Don Felder on golf, Eagles drama, new CD

Don Felder, former lead guitarist of the Eagles, is finding peace on the golf course. Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Just how competitive was the 1970s supergroup The Eagles?

Eagles record producer Bill Szymczyk wanted the band, which was recording in Miami in the mid-1970s, to get out of the studio for some fresh air to stop all the bickering about the music.

The fivesome of Don Felder, Joe Walsh, Don Henley, Glenn Frey and Randy Meisner first tried fishing. The hope by Szymczyk was to bond while doing something recreational.

"Bill was tired of us having studio tans. We were in Florida so we tried fishing," said lead guitarist Felder, who was born in Gainesville, Fla. "Not me but some of the others in the band were getting green in the gills being on the water. So we tried golf next."

The guys, who were as competitive on the golf course as they were in the studio, would play a few holes and then head back to the studio to finish up their latest album.

Thirty years later, Felder is still playing the game to relieve stress.

"The number on the golf card at the end of the day isn't important," said Felder, who has seen his handicap climb to 12. "It's more important the number of laughs with friends and the number of hours away from the tedium of your life. It was my own little sanctuary."

Felder these days is out promoting his recent CD, "Road to Forever," and talking about his days with the Eagles. He and the group parted in 2001 over a split of royalties, and he documented his time with the band in 2009 with the release of his best-selling book "Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles." He hasn't talked to Henley or Frey since.

Playbook had a few minutes with Felder to talk about his love of golf and those good and bad times with the Eagles.

So we can blame your record producer for your obsession with golf?

We saw no daylight while recording -- except running from the hotel to the car and from the car to the studio. I grew up in Florida so I loved to do something outside. We were writing and doing our shows in California and Bill wanted us back in Florida to record some more songs. This time was a little different. Joe and I went out, and he was hitting the ball so well. I knew he had had lessons. That's not fair! That started it.

So what does the sport mean to you?

I used to play in Malibu at this small golf course. It didn't have a country club. Just a couple of trailers. But the philosophy there was the golf course was like Zen. It's all about meditation. And in this environment, you chase a little white ball. It turns into an escape from the world.

You're out promoting your latest solo album, your first one in nearly 20 years. How did that come about?

In 2001 when I left the band, all my self-image had been stripped away. I was going through a divorce at that time also. Every image I had --husband, family man, in a rock band, etc. -- was taken away. I started writing my thoughts down, thinking how I came from a dirt road in Gainesville, Fla., to picking up a guitar and moving to New York, Boston, Los Angeles and everywhere in between. I wanted to think about how my life had changed. It was cathartic.

And it would help you move on?

I didn't want to drag any of that baggage forward in my life. I was doing these daily meditations. I was writing long hand and my fiancee [now wife] at the time was reading them and thought they could be an amazing book. I was a poor English student. In fact, I spent one summer in summer school making up for my grades. She prompted me to find an agent and head to New York to pitch my book. I had five offers. I was going to flush out the skeletons in my autobiography.

And that led to the new music?

I always had a studio in my home. As I was writing the autobiography, I became very emotional. I was thinking of the breakup with my first wife and the contentiousness with the band. So I then went into the studio to write these songs. I always had another band besides the Eagles and I wanted to play some new material. I had written 26 songs. I pared them down to my favorite 16.

This new CD has some big names like Crosby, Stills and Nash and Styx's Tommy Shaw and a few others. What was that like?

"My trepidation of going back into the studio was not the quality and caliber of the work but bringing back those memories of all the fights and yelling. I decided I'm only going to invite people I know who are good friends and talented and fun to be with. We had a great time. It was so easy going. I'm already writing more songs for my next project.

What did those times with the Eagles mean to you?

I felt we made some of the best music I had made in any environment. The five people in the band could write and sing and play and front their own band. Then it was also five Type A personalities. That leads to control issues and who is singing what songs and the details of the lyrics and who's the best singer. Collectively, we made some amazing music, probably the best music we've made. My biggest regret is that we spent more time arguing and fighting than making music.

You've tried to reconcile with Glenn and Don, but no luck, right?

My first wife and I were married 29 years. We have four kids and grandkids. We have hundreds of friends together. We took five to six months of lawyers doing their dance. I finally called her up and said, 'We've known each other so long. Let's get our business manager and lawyers together and put the assets on the table and you can have your half. That is no problem. Why are we giving these lawyers $100,000, taking money from our children?' We're still friends. We go to each others' houses for Thanksgiving dinner. We see each other at weddings. I'm happy we could reconcile in an admirable way. I tried to reach out for a handshake and a smile with Henley and Frey so we can go on with our lives. We don't need to carry this darkness with us. I've only heard back from their lawyers. That is not my choice."

And you're back on stage this week in Los Angeles performing at a Christmas show. Then it's time to work on the golf game.

I really need to get back out there. My handicap is rising. But that's OK. It's all about the feeling you get when you're out on the course. It's all about zen.