Blog #1: A (not-so) Brief History of RUGG Golf
One of my fondest memories as a very young kid is the day my father cut down the shaft of an old ladies 3-wood, took off the plate to remove the lead weight, wrapped it with fabric electrical tape for a grip, and brought me out to the driving range with him to whack some shots off rubber mats. While his drives were sailing over the far nets, I remember shouting out “Look how high I can hit it” and my dad replying, “It’s not how high you hit it, it’s how far and how straight.” So I began experimenting with how to hit it lower, farther, and straighter, and my love affair with golf began.
I always loved making up games as a kid. When I got my first set of junior clubs, it didn’t take long before I was creating all kinds of golf games I could play in and around the house. I set up holes on the Provincetown sand flats right outside my house during low tide with buried coffee cans as holes, which, not surprisingly, helped my sand game. I would make elaborate indoors mini-golf putting holes with a variety of household objects, and my putting improved. I remember chipping into a chair until I skulled a ball into the plate glass picture window with a loud clang, fortunately with no more damage than my jangled nerves. In a fortuitous moment soon after, I noticed a basket in storage that had some old ping pong balls, and before long I was chipping all around the house without fear of breaking something.
I had the good fortune of growing up in a family house that was a sprawling collection of 6 different rooms on the main floor, each with durable carpets surrounded by tile. Using cocktail coasters as holes and the tile as water hazards, I had a standard course setup that started in the garage hallway, dropped three steps to the small fireplace reading room, and on through a narrowing doorway to the living room (with the now unthreatened plate glass picture window.) From here I had three different options; hit a short lob shot to the small conversation room, a low hook around the corner to the narrow main entry, or thread a long shot through the tall fern divider that went into the dining room. Then I’d play back the other way
Playing this game for many hours each week, I soon learned that I could control the ping pong ball to slice around corners, increase distance with a low hook, and change the amount of back and sidespin with all kinds of different swings. I could never get anyone to play with me because I became just too good. But I sure enjoyed it.
When I did play regular golf, my short game was the strongest part. In my 20s I had great fun playing with my father in his club’s father-son tournaments, which we won low gross on several occasions, and I remember him commenting after a particularly good chip, “You know, all that chipping around the house has helped.” I had never really thought about that. I had always been a good chipper.
I didn’t realize how lucky I was to have so much space at home until I was off on my own in much smaller living areas that would maybe have one room big enough to for a short chip between a placed bath mat and a carpet, but that was about it. Pretty boring. So I gave up the indoor chipping game, but always remembered how much fun it was.
While I have always been in sales of some sort (and golf has always helped with that,) I realized late in life that the perfect job for me would have been as a golf course architect. I was a golf nut as a kid, winning my middle school championship, being captain and #1 player on my high school team, and making my university team as a walk-on. In high school I spent much of my study halls designing golf courses on graph paper and playing them with spitballs and paper clips. Unfortunately, it really didn’t dawn on me that designing golf courses could be a real job when I was younger. But I always held on to the idea of RUGG Golf.
In my 40s, I actually designed and produced an expensive Par 4 dogleg-left hole out of three custom sculpted carpets – a tee, a 22-foot long fairway with thin, nubbed traps and shag rough, and a trap- protected contoured green on a large two-level wooden base with a small 2 inch hole cut into them. RUGG Golf was officially born and the carpet concept provisionally patented.
It was great fun. Using just a pitching wedge, a player could hit a long, low hook off the tee that would curl around past the trap and leave a perfect approach shot to the back tier of the green. But this setup weighed over 200 pounds, required a van to transport, and was only a single hole setup. Setting up even nine holes of this would take a room the size of a typical hotel ballroom. After trying it out a few times in large halls or gyms for special events, these carpets sat in storage for years until I left them with a local private school after an event to use for golf team practice. When I finally checked on it again after several years, the set had disappeared without a trace. I still have a dream of creating a complete 18-hole layout.
So now I am in my 60s, and once again drawn to recreate the fun I had as a kid playing RUGG Golf in my home. I now live in a small cottage where the one main room is 27’ x 30’ which allows for an 8 yard shot from one side to the other. I can also open up a 12 yard shot corner to corner if I do a little furniture arranging that, with the RUGG Golf precision plastic chipping practice golf ball, requires the kind of force one would use on a 75 yard pitch shot on the golf course.
Dusting off my childhood game creation skills, I have slowly developed and improved the concept of RUGG Golf into the “Tin Cup” game. It has over 1,000 potential hole setup combinations, from devilishly difficult short flop shots onto steeply sloping greens to very demanding long pitch shots. It combines an archery type multi-bullseye target rug with an adjustable sloping base, movable Tin Cup hole, precision lightweight plastic balls that are the printed to look like golf balls (oddly, the first time ever this has been done,) a custom tee mat with ball counter, a ball retrieval sleeve to make it easy to pick up the balls, assorted game pieces, and a super fun set of games in the Tin Cup instruction book. All the room you need is about 20 feet of playing space, although longer, up to about 40 feet, is more fun and challenging.
I am once again playing RUGG Golf several hours every week and, while the rest of my golf game is suffering through the inevitable transitions of aging, my short game is getting so much better again. So much is simply muscle memory. I am not only rediscovering shot techniques, but also learning new aspects of the mental part of the game.
The best part of it for me is when I get non-golfers to play for the first time. After often fitful beginnings, many get hooked on it and improve rapidly. In this digital world of cell phones and social media that is contributing to a decline in the younger generations’ interest in golf, it is my hope that this fun game will introduce a new crop of younger players to the enjoyment and satisfying challenges of golf, and bring the joy of golf back to others who may have given it up for any reason.
For me, this Tin Cup game has brought me full circle to my dream. I am a golf course architect. ;)
Bill Van Arsdale