Tuesday, April 19, 2011

In Defense of Golf

The only time in our 28 year relationship that I ever manhandled my wife came during a visit to a golf "superstore" in Albuquerque. I'd gone in to scope out a new set of clubs I lusted after and since Carolyn happened to be with me, she allowed as how she'd come in and "look around a little."

Understand, my wife does not understand my life long love affair with the game of golf.  She would agree with Mark Twain who once said: "Golf is a good walk, spoiled." When others of our acquaintance ask if she plays, she always says: "If I'm going to pay for real estate, I'm going to damn well own it."

To her credit, she at least tolerates my addiction and politely asks, when I come home from walking eighteen holes: "How did you play?"  I'm sure an answer like "Great," or "Good," "Bad," or even "Okay," would more than suffice for her to feel she'd fulfilled her spousal supportiveness obligation for the week. But as any linkster knows, there is no simple answer to that question. I usually generate a nonsensical overshare that sounds something like: "So I had a twisting twelve-footer at number fourteen and I was sure it would break at least eighteen inches right then start up the slope to"—I can see her eyes begin to glaze over and her mind hop a bus to another mental area code. The only other time her facial expression approximates this is when she answers the door to find a missionary proffering brochures and promises of eternal life.

Back at the mega-golf mart I heft a set of Ping irons and cast an eye around the store for Carolyn. She's standing near a rack of golf shirts, holding a particularly egregious fuchsia-tinted polka-dotted number at arms length and trying to stifle an explosion of laughter with the palm of her hand. A smarter man would have made his move right then, hustling her out to the car and planning a solitary return trip to look at the clubs later. But I didn't.

Maybe my golf infatuation is just a part of my Karma. On the day I was born, November 7, 1948, my father was employed as a greens keeper at Glendoveer Golf Club in Portland, Oregon.  He didn't play the game. In fact, as a life long working class guy, he felt golf was an affectation of  the idle rich as a part of their efforts to look down their noses at "ordinary people." He'd taken the course maintenance gig after his doctor told him if he spent another year in the copper polishing plant, his lungs would shrivel up and turn to dust. Dad took the doc's advice to heart and hired on to start mowing greens at four in the morning, staying just ahead of the crack-of-dawn types trying for a fast eighteen before work. As it turned out, the job suited him. He enjoyed the early morning solitude, the smell of freshly mowed grass and laughing at the spastic flailing of the less coordinated members of the crack-of-dawn foursomes. As we all know, Golf spelled backwards is flog. Which, for some of us, describes what we do as we try to make stick hit ball.

Back at the golf shop, Carolyn is now in full dudgeon, pulling all manner of golf slacks, sweater, knickers, vests and socks out, pointing at them, slapping her knee with her palm and making sputtering noises. Drool is beginning to leak ever so gently from the corner of her mouth. She's seconds away from totally losing it. I really have to get her out of there. But . . . I look longingly at the perfectly balanced four iron. Just a couple more waggles. Just a quick imagining of myself setting up for my second shot on the torturous dogleg left par five 10th hole at Arroyo Del Oso.

Golf is no longer a game for elites, although there are country clubs where snobbishness flourishes. I share my father's disdain for those exclusive facilities, agreeing totally with Groucho Marx's sentiment that "I don't care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members." I play at many of the affordable public links in the Portland area and enjoy meeting a wide variety of regular people who share my sickness. I enjoy the walk, the air, the challenge and the Zen of the game and hold strong opinions about the way it should be played. Among my convictions:

  • Motorized golf carts are an abomination. Unless your doctor orders you to ride, you should walk. It's indicative of our culture that four pot-gutted thirty somethings riding around the course with a case of beer can claim they're out for exercise. 

  • If someone's cell phone goes off on the course, the offender should immediately be flogged by the other members of his foursome with their golf towels and his smart phone given a swimming lesson at the nearest water hazard.

  • If you spend most of your time on the course angry at yourself for playing badly, you should give the game up. Don't you get enough stress at work and at home? Breathe deeply, hit the ball, go to where you hit it and hit it again. The game is inherently ludicrous. Revel in the stupidity.

  • You won't hit the ball any better with a $400 dollar driver than with a $7 Goodwill bargain bin club. You could set Tiger Woods up with a set from a garage sale and he'd still make a run at winning the Masters with them. Plus, his ex-wife could thump his cheating melon with a forty-year old rusty Sarazen eight-iron as well as with a kiln-forged, atomic thrust, molybdenum core "scary long" three-hundred dollar hybrid iron. 

  • Don't lie about your score. None of your friends care that you got a nine instead of a seven on that tough par four. And you'll always know you cheated. At a recent PGA event, a talented young player took a nineteen on one hole. It made me smile to hear the audio tape of him trying to make a final count of his strokes after the hole had ended. He was laughing and taking it in stride. And it was costing him substantial money. Bottom line. It's only a number. Who cares?

The moment has arrived. Carolyn is on the floor of the golf emporium, laughing, coughing, hiccupping and snorting simultaneously, tears running down her cheeks in a torrent—thrashing her arms and legs up and down—occasionally stopping to point up at a violet and green striped pair of polyester pants hanging from a rack nearby. She is incapable of speech, reduced to fits of uncontrollable laughter and gasping. I'm afraid she'll swallow her tongue.

"Time to go, dear." I pick her up as gently as possible, throw her over my shoulder and start for the door. As the sliding electric eye doors snick open I toss back a John Belushi-esque "sorry" over my shoulder at the gaping clerks and customers who've stopped to watch the spectacle. Carolyn continues out of control, beating her fists on my back as waves of laughter send shudders throughout her body. I know, at that moment, that I'll never be able to return to that store again. In fact my name and description will probably be distributed to every outlet that sells golf equipment and clothing throughout the city. I sense I'll know first hand what India's untouchable caste feels like.

It occurs to me that I titled this blog "In Defense of Golf," and really haven't made much of a case, have I? Well, here goes.

During a recent round (on the first sunny day we've enjoyed since last October) I was fishing stray golf balls out of a water hazard when it occurred to me. If you go bowling and take your own ball, you'll come back with one ball. (Unless the machine eats it, which happened to me once). If you play softball, you'll return home with the same bats, gloves and balls you started with. But with golf, if you keep your eye peeled in the long grass and water, you may end up on the plus side of the ledger. Thus, golf is the only participation sport where you stand a chance of ending up with more equipment than you started with. If that's not a reason to take up the game, I don't know what is.  

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