My daughter’s fiancé, who is now my new son-in-law, invited me to a golf outing the day before their wedding. “Just a few guys in the wedding party—my dad, my best man, my college roommate—a chance to get away, hit a few balls and relax for a couple of hours—you’re more than welcome to join us.”
Although it pained me deeply to admit it, the last time I had played golf was twenty-some years ago—and that was the miniature variety. With the exception of one disastrous afternoon attempt at chip and putt as an adolescent, the only other time I had ever set foot on a conventional golf course was in high school when I ran cross country. “Sure,” I choked. “I’d be happy to come.”
“Good,” he said. “And don’t worry—we aren’t professionals. It’s just to have a good time.”
I nodded my head with fear and trepidation in the pit of my stomach. I believe the operative term is performance anxiety.
Although my two sons had been invited as well, at the last minute they bowed out. Both had been out partying the night before; one had class that morning. When the group of four swung by our house, I was the only one available.
It was drizzling—a cool, wet autumn morning; just right for getting soaked to the skin and chilled to the bone. But I grabbed my slicker and pulled on my cap: a promise is a promise.
We took two vehicles. The best man rode with me. A sports management major in undergraduate school, this fellow now ran a country club in the Pittsburgh area. Their club had just finished sponsoring a regional women’s open event. He had a professional demeanor about him.
“I suppose you play quite a bit of golf,” I said nonchalantly, as we tooled down the country road.
“Not as much as you’d think,” he said. “These days I spend most of my time in the clubhouse putting out fires. It’s been a while since I’ve played.”
I swallowed hard and inched the accelerator a little further toward the floor.
The parking lot at the public course was deserted. My son-in-law’s father pulled his minivan in beside my station wagon. We all stepped out and looked at the grey clouds overhead. “There won’t be many players out today—we’ll have the run of the place.”
“How many holes are we playing?” I asked.
“Eighteen,” my son-in-law said.
“Eighteen? How long will it take to finish?”
“It depends—probably a couple of hours.”
I looked at my watch: 8:45 AM. “You’d better put me down for nine only,” I said.
“Sure—whatever you’d like,” my son-in-law said.
His father opened the back of the minivan and proceeded to parcel out bags of clubs. “I brought these along for you,” he said. “They’re old, but functional. My son said you didn’t have a set of your own.”
I swung the bag over my shoulder and hunched forward as we walked up to the clubhouse. By the time we paid at the desk, it had started to drizzle again.
“Now, when you place the ball on the tee, half of it should rest above the top of the head of the club,” my son-in-law explained. “That way, when you swing, you’ll get a good piece of the ball.”
We were on the first tee. I pushed the ball and tee down into the soft grass and straightened up.
“Take a few practice swings,” he said. “Here, let me show you how to hold the club. Now pick out a leaf on the ground, and try to brush it off with your swing.”
I gripped the club, eyed a fallen leaf, swung the club back and powered forward, clipping the leaf dead center. Unfortunately, I took a hefty piece of sod with it.
“That’s okay—give it another try.”
I stepped up to the ball, squared my stance, drew back the club above my head and swung, striking the ball with a nice follow through. Had we been playing baseball, it would have been a beautiful line drive to third; although in my estimation, the ball hadn’t traveled quite as far as third base.
The score card listed the hole as 331 yards long. Methodically, I chipped my way down the green. It only took eight strokes to reach it, and four more to putt out.
I picked the ball out of the hole and looked at my watch. I wondered if you could sign up for three holes instead of nine—you know, a special dispensation of sorts for the meek. After all, we’re supposed to be the ones inheriting these golf courses along with the rest of the earth; although I can’t imagine of what use any of them they might be.
As we approached the third hole it became apparent that some landscaper had made a big mistake. There before the tee stood a small pond. The flag that marked the hole on the green stood directly opposite, 163 yards away. I couldn’t fathom why anyone would have designed a fairway with a body of water smack dab in the middle. A player could easily lose a ball in that mess, I mused; and then where would he be?
One of the young men in our party hit first: a beautiful shot directly over the pond. Way off in the distance you could see the tiny white ball bounce by the green. The country club manager was up next: another lovely send off, three-quarters of the way down the fairway.
Now it was my turn. I pushed the tee into the sod as I had been taught and slapped the ball with a #1 driver. The ball struck the surface of the pond and skipped six times before submerging into the murky depths. I wondered secretly if it weren’t a record of sorts. My second shot made it safely to the other side.
By the fourth hole I had learned quite a bit about the use of the various weights of irons. On the advice of my son-in-law’s father, I started with a #1 driver, then switched to a #3 hybrid, followed up with a #7 and finally a #9 iron to chip onto the green. It was only 437 yards. Twenty minutes later, after five attempts, I putted out.
At the fifth hole I was introduced to three additional essential pieces of equipment in the game of golf: a free standing scrubbing unit analogous to a small churn to clean the balls, a fixed set of brushes to wipe the mud off your cleats, and a portable john, inside which the fatigued golfer can find momentary rest and relief.
Also at the fifth hole I was introduced to another conundrum: the sand trap. This is a small amoebic depression in the earth filled with coarse crystallized silicon and placed precariously near the green. Should you ever encounter one of these wastelands on a golf outing, I highly recommend that you avoid it at all costs. They only lead to marked frustration and an acute deterioration in your verbal etiquette.
At the sixth hole, my son-in-law’s father suggested that I drive the golf cart. “Just floor the pedal,” he said. “They don’t go that fast.” We took off down the fairway like a shot. I wondered if that’s how Mario Andretti or Dale Earnhardt got his start.
I surveyed the ninth hole with thanksgiving in my heart. For me, this would be the final fairway of the morning, which somehow had disintegrated into early afternoon. Markedly fatigued, I became aware of the pain in my right shoulder and the small of my back; my thighs had turned to weighted jelly; my shoes and socks were soaked through. Still I managed to muster the will to drive on, and drive on I did, searching for my ball under the fallen leaves halfway down the fairway in the little cart.
We putted out on the green, quietly removed our hats (I in a moment of reverential silence) and offered each other firm handshakes. “Good round,” the country club manager said, looking me in the eye. It was a genuine smile.
At that moment I felt as though I were truly one of the club.