Full disclosure: While I can call myself a golfer, I am not a good golfer. I know the rules of the game, and I understand the overall objectives. After playing for almost thirty years, I can eventually get the ball to do what I need it to do, and I’ve made some great shots, but like most amateur golfers, I can’t make those great shots on a consistent basis. Still, I play on. And although Mark Twain supposedly once described golf as “a good walk spoiled,” days on the green have become a very special time for me.
I didn’t grow up in a golf environment, but now I live in serious golf country in Dublin, Ohio, home state of the legendary Jack Nicklaus. Even as I write this blog, the pros—including Woods and Mickelson and Spieth—are teeing off just a mile from my home in the first round of Nicklaus’s annual Memorial Tournament at the Muirfield Village Golf Club. I’ve been to the tournament and watched the best in the world display their incredible (and consistent) skills just minutes from my front door.
Unlike the four major professional sports in the United States—baseball, football, basketball and hockey—golf is not played against other players. While each player needs to score better than the others in order to win, there’s no real defense out on the course trying to block your putts or intercept your drives. And while the other sports are played in front of cheering—sometimes screaming—fans, golf is a quiet game, punctuated by an occasional cheer or high five after an exceptional drive or well-read putt.
Golf has also been referred to as “gentleman’s game”; in amateur golf, you keep your own score and call your own penalties. There’s no striped-shirt referee on the course watching your every move to call fair or foul when appropriate. (That’s not to say we amateurs won’t occasionally employ poor counting skills or a discreet tap with a foot to improve an otherwise difficult ball position.)
One of the highlights of my year is my annual trip to Tampa, Florida, where I gather with college friends I’ve known for over 40 years to share a long weekend of golf. Each February for the past 22 years, we’ve shed our winter layers and picked up our clubs to enjoy Florida’s warmth, share our stories (career, family, health), trade the same bad jokes and play a little golf. Years ago, we would play six rounds in four days. Do the math: 18 holes per round times 6 rounds equals 108 holes; 108 times 4–5 (or even 6–7) strokes per hole equals over 500 strokes over the course of those four days. We now acknowledge our age (and aching backs and shoulders and knees) and have pulled back to four rounds in four days, saving around 150 strokes (as well as our backs and shoulders and knees).
On these trips, golf is not just a game; it’s also the mechanism by which we gather together and keep our relationships strong. The play on the course is less important than the camaraderie and conversation shared long after the scorecards are tallied and spikes cleaned off. After 22 years of playing golf with these guys, I’m not sure that my golf is getting any better—but I know my connections with these friends gets stronger every year. We’ve already lost two members of the group’s original eight, and in the coming years we’ll most likely lose others. But until we have our tee times on that Great Golf Course Up Yonder, we’ll continue our annual treks to Tampa to play a game we love with the teammates we love even more. And despite how Mark Twain felt about the game of golf, our annual “good walk” (or cart ride) is anything but spoiled.