I am not a fanatical golfer. Haven’t changed my cleats in two years, leave the covers off my expensive clubs during a round (so they ding against each other and occasionally dent), never tuck in my shirt, and refuse to practice.
And yet… I know and revere the essence of the game.
I have felt the warm, capricious embrace of the Golf Gods.
Every year, for over a decade, my pal Stan and I carve out a week in late spring or early summer… pack up our gear… and head out for as many rounds as we can cram into a single road trip. It’s not the easy path — this year, we had oodles of reasons not to go. Business crises, deadline pressure, other committments crushing against our chosen Golf Week.
Yada, yada, yada.
I even had health reasons to punt. I was barely over a vicious bout of bronchitis, and had wrenched my lower back. I was limping to chiropractor and massage appointments in a haze of ibuprofen. No one would have faulted me for bowing out. I was a mess.
Plus, I had a four-day seminar to get through first. The Tactic 7 workshop was a huge success (check out www.tactic7.com for the post-game report)… but it took a lot out of me. Being on-stage for four straight days will do that to you, you know.
And yet, I was determined to get our Golf Week in. It has become a tradition that must be upheld.
So, within an hour of the seminar ending, I snuck out the back of the hotel, picked up Stan, and we were off. I was still in my slacks and sport coat, but the clubs were rattling around in the back of the SUV, we had an oldies CD blasting away, and I-80 opened up traffic-free before us as the sun danced just above the horizon in my rear-view mirror.
Dude, we were off. No girlfriends, cell phones turned off, our stomachs growling for manly food.
If you don’t golf, I won’t try to convert you. I mostly suck at the game — because, as I said, I refuse to practice, and I seldom get in more than a dozen rounds a year. Each time I put on the cleats, it’s a special day, and I’ve learned to absorb every moment like the rare jewel it is.
Long, gorgeous fading tee shot, or skulling a fried egg deep into a nearby bunker… I may bitch a bit, but I’m still happy to be there.
There are two kinds of guys, I’ve learned. Most, when I mention my dedication to our yearly golfing venture, smile politely and wait for me to get on to another subject.
But you can always tell the guys who have been bitten by the bug. They almost get tears in their eyes, clearly visualizing what it means to have an entire week to do nothing but chase a little white ball through tree-lined fairways. With your most trusted pals. (That’s important.)
That melancholy gets deeper when they learn our annual treks have included Key West, Orlando, the central California coast (playing just above, and just below Big Sur), Vegas, and all over the Sierras. Top-ranked courses like Old Greenwood, five-hundred-dollar-a-round soul-crushers like the Rio, mysterious links like Dark Horse (originally designed for a two-star general with a left-handed slice — meaning, lots of odd doglegs), and trashy little excuses like the tropical fun-zone course near the southernmost point in the states.
Just to name a few of the destinations.
This year, to avoid wasting time traveling, we worked our way around Lake Tahoe. Weird weather patterns kept other golfers away, but we made our tee times despite sleet on the first day and drizzle on the second. Our perseverance paid off, and each day just got more and more glorious.
We’ve got stories to burn.
I’m back now, after ten days on the road (counting the seminar). Exhausted, happy, and with a much better attitude already. In my mid-career, I would have taken many more of these long trips, escaping the office for up to six months at a time.
Now, with my monthly deadlines, I can’t do that anymore. I committed myself to a more rigorous schedule on purpose, to spend a few years being prolific and maybe making a small mark on the industry. I enjoy working, especially with clear goals.
Still, I know my limits on being “serious” about work… and without these annual golfing getaways, I’m not sure I’d be a happy camper.
One of the main appeals of golf is the strict set of rules that must be followed. We play the ball where it lays, take every penalty like a man, and never cheat. Never. We wear collared shirts, we obey even the silliest etiquette rule, and we pay off every lost bet with the required snarl and insult. (Which the winner delights in.)
Plus… we each have a “Birdie Dance” that must be performed after each birdie putt. Even when we’re paired with another set of golfers who think we’re insane.
Golfers understand this reverence for the rules and traditions. Especially men — we have lost our rites of passage, we no longer go on long quests to prove anything, and we are poorer for it. Men crave challenge, and respect tradition.
This is the sweet spot of golf. The rules must be obeyed. The game requires total focus, which frees your mind as effectively as meditation. It is impossible to be perfect, and yet that is what you strive for each shot. For all the frustration and humiliation, a single great chip can restore confidence and respect.
There are trials.
There is redemption.
And you will never conquer the game.
Perhaps much of my reverence comes from the dearth of playing time I get. I’ve known jaded golfers who take their days on the links for granted, and I pity them.
Everything sacred should be rare. And special.
There is a Zen peace to golf that most people miss. I enjoy my rounds with Stan because he understands this completely. This is how two guys end up teeing off in a mild hailstorm in the mountains in early summer, oblivious of the miserable conditions, enthralled with the first drive of the week.
That first rare, special, and earned drive.
Just wanted to check in while the high of the trip was still with me.
I hope you find your own sweet spot in life, if you haven’t yet. There are plenty out there, and I’ve got many others outside of golf.
But tonight, it was very easy to write about this silly, achingly beautiful game.
Hey — stay frosty.
P.S. I must grudgingly admit that Stan had two birdies in a row yesterday, and possibly his best round ever. My single birdie right after that only stopped his bragging momentarily. Two birdie dances, in a row. Three birdie dances in a row between the two of us.
That, indeed, is a feat of grand beauty. We are not good golfers. And yet, for three holes, we transcended our earthly skills and looked like good golfers.
And that’s enough, sometimes.
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