One thing I did not see coming in life is that I play golf now.
I guess I should have seen indications that it was a possibility, that I was prone to this illness. The first time I ever picked up a golf club, a friend had taken me to a crappy driving range near Pittsburgh to help me after my only experience being dumped. I was flummoxed at how a tiny ball that didn’t move could miss my golf club so many times. But I absolutely loved what it felt and sounded and looked like when I connected. That little ball went very far (or so it seemed). Nothing came of that, though. Years later, before my wife and I moved to Cape Town, we lived with my parents for part of the summer. I found myself watching the Golf Channel. I just found it soothing and I liked the way it looked. It was relaxing.
South Africa is a pretty golf-friendly country. I played my first non-miniature golf course while we lived there. A little nine-hole, par-3 course. I had no idea what I was doing. We played that a couple of times there. Again… nothing really came of it. I think I came back from South Africa after that year and bought a cheap set of starter clubs from Dicks and went to a driving range a couple of times. But that’s it. I was embarrassed by the bag of clubs wasting space in the garage for years and years and years. I would never have gone to an actual golf course. It would have taken me hours and hours to get around and I really hate being terrible at things in front of people. Real Golfers would hate me for being out there.
Then COVID happened.
It turns out, golf is a pretty COVID-friendly activity. And it was an especially grand time to learn the game, as many, many people found out. I was bored and stuck at home and I started watching YouTube videos and hitting practice balls. Someone told me that locals had, for years, snuck onto the local municipal course for free, to practice and play a little. I could go out there and be a lone and hit balls. I could even take my kids with me and let them wander the green spaces while I figured out how to get that dumb little ball to stop dodging all over the place.
I started actually playing. I played by myself, mostly. On my days off. I walked alone early before many people were out there. I filled the quiet of the morning with my own muttering and frustrated questions and self-congratulations on the (very) rare occasion I did something not awful. I played with other people, friends, for the first time. That was actually a big step for me. Again, I hate being the butt of the joke while I’m seriously trying hard at something. But I found out that… everybody is the butt of the joke. At least, the people that I play with are in that position. I know players that are actually good. Who regularly score birdies. I try not to play with them because I don’t want to slow them down or hex them with my awful swing.
The normal people who buy really cheap balls because they’re lost in such great quantities? We’re all laughing at each other. So it was fine. In fact… it was fun.
So here I am. Playing golf. I never thought it would be me.
My family did not play golf. Golf was for rich people, as far as I knew. It was for rich, stuffy white guys who had country club memberships. It never even occurred to me that it would be something I’d like. I never thought about golf. I knew who Tiger Woods was. I knew he was dominant. I watched a little here and there. But I was never part of that club because, literally, I could never be a part of that club. We would never be the kind of people with that kind of money. I never will be.
Golf can be, without a doubt, an expensive sport. What I’ve learned, though, is that it doesn’t have to be that way. Normal people in the places where golf is from (places like Scotland and Ireland) play amazing golf courses and play recreationally all the time without being rich people. In America, certainly a significant portion of the golf landscape is occupied by very expensive private clubs that no one like me could ever get a look into. It’s a shame, really, that so much of the sport’s landscape in our country is dominated by this high-walled snobbery.
Golf is already hard enough to get into without ever touching those really nice courses. The equipment is expensive. Actually learning the game is expensive. Practicing is expensive. Because the ball goes so far, if you want to practice hitting all your shots, you have to pay decent cash to go hit golf balls into someone’s empty field. Every time you want to play the actual game, you have to pay someone. I can go walk 9 holes nearby for $12. That’s unbelievably cheap and I’m very grateful for it. To play decent to nice places? Whew. SO much more expensive than that. And guess what? If you don’t play regularly (or at least, if I don’t) you get even worse, really quickly.
There’s no doubt it can be and in many ways IS an expensive hobby. So I just never saw it coming for me.
But there’s something about it…
The colors of it, for one. I love the green of the grass that change colors with the passing of the light throughout the day. I like the feel of walking on turf, of padding on greens. I so often find myself hitting off the fairway, and it’s amazing to me how longer grass can react so differently each time with both my metal golf club and this little ball. When I’m not out there being followed by those blasted mowers (I hate those morning mowers so much), the quiet of it intermixed with the sound of club to ball is so soothing.
I still love to watch the ball go far. It never goes far enough or straight enough or high enough for me, of course. But it’s still amazing how far those little balls can travel. I sure do wish I could make them go where I wanted, though.
This is something that has amazed me: I am so, so bad. It makes me so angry in so many different ways. I am truly the worst player out there so many times. It does not matter how much I practice. I am the worst. And yet, I can finish losing half a dozen balls (net, because I’ll find some more out there and that will soften my losses a bit) and be so, so angry at this stupid little game…. and I cannot wait to do it all over again. I really do not like puzzles, generally speaking. But this one is a puzzle I want to keep coming back to over and over again. I finally hit a good shot and, inevitably, I think, “This is who I really am. I’ve figured it out.” And of course, I haven’t. It isn’t who I am. I am all the other terrible shots. The good one was the anomaly.
But I lie to myself and search for the next one.
After a couple years of playing, I realize that I am always going to be very bad. At first, this really bothered me. And don’t get me wrong, I’d love to not be really bad. I’d love to have 20 lessons over the next few months instead of the four total I’ve had in my life. I’d love to have clubs fitted especially to me, instead of just the ones I could afford on the used rack or from the discount brand. I’d love to have lots of practice so that I could just be a decent-to-good recreational golfer. Nothing fancy. Nothing crazy. The occasional ability to break 80. Shock at shooting over 95. That kind of thing.
And I will almost certainly never be even that good.
No, I will always be a bad golfer. And I think I have the opportunity to learn something from that. I don’t want to be the “it’s about the journey, not the destination” guy… but it kind of is? I need to take this hobby for what it is and accept what I have been given. At any given moment, I have been given those moments with those friends in that place. And that is surely a great gift. I will never, ever conquer this game that is very, very hard. It will always bully me around the course. IF. If I view it as a war with the course.
I almost never keep score now. I used to do it to see if I was getting better. Now? I know I’m not. I go out there and play the puzzle. I try different things. I try to look at my surroundings and enjoy the walk and the quiet. I try to swear at myself a little less. If I’m playing with friends, I try to accept the being the worst one and let it be medicine for my persistently arrogant soul.
Yeah, I just didn’t see all of this coming. But I’m glad it has. I look forward to many, many walks as I get older. I look forward to a puzzle I’ll never solve, to those rare good shots that delude me even further. I look forward to the times with friends and, maybe one day, my children or grand children.
I’m over the surprise and embarrassment of finding out that golf has come from me. I don’t have to understand how it happened to me. It has.
Now I can just go play.