When we turned around during the second round of the Linksoul LS2MAN, I was starting to lose feeling in my feet. My favorite pair of golf shoes decided to betray me and I left my spare pair at the hotel. That’s when I did something I never thought I’d do, I took out my flip flops and ditched my golf shoes before my tee shot. I proceeded to hit the ball far to the left, almost approaching a neighboring fairway. It wasn’t my best shot, but at least my feet got some feeling back as I headed for my ball.
A few years ago, I would have felt humiliated and swore I would never play golf in public again until I fixed my hook. Instead, I sipped my beer, patted the Golden Lab pup that was accompanying our group, and cheered as my fellow players landed their tee shots cleanly on the correct fairway.
As a lifelong below average golfer, I have always focused on the fun of the game over the competitive side of things. I limited my tournament experience to scrambles or drinking-focused events because I never had enough confidence in my abilities and didn’t want to embarrass myself or draw attention to the fact that I’m a Golf Digest editor who sucks at golf. Shamefully, I admit that I have made poor excuses for not playing guest member or company events with people in the industry for this very reason. Even the two annual office tournaments that I usually play in gave me anxiety for weeks.
When Linksoul asked me if I wanted to play in the LS2Man tournament, call it temporary insanity from being on lockdown during the pandemic, but for some reason, I agreed to go.
Maybe it was because the tournament was at Goat Hill Park in Oceanside, California. I had been there before and it had a casual atmosphere that could calm any golfer’s nerves. Just a few miles from Linksoul’s headquarters, the brand’s co-founder, John Ashworth, saved the public course nestled in the hills from demolition a few years ago. Since then, it has become an anchor in the community and a bucket list destination for expert golfers.
Ashworth, a longtime golf apparel mogul, has never been afraid to take on a project to support the game. He is credited by many with reinventing the golf shirt in the late 1980s after starting the Ashworth Golf clothing brand. Ashworth’s goal was to make fashionable golf clothing with high-quality cotton, soft collars and sleek cuts that didn’t look like a golf uniform. He has always firmly believed that golf clothing should be transitory and that it has the power to positively transform people’s image of golf.
“The greatest quality of golf, in my opinion, is how it has the ability to unite souls.” Ashworth said explaining Linksoul’s name. “Where else in the world can four complete strangers meet on the first tee and go through the ups and downs of one round and come out the other side as lifelong friends?”
RELATED: A pair of golf artists, Bubba Watson and John Ashworth, find a common paddle
Ashworth and his brother, Hank, started the LS2Man tournament around the same time Linksoul launched in 2009. Four of the five events each year are held on the West Coast. The fifth changes locations each year, visiting places like Whistling Straits, Turning Stone in upstate New York and this year heading to Ireland for the first international Linksoul event.
Each tournament has a different format: best ball, stroke play, or match play. The tournament I attended is traditionally the last event of the LS2Man season and is a 36 hole tournament with the best ball on the first day and a disaster on the second. It is accompanied by an elimination-style derby after the first round, a high-stakes skin game, and a ban on metal woods with an encouragement for players to draw persimmons instead.
I was one of only two women playing in the tournament, which gave me little opportunity to hide or go unnoticed. This anxiety led me to wear one of the few collared golf shirts I own, which also happened to be from the limited women’s selection that Linksoul offers. As soon as I pulled into the parking lot, I was painfully aware that I was one of the few players wearing a collar and probably the only one with the shirt tucked in. As I laced up my golf shoes that I later regret packing, my nerves and feelings of not belonging returned.
RELATED: As women’s fashion in the field advances, so should dress codes
Moments later, a woman in denim overalls at the registration book immediately put me at ease. She greeted me like she was an old friend and, after introducing herself as Hank’s daughter, I felt like she was at an Ashworth family picnic that turned out to be a golf tournament.
The range was packed, but it didn’t take more than a minute for several players to offer to share their spot with me to warm up. I overheard some friendly trash talking on the other end of the stove that ended up being Fire Pit Collective founder Matt Ginella dusting off a persimmon, resulting in a worm burner on the tilted stove. He laughed and challenged his viewers to do better.
There was definitely a party atmosphere akin to a summer barbecue, but don’t let the music, the beer, or the dogs fool you, these players were out to win. The maximum handicap is 14, but the average at Goat Hill was just under 5. (Sitting comfortably above a 14 handicap, I was given an exception in the name of journalism).
For the first round I was paired with Ginella and John Ashworth, handicaps of 5 and 4 respectively. Ginella walked to the first tee with 1990s rap blaring, wearing a Linksoul T-shirt, knee-high socks and a flat brim. We found John fixing tee markers on the front tees. Also wearing a Linksoul t-shirt, he greeted us like family, making sure we had a proper and unhurried introduction before heading out onto the field.
The two would come third in the tournament, but their nonchalant attitudes made it seem like we weren’t even keeping score. They applauded my good shots and didn’t judge my not-so-good shots. I dutifully kept my score despite knowing I had no chance of placing, but my fellow players acted like I was in contention on every shot. My much lower skill level did not diminish his respect for me as a golfer. He was revealing. I felt more comfortable and confident playing in a tournament with well-known and respected personalities in golf than on most private courses I have visited. Maybe it was the casual dress code or the combination of Ginella’s energetic personality with John’s unassuming attitude, but I kept thinking, “Wow, this is what golf should feel like all the time.”
Even though I wasn’t even close to being in contention, I left the field excited to be back for the second round. Comfortable enough to ditch the collared shirt I initially wore trying to create the image of a more “serious” golfer to make up for my lack of skill, I decided to wear the more comfortable shirt I packed. The next day, I confidently walked back to the course wearing a short-sleeved blue running shirt that I planned to wear on the plane home. This outfit was just as accepted as my collared version from the day before, though there were several players who seemed to similarly gain confidence to dress a bit more comfortably after the first day.
If there was any idea that playing with two of the nicest people in the golf industry, one of whom is the head of the company that puts on the tournament, he may have created a facade that wasn’t genuine to the rest of the course, my second. the round playmates proved that the fun and accepting atmosphere was universal. I was paired with the only other woman playing in the tournament and her boyfriend. They were both locals part of the Linksoul community. They were just as kind and supportive of me and my below average golf game. They brought their pup along for the ride who had better course etiquette than most golfers I know. When I finally had enough of my golf shoes and switched to flip-flops, my fellow players weren’t fazed at all. When I brought it up to try and spare myself any impending embarrassment, they brushed it off with “I love playing barefoot, it feels so good.” I was again put at ease by how calm these golfers were and was inspired by the idea that playing a tournament could feel so relaxed and unpretentious.
Since then, I have tried to bring this comforting atmosphere to the rounds I play, especially with my friends who are new to the game. I encourage you to wear what makes you feel comfortable, to not be discouraged from playing with better golfers, and to remember that you deserve to be on the course as much as anyone else. We play nonjudgmentally, focus on having fun, and celebrate good shots like they just won the tournament, because competitive golf is what you do.
If collared shirts, seated dinners in a banquet hall and shoes are your style for tournaments, that’s fine, but golf needs more options for all types. I have never felt so comfortable and welcome at a golf event with the average handicap on the course. Events like these are good for golf. Competitive golf tournaments don’t need to look or feel like a professional tour event. You can enjoy the fun atmosphere of a 4th of July scramble with the competitive edge of a club championship.
Playing in this event helped me gain more confidence in my game and has changed my perspective of what tournament golf is (and can be). We all want to play well, have fun and enjoy healthy competition, regardless of how many changes or emergency shoe changes it takes to get through the round.