Richard Suozzo has gone through a few inconveniences most golfers haven't had to suffer through.
Like having AK-47s pointed at him by the Zimbabwe army, earthquakes in Alaska and being forced to sign a waiver to play golf in a South African national park.
"I had to sign a waiver because if one of the animals kills you, you're on your own," said the 41-year-old Suozzo.
AK-47s, earthquakes and wild animals: This could be the ultimate travel golfer.
"I like to play," he said, in what could be the understatement of the year.
In fact, Suozzo may be headed for the Guinness Book of World Records. He has applied to Guiness, trying to find out if he, as a non-competing amateur, can either break or establish the record for most golf courses played.
Guinness has yet to get back to him, but Suozzo figures with more than 530 courses played to date, and many more planned, he will be close.
"I know the pros who have been playing for 50 years like Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player are probably up in the thousands," he said. "But, as a non-competing amateur, I might have a shot."
Suozzo doesn't have his expenses paid, like the pros. As a teacher and part-time umpire in Mount Vernon, N.Y., he has to choose his money and time carefully.
"The plan is for 60-75 new courses a year for maybe the next five years," he said. "That brings me up in the 900-1,000 range and I'm going to put that up against anybody."
He sneaks off to play during the year and as soon as summer hits, he's on the road.
He's there now, for example, for a cross-country jaunt, with plans to drive and play for nine weeks until he has to return for school in September.
"I'm bringing my tent and golf clubs," the fast-talking New Yorker said. "That's it."
In the United States, Suozzo has only a general idea of where he's going to play golf when he jumps in his car.
"If I don't like it, I'm out of there," he said.
He's been up and down the California coast, played the Robert Trent Jones Trail in Alabama, Bear Trace in Tennessee, and almost all points in between.
He's played the Adirondacks region back toward Canada, through Lake Placid, he's played Pinehurst No. 2 and on through Virginia and Virginia Beach.
There are themes, though.
"I tend to go for the designers," he said. "I'm a huge Robert Trent Jones fan. I'm hooked on playing golf courses by the better designers. I've been on a Donald Ross kick this year, and then Arnold Palmer. I've played a lot of Nicklaus, and if I can find any public course by CB MacDonald, I'll play it. But, those are hard to find."
When he travels overseas, however, his itineraries are more careful.
In Zimbabwe, for example, he didn't know the correct political protocol. "They didn't like the fact I stopped the car five blocks from the Presidential Palace," he said. "I had AK-47s pointed in the windows."
South Africa is one of his favorite golfing countries.
"I'm trying to set the record down there," he said. "In six trips, I played 179 courses, just in South Africa alone. I played 40 in New Zealand and Australia, and I've played up in British Columbia, Alberta, the Yukon and Alaska."
In all, Suozzo has played in 10 countries and 27 states. He once played four, nine-hole courses in a single day, in Canada, where daylight savings time and the northern sun helped out. In Dawson City, Yukon, he played the Top of the World Golf Course.
He has plans to go back to Australia next year, as well as eastern Canada. There are limits, though.
"I'm not going to play in the Middle East any time soon," he said.
Suozzo plays to a 10-handicap, but swears it should be lower.
"I'm getting better," he said. "As weird as it sounds, it's tough playing a different place every day, not knowing the course. If I'd been playing the same course over and over, maybe I'd have a 5 handicap. But, that's what makes it fun, too."
As you might expect from one who plays so much, injuries crop up from time to time. Suozzo broke his right wrist last year in March at Pebble Beach. When he returned home, he broke his left arm.
"So I lost 12 weeks of prime golf season last year, which hurts," he said.
He'll make up for it.
"Single, no kids, summers off," he said. "It's a great world."
July 1, 2004
Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.
Don't be that guy rushing around the mall on Christmas Eve! Make yourself a hot toddy, settle in and gaze in wide wonder at the bounty of golf-related gifts for the players on your list.
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