National Golf Day: Why I Play Golf

Apr 7, 2017; Augusta, GA, USA; Jason Day and group walk off the 18th tee during the second round of The Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 7, 2017; Augusta, GA, USA; Jason Day and group walk off the 18th tee during the second round of The Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports /

National Golf Day is an opportunity for all of us who love golf to give the game a huge shout-out! Here’s mine.

The 10th annual National Golf Day comes at a moment when interest in and enthusiasm for the game in on the upswing. That’s splendid news for golf courses, instructors of golf, equipment manufacturers, and all those support industries that together constitute a $70 billion annual economy. More than two million Americans work in the golf industry and at the professional level golf generates an estimated four billion dollars for local, regional, and national charities.

This good news for the industry and for golf fans is also good news for me, personally, but it doesn’t really speak to why I love the game. My relationship with golf has gone through several phases, and over the course of my life my love for and appreciation of the game has consistently deepened.

Golf and Teenage Social Life

I first picked up a golf club as a teenager and my motive was entirely social. I did not care where my balls flew and I did not care how many shots I took to get from the tee box to the bottom of the cup. I wasn’t involved in a formal junior golf program. Quite honestly, I couldn’t be bothered. What I learned about golf etiquette and the Rules of Golf came later. I just enjoyed what felt like a teenage social world apart from adult supervision (never mind that there were adults everywhere and we were never actually unsupervised).

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I got a bit more serious about my game when I married a man who was serious about his game. He taught me a great deal about golf, in the way that young grooms teach their brides. And I enjoyed a slightly improved game.

A Family Affair

When I found myself the single mother of two young boys, struggling through the poverty of graduate school, golf assumed a deeper role in my life. Graduate students were able to play on the University course on Sundays for fifty cents. Children under12 paid no greens fees.  I dusted off my clubs and begged some junior clubs for my boys, and we began spending Sunday together on the golf course.

We walked, hit balls, laughed, talked, hit more balls, laughed and talked some more. Sometimes we hit balls at chipmunks and squirrels. (Relax, PETA: None of us had much directional control.) It was a glorious family time. I know this confession borders on golf heresy but neither the boys nor I cared much about our scores. The four or so hours we spent away from everything except each other each Sunday were the focus of our Sunday rounds.

That Sunday golf game survived graduate school but eventually, inevitably, the children who had been my sole golf partners found other ways to spend their Sundays. I put away my golf clubs – I’d played the game as a family activity and as the family dynamic changed I found myself distanced from the game. Eventually, I found my way back to the links because one of those boys, now grown and himself a father, lured me back. With the first swing of a club I remembered how much enjoyed the game.

My Personal Love Affair With the Game

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At the same time, my attitude about my personal game had changed. I wasn’t satisfied with the level of my game. I was embarrassed by the number of balls I was losing to the rough. I wanted to hit the ball long and straight. I wanted my putts to run true and find the bottom of the cup without too much dilly-dallying.

At the age of 60 I was ready to work on technique! I found an instructor and joined a women’s league and got to work. And I got better, but I didn’t leave the sheer joy of time of the golf course behind. I brought it with me, found a new delight in playing golf with other adult women, and began to contemplate what my game will look like when I’m 80 or 85, or 90. It’s a realistic vision. In this game of a lifetime I play with women who are staring 90 in the eye.

I’ve learned to enjoy being paired with strangers – the most memorable is Barry Bonds’ bodyguard, who was physically intimidating but an absolutely delightful partner –  bound only by our shared enjoyment of the game and the extraordinary civility it lends to personal encounters. I’ve played golf on some historical tracks – Pebble Beach on my 70th birthday, a surprise gift from my golfing son – and on some courses that closely resemble cow pastures – a 9-hole track in the Oklahoma panhandle with my cousin, Doug, who explained to me that “life’s too short to chase bad balls” as he picked up both our errant drives and returned them to the center of the fairway for our approach shots.

Not too long ago I was faced with upward creeping biomarkers – my A1C and lipids hit the red zone. I declined pills and increased my golf. Six months later my numbers were back in normal range and my doctor asked me how I had changed my diet. I told him I hadn’t changed what goes in – I changed what goes out. And he told me, “Play more golf!”

A Universal Game

I appreciate handicaps and multiple tee boxes – aspects of the game that make it possible for me to compete on a leveled playing ground simultaneously against Old Man Par and other golfers of all ages and skill levels. I enjoy playing golf with young girls who are just on the cusp of discovering the sheer delight that comes from a well-struck ball. I love playing in Pro-Ams – the level of play inspires me. I get an adrenaline rush from match play – the hole-by-hole competition is exhilarating.

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Sharing my delight with a game that can never be fully mastered is the driving force behind my writing is a perfect celebration of National Golf Day. Why do you play golf? What is it about the game that keeps bringing you back to the first tee?