The Cowboy Golf Tournament

The Cowboy Golf Tournament, held in a pasture near Springerville. Competitors had to ride horses instead of carts and the holes on the greens were made from coffee cans. Instead of golf bags, the clubs were kept in the cut off leg of a pair of blue jeans.

When I first started playing golf quite a few years ago, the game was more often the butt of jokes rather than the prestigious sports competition it is today, with its million-dollar payoffs and extended television coverage.

Gone are the days of the golf course cowboy layout, like the one I once played in a pasture near Eager, where golfers had to ride horses instead of carts and hit some shots off a cow pie, which made replacing a divot a bit of challenge. 

These days, golf has risen to new heights with increased participation by young people, who no longer want to sit and watch the pros play, but are anxious to get on the course and improve their own game.

This is a good thing because it paves the way for family golf outings. There are about 200 golf courses in the metro Phoenix area and more than 300 across Arizona. Depending on where you play, the fall season can be a great time for scheduling an outing. From now until the end of October, summer golf rates are frequently half the price of seasonal greens fees, which can easily reach three figures before the decimal point.

In areas where snow and chill are looming threats, it’s just the opposite, and the fees are usually reduced after Labor Day. 

With a little digging, you can find courses that offer family packs, regardless of the season. The upper-level courses aren’t as family-friendly as the less popular stretches of greenery, so call or visit websites before scheduling tee times. Also, depending on how involved your children or grandchildren want to get, look into the junior programs offered at many courses.

Now, some suggested rules for playing family golf with sons, daughters and grandkids:

•Don’t cheat. Today’s novice golfers have been watching the professionals for a long time, so they know that you don’t pick up your ball in a bunker to “make sure it’s mine because there’s a one-stroke penalty for playing the wrong ball.” Also, you won’t get by with foot wedges, 15-foot gimme’s, an extra ball dropped through a hole in the pocket in the rough or calling a whiff a practice swing.

•Be a teacher. Take the game seriously, but bear in mind that golf can be a training ground for youngsters. By playing the game within the rules, they will learn honesty and integrity, things you should already know, but may have forgotten when trying to find your ball in a cactus patch.

•Make some preparations before hitting the links. If there are instructional programs like First Tee in your area, enroll the grandkids so they can learn the basics. This reduces the chances that they’ll quit the game after shooting 150 their first time out.

•Be a good sport. Especially when your 9-year-old granddaughter beats you by a dozen strokes.

•And last but not least, to avoid expiring from thirst while playing on a desert course, always carry a brand-new ball and a 2-iron. If you get lost, hit the ball with the 2-iron. It will find water.