NBA Season Restart 2019-20

Disney World Diary: Golfing inside NBA campus remains above par

Media gets their chance (and early tee times) to play Disney courses

Shaun Powell

Shaun Powell

ORLANDO, Fla. — Listen, don’t tell Steve Quintana, my otherwise understanding editor, who thinks I’m down here grinding out 18-hour days and hustling between practices and games and falling from exhaustion before my head hits the pillow at night. But Thursdays are now reserved for golf and let’s keep this between us.

The Disney property has three high-quality courses which are mainly reserved for players and coaches, with special emphasis for LA Clippers coach Doc Rivers, which I’ll explain in a bit. Yet the folks were gracious enough to give us, the media, a once-a-week tee time. I’ve always gotten the impression that we’re a necessary nuisance, that nobody really loves or respects the media, and that our approval rating is slightly higher than mosquitos. And then this happens, and my faith in humanity is restored.

And then we get the media tee times — four spots between 6:20 and 6:54 am only — and I begin to wonder again.

Understand that, for sportswriters, early morning is our kryptonite. We work mainly at night, sometimes well beyond midnight, so by nature we’re late risers. Still, golf is a passion and so you make an exception.

I’m late coming to golf and didn’t buy my first set of clubs until I reached 38. Months later, I played my first round, and courtesy of a media perk, it was at Augusta National. I don’t like to tell anyone that because, you know, haters gonna hate. Rick Reilly, the longtime writer for Sports Illustrated, became enraged when he found out, then he tracked me down and demanded to know: “Was your first date Halle Berry?” Well, no. But my fifth round ever was at Shinnecock, and again, keep that between us.

Golf is quickly catching on with NBA folks, and nobody is more obsessed than Rivers. I once asked him if he had a bucket list of courses he’d like to play … and this was the dumbest question he’d ever heard in his life because he’s already played them all (and some twice).

Last fall at Clippers’ training camp, thankfully held in Honolulu, I asked Rivers after practice if he packed his clubs. Well, that was the second-dumbest question he ever heard. Matter of fact, he and Clippers owner Steve Ballmer were headed out that afternoon. No, not at a local course, either, although Honolulu has a few gems. They were taking Ballmer’s private plane to the Big Island and playing there. Now that’s golf gangsta. This might be a good time to mention Ballmer is worth a few bucks.

The player with the lowest handicap is probably Ray Allen, who retired so he can play even more golf. Allen stays on call to join his favorite playing partner, former President Barack Obama. Here at Disney, I get to play with Joe Vardon.

Joe is a fantastic writer for The Athletic who isn’t famous — although he is on first-name basis with LeBron James and therefore comes pretty close. Anyway, we’ve agreed to play every Thursday morning, after staggering out of bed and bringing along flashlights so we can find our balls. There’s no wagering between us, and that’s great, because Joe’s better than me. However, he never played at Augusta or Shinnecock, so whatever.

Taking a cue from Rivers, I remembered to bring clubs. They’re ready although, at that early tee time, I’m not sure I will be. That’s OK. Expectations aren’t high in these conditions. The purpose is to survive and score at least 90, same goal as the 2019-20 Charlotte Hornets.

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter .

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