, so that’s a good start. But we’ll also donate to local causes, certain environmental groups, politicians who are fighting for a better world, and to friends who are working on worthy projects.

Regarding my time, I’d like to spend about 40% of my work/project time on causes that are making a positive change. This is a pretty nebulous concept, so I’ll just have to make that determination myself, but it could include volunteer work, activism,6 research, writing, video, or art (but not golf). Over time, I hope to devote more time to these types of projects – the idea being to incrementally shift the 10-40 plan into something like the 75-75 plan.

In my non-project life, I will continue to work on spending more quality time with my family (and actually, part of doing this may be getting my family more involved in some of my projects). I also need to improve my empathizing, listening, and just being more present with friends, family, and colleagues. And my family and I will endeavor to reduce our environmental impact through more efficiency, less gas-powered driving, less meat eating, and using renewable electricity – and offset the rest via carbon offsets.

Conundrum Solved?

So where does that leave golf? Well, I plan to continue golfing, and maybe even intensify some aspects of my game.7 But I’m also going to temper how much I play at expensive courses and how much I travel for the sole purpose of golf. I hope to play the fancy new Sand Valley Golf Resort in Wisconsin this summer, for example, but it will be in conjunction with a family vacation.

If I were a better man, I would forgo my health and happiness to devote all my time to helping others, but I don’t know how long I would last. Many people, of course, do just this, and they are the true heroes of the world. They are the wise, soaring owls at the top of the totem pole.

Of Mice and Men: Penis Size Revealed

Mice have occasionally entered the Cottage (both figuratively and literally), but the current study was one in which mice were not being poked and prodded (or stretched, as the case may be).* The gist of this study (and I’m sure you’ve already heard about it on Facebook or The Huffington Post) is that somebody measured 15,521 dicks and came up with the average dick size. In its flaccid pendulous state (yes, those are their words), the average penis is 3.61 inches.** The average erect penis is 5.16 inches. And, perhaps because they had recently seen the show Puppetry of the Penis, the health professionals doing the measuring also recorded flaccid stretched dick length (the average was 5.21 inches, if you must know; measured while “maximally extending the penis”).

I read somewhere that, in Europe, the French have the longest penises and the Greeks have the shortest penises. Of course, studies that involve self-reported penis sizes tend to be biased toward larger results. So if that was a self-reported study, the true measure may have been how much one suffers from a Napoleonic Complex.

In doing research for this post, I googled a centimeters-to-inches calculator. Directly below the calculator, Google linked to the penis size study – guess it was a popular calculator for that purpose today. Guys,*** before you go debase your rulers in the bathroom (maybe you’ve already done it), excuse me while I whip this out (the chart from the study, that is):

dick chart

OK, so what’s the point of this post? There should be something edifying for the Cottagegoers, right? Apparently, about 55% of guys are satisfied with the size of their penises, whereas 85% of women are satisfied with the size of their guy’s penis. So, aside from the puerile fun of potty talk, I guess the point is that guys need not be so worried about their dicks, and should move on to things that actually matter.


*Most men would probably feel even better about themselves if mice had been included in this study (not to advocate for the size-matters principle, or anything).

**Don’t read this next part if you’re squeamish about penises. According to the methods section, “length was measured from the root (pubo-penile junction) of the penis to the tip of the glans (meatus) on the dorsal surface, where the pre-pubic fat pad was pushed to the bone.” In other words, measure from the root to the meatus.

***Or women.
Guy wakes up groggily with pj’s around ankles. Girlfriend**** tries to hide something.
Guy: What are you doing? Is that a ruler in your hand?
Girlfriend: Uh, I was just doing some, um, geometry, because I couldn’t sleep.

****Or boyfriend – let’s not be homophobic.

2015 Resolutions

Poppa's Basement

Basement Before: A 2015 Project

For eclectics, the new year is generally an uplifting time. It’s an excuse to take stock of one’s life and reset the switch. Eclectics revel in change and new things, so a whole new year holds a lot of promise and potential energy. Many of us use the new year to resolve to make certain things better in our lives.

For over a decade, in addition to more serious initiatives, I’ve been setting at least one quirky New Year Goal for myself, often but not always fitness related. Although somewhat frivolous on the surface, most of these goals serve a broader function of teaching me something new or improving my overall health. I spend most of the year not doing anything about the goal, until I realize it’s crunch time, whereupon a quixotic series of events unfolds as I try to realize my goal. The result, in most cases, is that I succeed in reaching some semblance of my original goal, albeit in quarter-assed fashion.

Here are a few of my more memorable endeavors:

1999 – This may have been my very first quixotic resolution. The goal was to run up Boulder Canyon from Boulder to Nederland. I was a somewhat spry 27-year-old then and I didn’t see any reason I couldn’t just jog as far as I wanted. This is about a 16 mile route, with almost 3000 feet of elevation gain. The average Boulderite does this run a couple times a day, with a backpack full of rocks, but I’m not really a runner.

On about December 20, 1999, it dawned on me that I should probably start training for my goal. I happened to be on a cruise ship in the Caribbean with my extended family. In between hanging out with the family, beers, blackjack, and mousse-filled chocolate tulips, I was able to get a mile or so in on the top deck track. I had a few days to go when we arrived back in Colorado.

On December 31, my cousin Jacob (who had also been on the cruise) and I set out to do our run. We had revised the plan, opting instead to jog up Lefthand Canyon from the Greenbriar restaurant to Ward. Boulder Canyon was too busy, and the new route, while about the same distance, would actually add 1000 feet in elevation gain. About two miles in I remembered that my IT band would really tighten up when I was road jogging – we were moving along at the tortoise-like pace of 12-minute miles. By about mile ten, the IT band was screaming at me and I had to walk. Jacob, meanwhile, was like a little puppy, running up ahead and then running back to check on me (he peed a little bit when I scratched behind his ears). For the next six or so miles, we walked, with occasional short stretches of jogging. When we came around the corner and saw that first abandoned vehicle on the side of the road, we knew Ward was at hand – this could be the first time anybody’s felt such relief at arriving in Ward. Result: Mission (Kind Of) Accomplished

2000 – As a kid in Madison, Wisconsin, we lived near the Eagles Club, which had an old bowling alley. My dad would take us there occasionally. In high school I continued to bowl a few times a year – I never got very good, but I probably averaged in the 150s, with a high score in the 180s. After high school I bowled about once a year on average. In 2000, my goal was to bowl over 200.

I bowled a few times during the year (without coming close to a 200), but it wasn’t until I returned to Madison for the holidays that I got serious. A few days before Christmas, I went out with some friends and bowled a few games but couldn’t break 200. So after Christmas, I enlisted my brother Zac to join me and we drove out to the fancy new Bowl-A-Vard. I was putting strikes together and finishing spares, but I’d end up leaving a crucial pin standing in some of the middle frames. Five games in and I was getting a little discouraged, but I felt like I was still dialing it in. Zac, being a good sport, acquiesced to playing a sixth game. I didn’t put together a lot of strikes, but I think I only left one or two pins standing that game, to finish with a 208. Result: Success

(Zac bowled over 200 a few weeks later.)

2002 – What would you do if you were stuck in the cold in the wild without any matches? I would simply make a little bow and start my own fire.* In 2002, I decided it was important to learn this critical skill. In keeping with my usual procrastinatory schedule, I set out to accomplish my goal on December 31. Once again I was in Madison for the holidays, and once again I enlisted Zac to help me out (he already knew how to do this). With my wife reluctantly in tow, we found a hardware store that was still open and bought the necessary ingredients (I know, there generally aren’t hardware stores available when you’re lost in the wild).

It was cold outside, so we went down to Zac’s basement. I made a little bow with some string and a dowel, whittled a wispy pile of shavings, looped the string around another dowel, and used the bow to spin it back and forth on another piece of wood. Within minutes, voilà… well, nothing really, except a few puffs of smoke. Twenty minutes later, my wife migrated upstairs. Another fifteen minutes and Zac decided to head up, leaving me with a few words of encouragement. Sometime in the next hour or so I saw the light – literally, as a small flame burst forth from our little pile of shavings. I let it go long enough to smoke up the basement and probably alarm the neighbors, doused it, and walked triumphantly upstairs. As silly as my attempt at this goal was, there’s something viscerally enlightening about making fire. Result: Pseudosuccess

2013 – Somewhere in the last decade I may have gained a little more discipline. I had been kind of working out for a couple years, and had gone from one to two pull ups to over ten. In 2013, I resolved to do 20 pull ups. I had a feeling that I wouldn’t be able to magically do 20 pull ups on December 31, so in addition to my irregular workout schedule, I began dieting and doing extra pull up sessions sometime in the fall. I figured that less weight around my belly would make it easier to do more pull ups, and I ended up dropping about 15 pounds in three months.

In the last couple weeks before the new year, I started working on max reps. Sixteen, then 17, then, I realized, it wasn’t going to happen. So, in keeping with tradition, I revised my goal to make it more accessible. I would now shoot for 20 chin ups, which are easier for me. On December 29, with considerable expenditure, I did 18-and-maybe-a-half chin ups. The cost was that I couldn’t attempt it again that day, and I decided to take the next day off, too, to give myself the best chance. On December 31 (again), I woke up in the morning, skipped breakfast (excess weight), stripped to my underwear (maybe I should’ve taken that off, too), and proceeded, with superhuman effort, to get 19 1/2 chin ups – I couldn’t even hold the bar at the end, try as I might. That was it, I had failed, but I immediately began equivocating – I had given it the old college try.

Then a New Year’s Eve miracle occurred. I had just settled down to a long winter’s nap, when inside my brain I felt a thunderous clap. So I sprang from my chair with a flash, and jumped on the pull up bar with a crash. Up and down I went, 20 times, and one more for good measure – 21 chin ups. Did I cheat a little by not fully extending on a few of those, and by kicking my knees up on the last five or so? Yes, yes I did. Result: Failure (but it felt pretty good)

Last year I had a pretty wimpy handstand goal that I sort of achieved (on December 31, of course), as well as a golf goal that I didn’t quite meet. In 2015, my fitness-y goals are to bench 225, get my golf handicap to 15, and, more vaguely, limit the amount of junk I ingest or imbibe (I know, these are kind of boring compared to some of my previous goals – maybe I should try to rip a license plate in half or pull a Boeing 747 with my teeth). Artistically, I plan to make a movie with Zac in Scotland, I have an illustrated book I want to finish and self-publish, and I’d like to be able to play the first part of Fur Elise on the keyboard with some semblance of competence (now this is a quixotic goal, since my musical ability is nil). Vocationally, I hope to increase sales for a couple of my businesses and start a new business with a couple friends. On the home front, I plan to dig out part of our basement and make it into a fitness area/mad science lab (video forthcoming), and I want to grow some good veggies. Acting locally, I want to do more exciting projects with my wife, kids, family, friends, and community. Thinking globally, I want to follow up on some work I’ve done looking at hunger and get more involved in climate change mitigation efforts.

I’ll give you a full report in a year. What are your 2015 goals?


*Actually I’d probably die of hypothermia in a Jack Londonesque comedy of errors.