Golf guilt and gratitude

by Rob Tiller

It feels delicious but somehow wrong to play golf on a regular workday. Even when the event is a company tournament, even when there’s been a sign-off from management, it still seems illicit. Particularly when the temperature’s in the mid-70s, there’s not a cloud in the sky, and the greens are healthy, it seems like it can’t be permissible. The blood of my hard-working, self-denying Calvinist forebears resists — and then capitulates.

And so it was that I played in the first Red Hat invitational golf event with colleagues and assorted Red Hat vendors last week. The event was at Crooked Creek, a pretty course in southern Wake County. I took my first adult golfing lessons there about ten years ago, and so it has a special place in my golfing heart. Although the overall yardage is on the short side, the fairways are narrow, and the course in general punishes imprecision. Considering the dry conditions of the past months, it was in good shape.

My golfing has recently been in a threshold state — possibly close to a new plateau. From time to time I get a foretaste of the golfing promised land, where a long smooth swing connects the dimpled white ball to a high parabolic arc, which settles in the center of the fairway an easy short-iron from the green. Other times I endure the bitterness of inexplicable shanks, gouges, and gaffes. But this is part of the extraordinary demands and attractions of golf: at any given moment the next shot could be a hopeless, round-destroying disaster, or it could be perfect beyond all reasonable hope.

We played a best ball format, in which the best of four balls off the tee is used for the next shot forward. It keeps things from getting too heavy. The foursome shares the joy of a well-played hole and divides up the guilty misery of one that is played poorly. I enjoyed my golfing colleagues, and particularly Steve G, who drove our cart and hit the ball a ton. We were proud when he won the long drive contest. On the other hand, the pace of play was painfully slow. I also struggled with an odd pain in my right leg. But we filled the time with pleasant chat and enjoyed the beautiful fall day.

I thought of my father’s attempt to introduce me to golf when I was a young teenager, and regretted that I rejected his offering. It would have been a good thing to share, when we couldn’t find much in common. I also thought of my father-in-law, who gave me the gift of a set of Callaway clubs and encouraged me to have a go at learning the game in mid-life when my own kids were adolescents. He helped me see that my resistance to the game was based on prejudices (too Republican, too fat, too white, too snobby) that were somewhat (though not completely) unfair. And he pointed me towards the undeniable beauty of game: courses that are in essence gardens, the grace of skilled play, and the gift of golfing friendships. It was an excellent gift. I’m sorry we didn’t have more chances to play.