I like this picture of a golf foursome I played with several years ago at a fund raising event.
The man on the left passed away a few years ago, I’m second from the left, the third man was a local business owner, and the fourth is a good friend I still remain in touch with via email and an occasional phone call.
While I don’t mind playing a round of golf alone, I’ve always taken something from the people I’ve played the game with over the years.
These partners include my work colleague Lee who was almost as bad as I was when we both took up the game nearly thirty years ago. About once a month, we’d head over to a course on the late Saturday afternoon when most of the real golfers had finished for the day.
We’d hack around for nine holes and cheer each other’s good shots. There weren’t many good shots back in those days, but our affection for the game started then, and for me it has never left.
I knew a rather well to do elderly man who was a member at a prestigious golf club in the northeast. He knew I was developing my game, and one Saturday night he called to invite me to join his foursome on the following Monday morning.
I quickly accepted, made arrangements to not be at work, and headed out to that golf club bright and early that Monday morning. Two things struck me from that morning on the golf course.
The first was the caddy suggesting we all play the scramble format after seeing how poorly our first hole shots were. A scramble format means the best of all four golfers' shots would be used each time. The format was designed to speed up play.
The second thing that stood out that day was my host only playing the putting green on the first hole. His putter was the only club he used that day. He spent the remaining seventeen holes sitting in the cart and providing moral support to the rest of the foursome. He was enjoying the company.
A cousin organized a family tournament about twenty years ago. We had t-shirts printed with the family name.
The morning of golf was followed by a family picnic and an awards ceremony. It was a lot of fun, but apparently too much work for my cousin. We never did it again. I still have the t-shirt.
I remember coming to Merced six years ago and not knowing many people, let alone not knowing any golfers. Someone who worked at County Bank told me about an informal group that played at Rancho Del Rey in Atwater every Wednesday night. I joined that gaggle of golfers back then.
We were all oblivious to the undercurrents of what was going on in the banking industry. County Bank would go into bankruptcy in another year. The Wednesday night group was dormant for about a year, and then started up again with modest success for a while.
My most memorable golf buddy story formed the basis for an essay I wrote called Grief Ministry with a Nine Iron published in my book Microphones, Moon Rocks, and Memories.
The essay was about a friend who had recently endured the unspeakable loss of a daughter who died while away at college. In the weeks following the funeral, I knew I wanted to reach out to him. I just couldn’t find the words, or the courage, to reach out.
Then I thought about golf. Knowing he played the game, I called him one morning and invited him to join me for a round. After initially turning me down, he thought about it and agreed to nine holes at an executive course (shorter distance course).
That afternoon, the two of us tore down the barriers of what someone should or should not say when a person loses a loved one. Mixed in with our golf shots, were moments of understanding and empathy. I’ll never forget that day.
With all my golf partners over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the old adage that golf (or any sport for that matter) is so much more than the game itself. The three to four hours on a golf course can open up a variety of conversation topics, provide endless opportunities to vent about work or other things, and develop a sense of shared experiences.
As much as I’ve enjoyed the game over the past thirty years, it’s the people I’ve played with who have truly enriched my life.
Steve Newvine lives in Merced