As the gentleman left the last green and headed for his golf cart, he was muttering under his breath and whacking his putter into the ground. His playing partner politely asked, “What’s up, Herbie?”“Well, I will give you a hint,” replied Herbie. “The same people that invented golf think that music comes out of bagpipes!” Scots will have you believe they invented golf and they invented the Great Highland Bagpipe. Neither is true, but there is no doubt the Scots have taken possession of the myth and have made each what they are today. We can thank them and curse them, as we often do. Playing golf and playing bag-pipes are equally difficult, even at the beginner stage! I have been playing golf for 40 or so years. I got my handicap down to 10 at one time, but so long ago it is a distant memory. Now I am about a 20, golf once per week with my golf buddies, and we tee off from the “old guys” tee box, just one back from the forward tees. I also play the bagpipes but started just eight years ago. Why and how I got started is a story for another day, but suffice to say I thought that with just nine notes, playing the pipes should be easy. I am about a 20 handicap with the pipes, as well. There is a big pipe and drum summer camp at the resort where my wife and I live. There are about 200 pipers and drummers at this camp every week and range in age from eight years to 80. One of the “more mature” pipers asked the head instructor if there was any chance for older pipers to become good on the pipes. He answered, “Well, we know of one older chap that became a world class piper.” “How old was he when he started,” asked the ancient. “I think he was 12,” was the answer. There is no substitute for youth. They are generally fit and they have no fear. They learn the pipe tunes quickly and their fingers are nimble. When they golf, they watch and they do. I started the pipes when I was a ripe old 67 years of age. My fingers are bent and stiff and I have to work at remembering tunes. When I started, I took a weekly lesson and attended band practice twice a week for over a year. I can now play the simple tunes bands play when they are marching down the street, am able to stay in step, and when I make a mistake, I make sure I do so “on the beat” so no one notices. As well as playing and marching at the same time, I am able to sidestep the piles of horse-apples that seem to be an inevitable part of parades. (Those parade organizers really have to change the horse’s diet or not put them just in front of the pipe band, as there is no soft peddle on the volume we create.) Now that winter is approaching, I look forward to teaching cross-country skiing. How does this all tie in? It all has to do with fitness. The X-C skiers that come to us for lessons are usually older adults. The sport demands the skier have the ability to balance on one gliding ski at a time, and the folks really need some strength in the legs and a matching strength in the arms/upper body. Unfortunately, the students generally have strong-ish legs as they spend some time walking, but they are not able to balance on one ski for any length of time and are not able to add the push with their ski poles to balance the push from their legs. Stance and balance! Sound familiar? The same is true for beginner golfers or golfers wanting to improve. The lad I take golf lessons from and I agree that the biggest hurdle we have to overcome with students is that we can teach them the proper technique, but we cannot teach them fitness. As with my golf, the bagpipes continue to be a challenge. For the instructors out there, if you have forgotten what it feels like to be a beginner, try learning the Great Highland Bagpipes. You just might be able to get an additional gig as the piper that many golf resorts around the world employ who pipe the sun down at the end of the day. That would give you the chance to do what I refer to as a Great Scot’s Triathlon: Teach golf during the day, pipe the sun down in the evening and repair to the club bar in your kilt and have the members shout you a dram and a Guinness!
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