Straight Down the Middle

If you’re anything like me – and I hope for the sake of your spouse you’re not – then you want a playlist for everything. Christmas is an obvious one. Then there’s Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween and Summer. Then there’s also Elvis Week, Rainy Days, Cowboy Music or Music for Working Out. And, at the more advanced level, Music for the Vacation Drive Between South Carolina and Florida, Music for Warm, Breezy, Sunny Afternoons, Sinatra from ’66-’69 and Italian Music for When You’re Making Pasta.

The toughest one for me has always been Music to Golf By. What makes it so difficult is it’s hard to find songs that specifically deal with golf in their lyrics but there are a few. Golfing season – playing and watching – really kicks in at our house with the coming of spring and the Masters Tournament the first weekend of every April which brings us to the pinnacle, the “Stairway to Heaven”, of this non-genre: “Augusta” by Dave Loggins. A cousin of Kenny, Dave Loggins wrote and recorded the music you hear during the Masters broadcast on CBS every spring. The lyrics you don’t hear on TV speak of the glory of Augusta National Golf Club – where the tournament is played every spring – and make reference to dogwoods, pine trees, Augusta National founder Bobby Jones and golfing legends Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. It’s a pleasant trip around the course and through the history of the tournament.

Another golf song is “Straight Down the Middle” by Bing Crosby, the king of the golfing singers. These lyrics depict the glory of a day on the links, spraying your ball left and right and lying about your round afterwards in the locker room. Another one that comes to mind is “Double Bogey Blues” by Micky Jones which was featured in maybe the best golf movie ever, Tin Cup. Albums with golf depicted with cover art include low-handicapper Perry Como’s Como Swings album and (the back cover at least) Swing Along With Me by Frank Sinatra. “Augusta” may be the ultimate golf song but the album all golfers who also enjoy fine singing need to own is Gary Player Sings. Yes, the South African golfing legend and fitness icon released this rare gem in 1970. He tackles standard fare such as “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “Kum Ba Ya” along with more contemporary classics like “Gentle on My Mind” and “Happy Heart”. To own it on vinyl and have it framed and hanging on your wall would be the ultimate.

Released in the UK by MCA, this album features liner notes by Andy Williams and sells online for $125 USD.

Player is not the only golfer to have released an album, though. In 1998, Peter Jacobsen formed Jake Trout and the Flounders. Jacobsen had been a mid-level golfer that was more known for his comedic flair and for winning the U.S. Open that was contested in Tin Cup. The Flounders were his golfer friends, broadcaster Mark Lye and the legendary Payne Stewart. Stewart was a great golfer who had won three major championships including the riveting 1999 U.S. Open. He was famous for wearing his plus-fours and died shortly after his ’99 major championship in a fatal plane crash. The three of them got together with session musicians and guest stars including Leonard Nimoy, Glenn Frey, Clint Eastwood and Alice Cooper to put out I Love to Play, an album of rock songs with the lyrics re-written with a golf theme. The title track was based on Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.”.

Mark Lye, the late major champion Payne Stewart and Peter Jacobsen ham it up as Jake Trout and the Flounders.

Let’s face it: normal people that play golf regularly don’t ever think in terms of “music to golf by”. Mainly because golf etiquette dictates that you can’t be playing music on the golf course. However, there’s a little local par 3 course I like to go to on spring mornings and what I’ll do is put a playlist together (which I call Straight Down the Middle) and put it on my device which I’ll shove in my back pocket and play as I go ’round. The course is usually sparsely populated on a weekday morning so it doesn’t bother anybody. When I go by myself for a leisurely morning round, I’m going for a relaxing, old school vibe so I’m going for the type of music that Ward Cleaver may have listened to on the course.

My playlist starts at the beginning, with the aforementioned Bing Crosby. Crosby is perhaps the original golfing celebrity. He loved the game and was good – a two handicap – when he decided to start his own tournament in 1937. Bing put up the $10,000 prize money himself and invited his Hollywood friends to come and play with the pros and created the pro-am format – celebrities paired with pros to compete in a tournament within the tournament. Crosby also encouraged his celeb friends to host their own tournaments, bringing in their television and movie sponsors to underwrite the events. Sounds like Bing played at least a small part in creating the original concept of today’s PGA Tour. The party time event Bing started in 1937 – originally called the Bing Crosby Clambake – eventually became the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, one of the most popular events on tour. Crosby’s influence also led to many other celebrity-hosted PGA Tour events.

Como Swings (1959)

My playlist will continue with Jackie Gleason and some music from his wonderful mood music albums of the ’50s. The television legend took to golf late in life. He learned the game in his early 40s but quickly fell in love with it. In 1972, he started Jackie Gleason’s Inverrary Classic at the Inverrary Country Club in Lauderhill, Florida. It is still being contested today as the Honda Classic, a big part of the Florida Swing on the PGA Tour.

I’ll continue with a little Andy Williams. Andy was an avid golfer who was a good ambassador for the PGA Tour. Williams is credited with playing a key role in boosting golf’s popularity in southern California and around the nation when, in 1968, he became the host of the San Diego Open Invitational. The event had taken place in many different locations until Andy came on board and the event settled at Torrey Pines where it soon became one of the most popular events on tour. Andy was the host of the event – now called The Farmers Insurance Open – for 21 years; only Bing Crosby’s and Bob Hope’s affiliations with their events lasted longer.

Back cover of Sinatra Swings (1961)

To maintain the same mid-century vibe while trying to crack 50 on my par 3 course, I’ll continue with some Sammy Davis, Jr. Today, The Travelers Championship is held every June in Connecticut but from 1973 to 1988 it was known as the Sammy Davis, Jr. Greater Hartford Open. Even if Dean Martin never had any connection to golf, you could benefit a lot by listening to him while on the golf course. His relaxed and smooth style is conducive to swinging easy and maintaining a cool demeanour. As it happens, Dean was a huge golf fan and one of the better celebrity golfers of his day. He was a single-digit handicapper who was well known back in the day for foregoing almost everything to play golf. Phoning in performances in his films with Jerry Lewis, begging off a night of carousing with Frank and the boys and never rehearsing for his popular Dean Martin Show all so he could basically live on the links. Also, from 1972 to 1975 he hosted the Dean Martin Tuscon Open in Arizona, a PGA Tour event until its demise in 2007.

Even Willie! 1969.

Frank Sinatra liked to be good at everything but reports indicate he was a 24-handicap golfer who was good off the tee but just liked to hack it around and have fun. He did host a PGA-sanctioned golf tournament once in 1963 called the Frank Sinatra Invitational. And I’ll play some Perry Como, too. Perry’s smooth, easy style – like Martin’s – certainly can help you swing the club free from any rigidity and your putting stroke could certainly be helped if you are using a Perry Como Putter that was made by MacGregor in the early ’60’s.

Wouldn’t you have loved to have been there that day? Frank and Dean on the links, early 1970’s.

If you throw in some more contemporary recordings by Huey Lewis and the News and Darius Rucker/Hootie and the Blowfish – Huey and Darius are both noted celebrity golfers – you can easily build yourself a nice golfing playlist. Here’s mine.

Put these tunes in your back pocket. Keep in mind, not many mention golf specifically but most are chosen for their peaceful vibe or rhythmic gait designed to keep you mellow so you can swing easy and enjoy a good walk around the course. All of these artists have some connection to the game of golf.

Augusta — Dave Loggins

Straight Down the Middle — Bing Crosby

Double Bogey Blues — Micky Jones

Green Green — Gary Player

I Love to Play — Jake Trout and the Flounders

San Fernando Valley — Bing Crosby

Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella — Perry Como

Skylark — Jackie Gleason

Dear Heart — Andy Williams

Begin the Beguine — Sammy Davis, Jr.

Powder Your Face With Sunshine (Smile! Smile! Smile!) — Dean Martin

But Not For Me — Jackie Gleason

Falling in Love With Love — Frank Sinatra

Gentle On My Mind — Glen Campbell

Too Close for Comfort — Sammy Davis, Jr.

I’ll Always Love You (Day After Day) — Dean Martin

Canadian Sunset — Andy Williams

Ain’t Misbehavin’ — Bing Crosby


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