I had one question for travel writer Chuck “The Traveling Guy” Miller, who played golf in all 50 states in 50 weeks, wrote a book about it, and reported that his handicap went from a 9 to a 12.
“You played almost every day for a year and you got worse?”
Naturally, being a golfer, he had an excuse. Actually two of them.
For one thing, he said, he was constantly playing golf courses he’d never before laid eyes on, greatly increasing the degree of difficulty. And for another, he quipped, “Every time I played, I kept getting older.”
He was 74 when he started, 75 when he finished.
For 331 days in 2012, Chuck cruised America, playing 141 golf courses, all of them open to the public, while putting 21,503 miles on his Nissan Maxima, plus another few thousand miles flying to Alaska and Hawaii.
His book, “Golfing the U.S.: Reflections on a 50-Week, 50-State Odyssey,” (available at Amazon.com) gives a state-by-state rundown of what he saw, did and shot. Utah was the 49th state he visited, just prior to jetting off to Hawaii for the finale, and he played just one course here — Sand Hollow in Hurricane. But if it hadn’t been for a pair of Utahns, the trip would never have gotten off the ground.
Bob Casper and Brian Taylor are co-hosts of Real Golf Radio, the nationally syndicated show that airs Saturday mornings on stations throughout the country. Every week during his jaunt, Bob and Brian gave Chuck two minutes and 15 seconds of air time to phone in and update his travels.
Chuck had successfully pitched his 50-50 idea to Bob Casper while on a golf tour of Morocco in 2008 with Bob’s father, the late golf legend Billy Casper. The original idea was to pick up a sponsor for the show — and to finance the trip — but then the recession happened and sponsors were as rare as birdies on Bethpage Black.
Undaunted, Chuck, whose wife had recently passed away, decided to press on without a sponsor. With the radio gig secured, he found visitors bureaus and chambers of commerce were amenable to offering discounted, if not free, lodging, and plenty of complimentary golf. All he needed were lots of tees, and balls.
By the first week of January 2012, he threw his clubs in the Nissan’s trunk, left his home in California and was off, playing a golf course, on average, every other day, while also seeing the sights, eating substantial quantities of fast food and keeping oil companies in business. (Expenses for his yearlong trip were $13,265).
He writes glowingly of the golf courses he played and the golfers he encountered. “Golfers as a breed are a very open, honest, fun-loving group,” he says. “Everywhere I went people took care of me.”
As for memorable highlights of the non-golf variety, two came in South Dakota, of all places. Mount Rushmore was surprisingly impressive, he found, and also much smaller than he expected. And it was in South Dakota the grand tour came to a screeching, if temporary, halt, when his Nissan was surrounded by a herd of buffalo.
“I was about to roll down my window and take a picture,” says Chuck, “until I turned and there was a seven-foot buffalo staring at me. I didn’t move until he left.”
He tossed beads off a Mardi Gras float in Baton Rouge, slept in a 1,000-square-foot suite at the renowned Homestead Resort in Virginia (where he got the $75 media rate and ate convenience store sandwiches on his private deck), toured the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, and in New Mexico checked the Carlsbad Caverns off his bucket list.
The best course he played was the last course he played — the plantation course at Kapalua on the island of Maui — and his favorite hole was the last hole he played — the 18th at Kapalua, a big, looping 550-yard five par with a panoramic view of the Pacific.
When the trip was over, he couldn’t get one place he’d visited off his mind — Hot Springs Village, Arkansas, a gated golfing community with nine courses, 11 lakes and 150 social clubs, churches and organizations.
He made his way back to Arkansas and started pricing the real estate. The next thing he knew he moved there, choosing a condo overlooking one of those nine golf courses. Not long after that, he was introduced to a woman named Myrna. They dated for over a year and were married in 2014.
“I’ll tell you, it wasn’t something planned — I just came here to play golf,” says Chuck. “But the good Lord is looking out for me and I’ve been blessed.”
He wrote his travel book, appropriately enough, at his new home, overlooking one of the 11 lakes and only minutes away from all nine golf courses — on the other side of the country from where he started.