The books on the shelf behind me spill the dirty secret; “The World of Golf”, “Golf’s Golden Grind”, “The Soul of Golf”, etc. I have four shelves of books, from the old to the new, from the seriously philosophical (“Why Golf”) to the considerably less so (“How to Play Golf in the Low 120’s”). Even as I was in the process of being born again as a golfer (now I know what that expression means to those weird Christians), before I was seriously addicted to the feeling of a club in my hands and tended landscape beneath my feet, before I had any expectation of shooting a round anywhere near the low 120’s, before all that I had a pair of golf spikes I’d never worn in action, I had a New England winter, and I had a book called, “Golf Dreams” by John Updike.
By Spring I had read the book to pieces and was completely and irrevocably hooked on the game. This is not to say that every moment on the golf course has been perfect, in fact, especially in the early days, by about the third hole I would be playing so hopelessly awful that I would despair of having to traipse around after the ball for another fifteen holes of shanks, duffs, and assorted other embarrassments. Of course those days are completely gone. Now this feeling doesn’t set in until at least the fourth hole of a hopeless round. After a decade of playing now, with the last five years of very active attendance on my beloved home course, Vardon’s Galley (a cheeky 9-hole affair, par 31), along with numerous forays to other intriguing layouts around the state and indeed the country (even a round in the Bahamas once – 88, with rented clubs!), after well over a thousand rounds, after a million swings, literally cubic yards of earth displaced by my efforts to advance the ball, after who knows how much money spent toward clubs, balls, golf-wear, not to mention the gut-wrenching greens’ fees, after all that… There is the feeling after four holes where you want to quit the game then and now, and then there is the feeling of a perfectly struck five iron, soaring away from you farther than you can ever hit it (coinciding with your under-estimating the distance), it rolls up onto the front of a distant green. There are these two feelings and there is everything in between. I found that if I made it through to the bar after 18 holes of slugging it out with a dozen cheap balls, garage-sale clubs, and the local, cheapest course too early in the morning, when I finally stood at the crappy bar with a beer and the exquisite feeling of wind-burn, sunburn, and muscle fatigue, I felt as if every moment was like that crisp five and I couldn’t wait to get out there and do it again.
I know I’m not alone, there are those of you out there who know whereof I speak. But I also know that there are many more who don’t understand. I can’t say I’m out to change anyone’s mind about golf. The courses are too crowded, and the greens’ fees are high enough without the simple economics of increased demand (which is already way too prevalent and has been since Eisenhower) making these unpleasant realities worse. I guess what I want to say is, “leave us alone.” Like so many other persecuted groups before us we merely want to be left in peace to work on our short games and trade dirty jokes with the starter before embarking on a 6-mile quest “with a bag of tools, a shapeless mass, and the book of rules.”[i]
Many who are reading this might deduce that I have a lot of opinions about golf, and what golfer doesn’t? And I am a confessed, nay, a card-carrying (USGA member since 1997) golfer. And what can I say; I do have a lot of opinions about golf. It dominates my sphere of interest to a huge extent, not exclusively but big, real big. I lead a somewhat golf-oriented life and I long for it to be more so. But the golf you have is always better than the golf you don’t, so I never bemoan the paucity of Vardon’s Galley’s short yardage, rather I celebrate its beguiling visual design as well as an engineering feat that allowed such a course in a tight little corner of the city in a valley. Oh my, the sunshine… I could wax on and on about that alone, and perhaps I will (bear with me but Alistair MacKenzie himself knew this area for what it is – the perfect environment and landscape for golf). For now though, I’ll sign off, the sun is shining and the first tee box beckons.
[i] “Book of Rules”, The Heptones