by Ron Bellamy
Last year, Eri Crum had quit playing competitive golf, frustrated that his game seemed to be getting worse. He still had a passion for the sport, having captained the golf team at Stanford University, where his teammates included Tiger Woods, Casey Martin and Notah Begay III, but he was done with tournaments.
Then his father saw a documentary on Speedgolf, aired on CBS during the 2013 Masters, and thought it would be perfect for Eri, who had come within seconds of breaking three hours in the Boston Marathon a few years earlier.
“I watched the recap and loved it,” said the 39-year-old chiropractor, who operates a chiropractic and rehabilitation center in Boise, Idaho, his home for the last 10 years. “I went out probably the next day to give it a go. I loved it from the start. It’s such a great sport. It marries two totally different sports. I’ve really enjoyed playing it.”
In Speedgolf, competitors carry fewer clubs and run from shot to shot; their score is a combination of their golf score and time on the course. Although most golf rules apply, competitors are allowed to leave the flagstick in while putting, and a lost ball is a one-stroke penalty, with a drop on the line of flight.
A few months after learning about Speedgolf, in just his second event, Crum placed second in the 2013 Speedgolf World Championships at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. This year, in late October, he won the Speedgolf World Championships, shooting a 4-over par 76 on the Bandon Dunes course in 46 minutes, 1 second for a Speedgolf score of 122.01 and his first-ever world title.
Originally scheduled as a 36-hole event, the tournament was shortened to the single round at Bandon Dunes after winds of up to 60 miles per hour forced organizers to declare the first day of competition, at the resort’s Old Macdonald course, to be a separate event.
In the end, Crum won by the narrowest of margins – in essence, less than a stroke – over defending world champion Rob Hogan of Ireland, who shot 83 in 39.57 for a score of 122.57.
“You think back on all those putts you made that you could have missed, and you just feel grateful,” said Crum, who earned $10,600. “This game is so fickle. A shot here, a shot there, it can go any way at any time. I feel grateful the putts fell today.”
After his runner-up finish in 2013, Crum – who runs 15 to 20 miles a week – focused on including more track workouts in his training, to improve his speed.
Interestingly, his golf game improved, too.
“In a weird way, Speedgolf helped my regular golf game,” Crum said. “You get up and react and trust your swing and try to get out of your own head. You don’t think about it as much. It’s really helped my own golf game, and I’ve regained a lot of my confidence in regular golf.”
In addition to regular golf practice, Crum and several friends play an early morning round of Speedgolf once a week or so at Boise’s Crane Creek Country Club, where Crum is a member.
“The pro and the maintenance crew have been really exceptional in letting me go out there,” he said. “I think one of the obstacles in Speedgolf growing more is courses being open to letting people go out. As the game gets more recognition, I think courses will be open to setting aside some time early in the day dedicated to Speedgolf.”
Crum intends to keep competing, and hopes to improve his Speedgolf scores through increased efficiency around the greens and overall speed – essential because Hogan is a talented golfer who is remarkably fit and putts one-handed, so that he doesn’t have to drop his bag on the greens. Furthermore, track athletes such as Nick Willis, an Olympic silver medalist at 1,500 meters, and Michael McLain are clearly poised to be factors in the sport in the years ahead.
“I want to keep getting better,” Crum said. “The biggest ways I can improve is getting more efficient in the running to hitting the ball, especially around the greens. There’s a lot of course management involved in Speedgolf – for example, you don’t want to hit a lot of shots long, because that’s adding distance. And I want to get faster.
“At the end of the day, I have to improve my speed time, especially with these track stars coming in; if they get their golf games under control, I certainly need to get my run time faster.”
Ron Bellamy was the featured sports columnist at the Eugene Register-Guard for 20 years, from 1987-2007, and the newspaper’s sports editor from 2002 until his retirement in 2011. After spending 40 years in daily journalism, he periodically writes about golf and other sports, when he’s not on the golf course.