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Enduring Lessons at The Lido

On self-judgment, acceptance, and what it means – or doesn’t – when it all goes wrong

The word that was in my head, and so it is the one that I want in yours, is discomfort. 

There was plenty to blame for that feeling, on what would have otherwise been a lazy, dog-day-of-summer Thursday: The fitful sleep the night before; the tacos that had been consumed too quickly a few minutes prior; the unfamiliar buzz of a Bloody Mary that had been adorned with a capful of – apparently you can buy this now – a THC-infused beverage. And then, of course, there was my location.

I had finally arrived at Sand Valley, the Wisconsin golf Mecca that, given its proximity to my hometown of Minneapolis, always felt a bit more in my grasp than the many other destinations I hoped to visit. But in a sense I was not truly there – partly because my nervous mind had deprived me from being fully present, but mostly because my vista did not consist of the towering sand dunes and mile-wide fairways that this resort is known for. Instead, I was on the first tee of The Lido – the property’s newest course and a destination in its own right, but one whose straight horizon is quite different from the resort’s other tracks and purposefully disorienting, particularly on a day that boasts hazy gray skies and a triple-digit heat index.

You may know that The Lido has been a bit of a hot topic in the golf world over the last few years. Originally conceived and built in the early 1900s by C.B. MacDonald and Seth Raynor – two of America’s most celebrated golf architects – it disappeared in 1942 when the federal government reclaimed the land for a new naval base. But after amateur historian Peter Flory painstakingly developed a digital recreation by acquiring and combing through old photographs, architect Tom Doak agreed to bring it back to life here a couple hours north of Madison. Needless to say, the unique effort drew significant attention, turning my visit here just a handful of weeks after it opened to the public into a special opportunity.  

But here’s the real reason I am nervous: I am at the outset of a trip I’ve had circled on the calendar for months, one that is a requirement for the kind of he’s-a-big-golfer-identity I’ve fully embraced since Covid, and my game is a disaster. I am a 15 handicap who was a 13 just a couple months ago; one who thinks he could be a 10 if he properly applied himself but is currently playing like a 22. Add to the mix that this trip is a 16-man Ryder Cup-style competition – mostly with people I don’t know well – at this season’s it course, and you can understand why I am very unclear what kind of golfer is about to appear. Of course, that shouldn’t matter, at least not really, but the ruminating brain still asks: What does it say when a player can’t pull it together in the big moments? Just that he’s less skilled than he might have hoped? Or perhaps something worse.

Whatever. I can hit the ball okay sometimes, and jitters notwithstanding, maybe today will be one of those days. Mike, our stout and red-bearded looper, hands me the driver. 


As a mid-handicapper who has consumed too many YouTube videos about not coming over the top, my miss is an overcorrection that goes left, left, everything left. So when I tell you that my first two swings (breakfast ball included) both sent balls impressively rightward into one of The Lido’s sandy waste areas, perhaps you have a sense of just how in trouble we are. I find my ball resting against a tuft of grass and send a reasonable 6-iron back into play, but then leave a simple wedge depressingly short of the pin. Obviously, I three-putt. The second hole is more of the same, though somehow I manage a bogey.

The third, mercifully, is a reasonable-length par 3 where I’m relieved to have a more comfortable club in my hands. No matter – my 8-iron produces a heel cut that only a true beginner would be proud of. We are officially starting to go off the rails.

At the signature No. 4 Channel hole, I start to feel especially out of place. Through my eye, it appears I’m hitting toward a flag perched atop the kind of military fortress that might have once protected a remote beach town. In reality, the two massive bunkers and wall of dirt in the distance comprise only the stoutest green complex I’ve ever seen, and I dump two in the water. Put me down for triple.

The fifth is a short par 4 – and with driver going everywhere, I elect to take hybrid off the tee. I still send my ball so far right that, when I reach it, it’s the first time I’m not sure if I’m even allowed to be standing here. A guy in a cart drives up a service road beside me, hauling empty water jugs; he does not acknowledge my existence. A few more poor swings and three-wiggle add up to another capital U ugly triple, please.

Though I bat the ball around somewhat better on Nos. 6 and 7 – there is even, allegedly, a par in there somewhere – the club feels foreign to me at the long par 3 eighth which, a century ago, would have had the Atlantic Ocean a few dozen feet off its right. A super scrapey 5-iron, chunky wedge, and deeply uncommitted chip leave me a 60-foot uphill putt for bogey, and after I leave it short, Mike has to basically beg our opponents to give me the seven-footer for double. It’s as if my mom is pleading with the other kids to stop bullying me; I don’t know if I’ve ever felt less capable on the golf course.

As we close out the ninth’s more standard-fare double bogey for a cool 53, I at least feel relief that we’re halfway through this bloodbath. Maybe I can turn in early tonight and reset? (Of course, this is delusional – it’s a boys golf trip, and we’ve got a 5:30 reservation at the must-play Sandbox short course this evening.) 

Here’s what’s true: While I have surely but rarely made worse scores on a side, it’s never gone quite this wrong – visually, anatomically, and emotionally. A day that I’ve long awaited has become the day that I’ve long dreaded, bringing with it the kind of deep self-criticism that assigns meaning where it does not necessarily exist: (You are not just a bad golfer; you are a weak person who cannot manage proficiency in something he alleges is important to him. The ample time you spend playing is not a marker of love for the game – it’s an expensive Band-Aid you use to divert attention away from the rest of your life’s shortcomings.) 

Yikes – this is heavy. Thank God for my friend and playing partner Greg, who is keeping us in this thing. But we’re two down through nine and – shocker – are about to lose the tenth.


For some reason – I’m chalking it up to how the mid-afternoon sun is hitting the two mounds of golden grass behind me that comprise the No. 10 Alps hole’s namesake – I have a bit of unsubstantiated optimism as I stand on the eleventh tee that the driver face and I may be able to find our way into the same zip code. And though another mega-slice dashes those hopes, my slight increase in dopamine leads to a strong recovery 3-wood and a nippy up and down to – are you sitting down? – win the hole. Back to 2 down.

Greg goes first on the highly anticipated Punchbowl twelfth, which has the aforementioned Channel hole’s water all along the right side. His drives are usually long and straight, taking inspiration from his stature and demeanor, but he splashes one here, and now I’m feeling extra pressure to find dry land while simultaneously trying to reverse engineer how a snap-hooker like myself started hitting banana slices, ones that start right of target and finish 40 yards righter.

It’s not a great recipe for proper execution, and I of course fan the ball violently above the channel, far out of view. I am once again eminently discouraged – so much so that though Greg is only about 15 yards to my left, craning his neck to peer over a couple dunes, I can barely hear him suggest that he thinks it hit land somewhere. After an opponent finds the fairway, Greg and I walk to the drop zone and hit our thirds (wait for it: mine was trash) and I am back in that place where acute shame and judgment live, only slightly aware that Greg is still arguing with Mike about whether a player could miss so far right with their tee ball that it might clear the channel to find No. 4’s elevated and peninsular fairway. But as we walk further and Greg continues his jump-and-peek routine, we determine yes, that’s a golf ball, and I run around the channel to confirm: Indeed, my blue-logoed ProV1x is sitting pleasantly in a place it has absolutely no business being. 

Our upstanding and generous opponents appear to be okay with me playing it, and while there is a bit of pressure not to squander this lucky break, the reality is that I have nothing left to lose. My game is already nakedly on display, its extreme mediocrity indisputable. So with that bitter acceptance, I take dead aim at the punchbowl green up the hill – about 190 yards away, playing 205 – and flush my first shot since entering the state of Wisconsin. The ball fades delicately toward its target, over a sandy ridgeline and down onto the green where it presumably rides a couple slopes before it settles about 20 feet away from the pin. I exhale.

The other side leaves their approaches short, which means my two-putt for net birdie wins a hole that, walking off the tee box, you wouldn’t have given us 10-to-1 to take down. Like a redzone pick-six or shorthanded goal, it’s the ultimate momentum shift – one that revitalizes its beneficiaries and demoralizes its victims, making both sides question everything they thought they knew.

We roll from there. I par No. 13 (fairway?! green?!) and though we aren’t technically the victors until we leave the eighteenth two up, it feels as if the die has been cast. I hold it together, besting my front nine score by 11 strokes, finally feeling like myself – the golfer who has no illusions he is anything special but can hit a reasonable ball from time to time, and more importantly, loves to be here, deserves to be here. Greg and Mike gel further; they will go on to work together all four rounds of the trip, where Greg will win all his matches and secure low net honors, including a gross 2-under-par 70 on the eponymous Sand Valley course. 

I’m as Instagram-addicted as any good millennial, but as we all exit the final green, I realize I haven’t taken any pictures of the place. This is partly because of The Lido’s difficult-to-capture-properly-with-an-iPhone topography – treeless and mostly flat, but in the same way the surface of the moon is – but also because I spent the back nine engrossed in competition and the front just trying to maintain motor function. And while not snapping any photos is a rarity for me, it’s alright – I know there’s enough to come on this trip that it’s unlikely my time at The Lido will be my dearest memory.

What it will be instead is my clearest understanding yet of what golf and therapists have been teaching for centuries, even before the first tee ball took flight at the original Lido. A distant comfort that I’ve long struggled to trust, both on and off the course: that your worst fears may come horrifyingly true, and still – you can endure. You’ll be alright. And by the next day – or maybe even the next few holes – you might be thriving. 

And if all else fails, let my experience be a guide: just go to the Punchbowl.


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