Eat. Sleep. Drive. Play golf. Repeat. In a nutshell, that is the reality — and motto — The Happy Golfer lived during a 96-day, 96-round golf journey through the United States one year ago.
“Yes, I asked my wife,” The Happy Golfer, otherwise known as Nick Karnazes, said with his characteristic laugh before his journey. “And yes, I have her permission to go.”
Ambitious? Many might think so of the 73-year-old San Clemente resident with the aptly applied moniker. Karnazes began the trek in the Mother Ship, his Winnebago, on March 22, 2009 at Cerbat Cliff GC in Kingman, Ariz., and continued to play two rounds of golf in each of the contiguous 48 states — all the while walking with the Callaway carry bag, custom-fit Callaway golf clubs and Callaway Hyperbolic X footwear with which the sponsor company outfitted him. By June 25, he hoped to finish his trip in Northern California at Redding’s Gold Hills GC.
“Can this be accomplished? I don’t know,” Karnazes said prior. “A few have done it in a golf cart, but not walking — and usually flying, not driving themselves to the course. What I do know is that I love RV travel and have this great passion for golf. I can only play until it gets dark.”
He did accomplish it, even more than he thought: 108 rounds in those 96 days, going over the top just for fun. The 108th round was at his final destination in Redding, and friend Jim Root of Torrance made the trip up to share the round with his golfing buddy.
Karnazes has played a lot of golf in his day — 55 years’ worth, to be precise. As a 21-year-old the Southland native played on the El Camino College golf team, and in 1973 he played in the Los Angeles Open in its first year at Riviera. Now a member of San Clemente Men’s Golf Club, the 16-index (who’s shaved two strokes off his handicap since getting his new sticks) plays with the same foursome, including Root, he’s been with for 44 years.
The inspiration for the trip happened to come from his son Dean, 47, otherwise known as Ultramarathon Man and the 2007 ESPY winner for Best Outdoor Athlete (Nick’s other son Kraig is a former pro volleyball player). In 2006, Dean ran 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days, chronicling his quest in the best-selling book Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner.
“Dean told me that I should play golf the way he ran his marathons, in different states, so I’m doing that to the extent that the Winnebago will allow, since it can’t float to Hawaii,” he chuckled. By the end of June, he logged more than 400 walking miles (there are a little more than four miles in a 6,500-yard golf course) — not bad for someone who also runs 10K races for fun.
Although Karnazes is navigated The Happy Golfer RV solo for the most part, his wife of 47 years, Fran, joined him during the Ohio leg in mid-May to visit some nearby family, and journeyed with him for eight days through four states. His expenses were out of pocket and were fourfold: more than 12,000 miles’ worth of diesel fuel, overnight camping fees at RV parks for 96 nights, groceries to prepare meals and green fees at up to 96 courses.
With word spreading quickly of Karnazes’ adventure, though, golf courses across the country took notice. After he e-mailed 96 golf professionals alerting them of his voyage, eight courses contacted Karnazes before his departure to offer complementary green fees, which he graciously accepted. In the end, 85 of the 108 rounds were comped by the golf course. He visited an eclectic mix of public and private facilities, including the Oasis GC in Mesquite, Nev.; Louisiana State University GC in Baton Rouge; and Virginia Tech’s Pete Dye River Course in Radford. His shortest commute between courses was 31 miles, while his longest was 435 miles.
So how does one train for such a test of endurance? Walking eight miles a week on the sands of San Clemente’s Riviera Beach, clubs in tow. He made quite a reputation for himself among South Orange County residents while toting his golf bag and two dozen golf balls.
“I strapped my clubs to my back and would walk on the beach near my house, about 2 1/2 miles to the pier and back,” Karnazes said. “Beachgoers found it entertaining when they asked what I was doing. Sometimes I’d pull out a 3-wood and ask if they thought I could hit Catalina Island; other times I told them all my shots are sand shots.”
At the end of the day, “life is full of choices, and I choose to play golf,” Karnazes said. Based on his attempt at history, it’s a choice that has seemed to be a good one.
The Happy Golfer kept a blog of his adventures while on the road. Read it at www.callawaygolf.com/96rounds.