SENECA FALLS — At the risk of sounding sexist, speed golf is a wife’s dream.
This variation on traditional golf puts a premium on playing a round in the fastest time possible — with the sport’s best playing in under an hour. Plus, all that running is the perfect antidote to a beer belly!
Although speed golf has been around for more than 30 years, lately it has been pushing its way into the mainstream. And the sport’s top-ranked player is periodically seen brushing up on his game right here at the Seneca Falls Country Club.
Wes Cupp (how’s that for a perfect golf name?) is the head golf pro at Rome Country Club in his hometown. But he occasionally finds himself in the Finger Lakes visiting his parents Ted and Kit Cupp, who along with their son, Jon, own and operate Thirsty Owl Wine Co. on Route 89 in Ovid.
On a recent Thursday morning, Cupp, 37, was in town visiting his folks and agreed to a short demonstration of the sport that now commands his passion and where he has achieved great success.
The rules are relatively simple.
Players can use seven or fewer clubs as they run from hole to hole, trying to shoot the lowest score they can. Those scores are computed by adding the round score to the number of minutes it takes to complete an 18-hole course. Cupp’s best score is 115; he shot a 69 while running the course in 46 minutes.
There are a few variations to the traditional rules of golf, all related to optimizing speed. The flagstick can remain in the hole while a player putts, and if a player loses a ball he can drop and hit a new one in the area where the original ball disappeared. He will lose a stroke, but does not have to return to the area where he first made the shot.
Golf has been in Cupp’s blood since he was a youngster, but he didn’t take up running until he stumbled onto speed golf.
His parents formerly owned Rome Country Club, so Cupp grew up on the course and parlayed his love of and skill at the game into a Division I athletic and academic scholarship at American University in Washington, D.C. He was team MVP twice there and as a senior was also named to the first team of the All Patriot League.
It was a Rome Country Club member who in passing mentioned speed golf to Cupp about three years ago.
“He said ‘You Tube this thing and check it out,’” Cupp recalled.
So he did, then went out on the course and tried nine holes.
“I had a blast,” Cupp said. “By the fourth hole I was gassed, but I played shockingly well. I thought this is amazing. When I don’t think, I almost play better.”
Golfers who try speed golf for the first time experience the same thing, he said. They expect to shoot an unbelievably high score, but are pleasantly surprised how well they do.
Having to get to the next hole as quickly as possible takes out the tortuous rumination players often engage in, Cupp said. There is simply no time to overthink a shot or beat yourself up after an errant one.
Cupp is also attracted to speed golf because he believes it transforms golf from a game to a sport — taking the fine motor skills required for golf and adding in speed and endurance. He thinks its most similar counterpart is the biathlon, where athletes cross country ski to different rifle shooting targets on a course.
Speed golf has its guilt-free advantages, too. It doesn’t hurt that Cupp can knock off a round in an hour. He and his wife, Lauren (who also plays), have two young children — Leslie, 4, and Ted, 8 months — so Cupp said he sometimes gets up early, plays and returns before anyone in the family awakens.
Plus, he likes the sport’s semi-radical nature — likening it to running in the school hallways.
“Golf is so proper,” he said. “It’s kind of like breaking the rules.”
World’s top player
Cupp isn’t necessarily breaking the rules, but he is breaking records.
Even though he only took up the game three years ago, he is now the sport’s No. 1 ranked player.
His best round of 115 was shot at the New York State Speed Golf Open in 2016. He won the California Speed Golf Open this past March with a 119 and placed fifth in the Speed Golf World Championships held last month in London. He competes in about six tournaments a year and is sponsored by Birnie Bus Inc., a family business based in Rome.
“Anything under 120 I’m excited with and that [score] will hold up very well,” he said.
Cupp usually runs a 7:30 mile pace while playing and estimates a round of 18 works out to about 5 miles. Although he never ran competitively before, Cupp is blessed with a runner’s slight build and has clocked a 5:51 mile. He now tries to run about 40 miles a week to maintain his fitness.
“Now that I’m a little better at it it’s not so tortuous,” Cupp said of running. “The hard part is trying to get faster.”
When Cupp plays a round, he usually takes five clubs with him — his putter, driver, a lob wedge and five- and nine-irons. He removed some pockets from a Sunday golf bag to make it lighter and fashioned himself a homemade clip to attach his golf bag to his belt, so he doesn’t lose time putting his clubs down and picking them up again.
Cupp gave a quick demonstration on the 10th green at Seneca Falls County Club. After driving the ball, he ran to where it landed; pulled out a different club for his second shot and swung. Cupp raced down a hill then up another hill to the green, where he two-putted for par.
“I made par in about a minute or half or so,” he said smiling.
Seneca Falls Country Club President Jim Sinicropi has seen Cupp on the course several times.
“The first time I saw him I was like ‘what the heck is going on here,’” he said.
The two chatted and Sinicropi learned that speed golf is a bona fide sport. And then it started to dawn on him that Cupp is shooting what he shoots or better … while running.
Sinicropi said he would be open to Cupp holding a speed golf demonstration in Seneca Falls, noting it’s just another way to expose people to the game of golf. He believes the emergence in the past 20 years of 5Ks and the fitness movement is one reason why fewer people are playing golf.
“I just think this might be a way to bring more people around to play golf in whatever way they want,” he said.
Speed golf has caught on faster internationally than in the U.S., Cupp said, noting it’s especially popular in Japan, England, New Zealand and Australia. He realizes it’s a demanding sport but it is hopeful he can spread the word and encourage others to play. Cupp gave demonstrations at different courses this past summer to spread his love of the game.
“Golf is tough and now you add in a running element and it gets really tough,” he admitted. “It might be wishful thinking to think it can be a mass participation sport, but there is a benefit to those who are interested in both. Just getting people to try it would be a great goal.”