Like a fat wedge from 75 yards, the practical essence of golf falls short of the romantic notion.
Hit the ball, find the ball, repeat as necessary until said ball, or its replacement, or that replacement’s substitute, or god forbid that substitute’s successor, cascades into a manmade hole carved into an otherwise pristine expanse of machine-cropped Bermuda.
Though technically sound, the explanation does no justice to the fullness of the golfing experience. A friendly game on the links constitutes exercise of the wallet, lungs, palate and imagination. It is a feast for the senses — the entrancing melange of freshly cut grass and bug spray, the gentle reverberation of a smoothly struck seven iron; the jarring taste and rubbery resistance of mostly cooked hotdog at the turn; the warming sight of the refreshment cart on the 14th.
Golf was a social network long before the Internet connected us to one another through our devices. In a friendly game, the average shot might require 60 seconds. The 18-handicapper, then, needs no more than 90 minutes to play the game. A round of golf, as we all know, takes about four and a half hours.
Golfers fill the down-time with banter that can be as colourful as the plus-fours. The big stick. The mully. The gimme. The flat stick. Back door. Foot wedge, fried egg, frog hair. A reload. A hosel rocket. Hockey stick, snowman, Gordie and moose.
We have adorned the game with such flowery verbiage because we love it so. For all its faults (and ours), it is sheer delight dispensed a shot and a hole and a game at a time. Your worst day on the course still beats any day at the office, if only for time spent with friends and spouses and new playing partners.
Yes, it can be a confounding enterprise, what with the chunking, slicing, pushing, pulling, whiffing, hooking and duffing. But its myriad frustrations are offset by the grandeur of the great outdoors and an infusion of common sense, as evidenced by the time-honoured awarding of mulligan and gimme.
The mulligan’s blend of forgiveness, pity and sportsmanship remains proof positive that golf has a soul and all those who play it are capable of compassion. But only once a day. The gimme, on the other hand, is awarded willy-nilly.
In golf, the mulligan and the gimme are diametrically opposed but ride in the cart together — the gimme an expectation of success, the mulligan an exception for failure. Together they are the yin and yang of a friendly game. To embrace their being is to know that even if we golf badly, we can still golf happily and with grace.
Once you have mastered the art of golfing happily and with grace, then and only then should you tee off with your spouse. And when you are approaching retirement age, as Therese and I are, golfing happily with one’s spouse becomes increasingly important.
Long ago, at least one of us figured golf would be central to our life in retirement but we have since shifted focus. There will be a place in our lives for golf — there always has been — but it’s not going to be our raison d’etre. We’ll play a little here and there. But wherever we decide to retire, there has to be more than golf to keep us busy.
Though Therese is much younger than I am — just ask her — she has a head start on retirement logistics after taking a buyout from Postmedia late last year. Oh, she’ll get another real job eventually but this sabbatical of hers has been instructive. Life-changing, actually.
Since leaving the news business five months ago, Therese has been plenty busy. She’s in two bands, completed a 100-day food blogging project, done some volunteering, done some freelance editing, and joined Golfaround, a league of women encountering and embracing the game at various stages of proficiency and on a selection of local courses.
I took up the game at age 15 in Castlegar, B.C., shot 75 for my first nine holes and have improved marginally in the four decades since. Therese first played as a teenager in Calgary and really came to love it while trodding the fairways of Kokanee Springs in B.C.
Together, we’ve hit the links in Mexico, California, Arizona, B.C., Alberta and P.E.I. But here at home, we generally play the same five tracks: The Ranch, The Quarry, Sandpiper, Sturgeon Valley and Cougar Creek.
In the spirit of broadening our horizons and trying new things, we’ve decided to play outside the usual tee-boxes. Our plan this summer is to hit the road and check out some other golf courses, hopefully within the day-trip or one-night stay radius.
Drive time. Get it?
We’ll play around, in a manner of speaking, and let you know what we like best and what falls short of expectations. Our fact-finding mission will take us beyond tee boxes and fairways to snack shacks, pro shops and driving ranges, patios and dining rooms.
We will do our best to write happily and with grace. So please join us on this journey. Golf, after all, is a social network.
Got a suggestion for a golf course we should try? The road beckons and we are excited to hit some new destinations. Tell us about your fave out-of-the-way course in the comments and maybe we’ll pay it a visit.