As we continue our march through spring in the Midwest, it’s time to dust off my golf equipment and get ready for my league to start. It’s a sport with many advantages- being outside on beautiful courses, spending time with friends, and some exercise if you walk. Once you learn to play golf, it can be a lot of fun. It also presents some challenges and comical moments.
My path to taking up golf was delayed by my affinity for tennis, a sport I grew up playing. My first lessons were at age five and I entered my first tournament at six. It was fun, and since I played in tournaments it was the only sport I pursued for many years. But by my late thirties, injuries began to interfere with my game. Knee surgery and a rotator cuff tear were the final nails in my playing days. So I decided to take up golf since several of my friends already played. My impression of the sport was that it was fun to watch, but I didn’t think it would be that difficult to learn because I could hit a moving ball quite well. A stationary one should be much easier, right?
I took beginner lessons and found out how hard it actually is. There is a lot to remember- grip, stance, weight shift, head position, and aiming for where the ball allegedly would go. One of the most surprising things to me was missing the ball entirely. Whiffing, as it is so pleasantly called, is common for new golfers. My main problem with it was that I got the giggles whenever I did it. But after awhile, I started connecting more and whiffing less. Time to hit the course.
My first attempts to play were on easy 9 hole courses, followed by joining a ladies league with three friends. The league officers were friendly when we signed up, and we explained that we were all beginners. Unfortunately, the other ladies in the group weren’t quite so welcoming. They were quick to point out our high scores on every hole, and quoted the rules of the game frequently. Stressful to say the least. We all dreaded playing, so after one year of that joy we decided to start our own league.
That turned out much better. We stayed at the same relatively easy course, and found a lot of other like minded golfers to join us. In the early years, we had flag days, guest days, and an end of the year dinner. We named the league Penny Putters, and every week, for each putt over 18, you had to put the equivalent amount of pennies in the league birdhouse. At the end of the season, the person with the lowest average putts got the money. We kept all kinds of statistics too, and turned in our score cards each week.
Now getting close to our 25th year, Penny Putters has evolved, but we are still golfing every Wednesday morning at the same course. Quite a few things have changed- first, we stopped doing the money in the birdhouse. Some players forgot to put money in, or turn in their scores. The course didn’t like storing our birdhouse, so someone had to keep track of it and bring it every week. Our statistician moved, and no one wanted to take it on. We still have a flag day, unless there is a pandemic, and that is enough structured activity for all of our members. And we typically start planning our after golf lunch around the third hole.
A couple of funny stories- for many years, I walked and used a pull cart for my clubs during league play. One morning, running late, I got to the course without a water bottle, and figured I’d buy one from the drink cart. Except the drink cart never came, and it was really hot and humid. The course water coolers usually look grungy to me, so no go there. By the sixth hole, about as far away as you can get from the clubhouse, I started feeling poorly. The best I could do was lay down under a tree and pour some grungy course water on my head. The ranger pulled up just as I was feeling better, and thought he needed to follow me the rest of the way around the course. That really helped my game! That was also the end of my walking days, and it’s been 100% carts since then. And they’re fun to drive, so really not a problem to make the change.
The second funny story is about our bank account. I am the lifetime treasurer for the league, and happy to do so, but it has been interesting. I opened a free checking account and titled it Penny Putters, with my address. It makes for easy record keeping, but the bank has never figured out that Penny isn’t a person. I have received phone calls from the bank for years asking if they can speak to her. I used to try and explain it was a golf league, but the callers never seem to get it. So I just say she’s golfing and not available to take the call.
And then there’s the game itself. Beyond frustrating. You can hit a beautiful tee shot on one hole, and by the next one shank one it into the rough as if you never played the game. It is the only sport I can think of where your ability to do it varies so widely from one minute to the next. In tennis, once you have a forehand down, you can always hit it. Sometimes better than others, but from point to point you don’t completely lose your ability to hit the ball. So my ideas about a stationary ball being easier to hit? Out the window very early on. There’s a reason one of the best selling golf books is titled A Good Walk Spoiled.
There are also major differences between the way most women play versus most men. For starters, we won’t spend endless time searching for lost balls. Unless it’s a pretty pink or yellow one, then maybe. I have never bet on the golf course, and find it amazing how many betting games guys can invent. Since I usually play in the morning, drinking isn’t an issue, but being able to make room for a cooler in the cart is a common thing for guys. And if you really want to see some differences, go to a guy golf mecca like Myrtle Beach, S.C. The courses have names like Tiger Paw and Charging Cheetah, complete with billboards featuring large, menacing animals. Not exactly catering to the female golf crowd.
In spite of the occasional frustrations, it is an enjoyable sport that you can play for years. Injuries are rare for amateur players. And it requires a lot of concentration, so it clears your mind and helps you think about something besides work or your “to do” list. You can be as serious or casual as you like about your game as long as you play at a reasonable speed and don’t hold anyone up behind you.
I will close with a funny golf joke I heard years ago when I first started playing. A group of four ladies had been playing golf every Friday morning for years. Their course was near a well travelled street, which you could see from several tee boxes. One morning, as they were about the tee off, a funeral procession slowly made its way past the course. When the hearse was visible, the first member of the group, who was on the tee, removed her visor, and bowed her head. Her friends were surprised, and asked her what prompted her to do so. Her reply? “Well, he really was a very good husband.”