It’s now abundantly clear who in their right mind would take up golf.
The first time I swung a golf club on a course I missed the ball, tore up the grass, and wondered why anyone would want to play this game.
The second time on a golf course was not much better. I hit the ball, but it went out-of-bounds. I was convinced this game was not for me.
Now, nearly forty years later, I can’t wait to get on a tee box and start another round. How I got from “why” to “can’t wait” is the story of my life in golf.
In the 1980s, a friend suggested we try to learn the game together. For a few years, we’d try to get out once every other month for nine holes. I refer to that time as the “score doesn’t matter era.”
By the 1990s, I began a new career as a chamber of commerce executive. Part of what a chamber of commerce person did back in those days played in charity tournaments. Most of these tournaments were played as scrambles, meaning only the best shot among the four team members was used.
This speeded up the game, and with over one-hundred golfers on the course for a charity tournament, the game had to move fast.
Suddenly, it didn’t matter how poorly I played as our team could win based on the best shots among the members.
Playing scrambles did give me a chance to observe better golfers.
One Saturday evening, a friend called to invite me to join his foursome on Monday morning at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York. Oak Hill was one of the finest golf courses in the United States.
I quickly accepted the invitation. It was a memorable round for two reasons. The first reason was made clear as soon as our group finished the first hole and the caddy said, “Gentlemen, from this point forward, we will play in the scramble format.” The caddy’s job was to help keep the golfers moving.
The second reason why this round was memorable was our host. An elderly man, he took only one swing of a driver and putt just one hole. The rest of the time he remained on his cart and enjoyed watching his much younger friends play.
At the end of the round, he bought us lunch in the clubhouse and took us to the pro shop where we were instructed to pick out a golf cap to remember the day.
Years later when I about to leave the area to come to California, I called my friend and invited him out to lunch on me. He declined, offering instead to treat my wife and me for lunch one final time at Oak Hill.
I’m not sure whether it was that special place or some other time, but I would like to think that was the day I began to love the game of golf.
Like a lot of weekend duffers, I would use the occasion of being on the golf course to smoke a cigar. In the year 2000, my family learned of my mother’s cancer diagnosis.
There wasn’t much I could do to help my mom as she endured chemotherapy that summer, but I could change my health habits.
I stopped smoking cigars on the golf course and any other place right then and there. My mom lost her battle with the disease, but my pledge to myself to stop smoking even those few times I was on a golf course has made me proud.
I started watching golf on television in 2004. I had already moved to California but was going back to upstate New York occasionally where my wife was busy selling our home. It was Easter weekend, and I didn’t want to go anywhere.
After church and our Easter dinner, my family and I sat in our living room and watched Phil Mickelson win the green jacket at the Masters in Augusta, Georgia. Most Sundays in golf season, you’ll find me watching that week’s big tournament. You can probably guess who my favorite pro golfer is.
In more recent years, there was the time when I played a round with my friend Jim.
We played as Rancho Del Rey in Atwater, California. I was down to the last golf ball in my bag, a monogrammed bill making my fiftieth birthday.
I hesitated to tee up that ball, but I had no choice. I started to tell Jim about the ball, and how an East coast friend had a dozen monogrammed for my birthday. Jim was patient, but quiet as I rambled on about how special this ball was.
I then teed up the ball, made my swing, and saw the ball plop into the water hazard. Without missing a beat, Jim looked at me and said, “Well, happy birthday I guess.”
So now you know why I love this game so much. It has nothing to do with how well or how poorly I play. It has everything to do with connecting me to friends, special moments, and enduring memories.