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A Man's Game

I took up golf in my 60s.  I was late to the sport and well into lessons when I discovered golf to be a challenging game for a woman.  I should have been more noticing of the beer advertisement displaying a half-dressed woman with huge breasts on a motorcycle that hung above the alcove where I hit practice balls at the local driving range.  I should have asked my teacher for different analogies since phrases like “think of passing a basketball at your belt level” had little to no reference for me.  Golf is, as everyone knows and I was slow to fully understand, a man’s game.

In the public clubhouses on the courses I play, old fat white guys sit around in musty dark bars drinking beer, telling jokes and ogling the women servers.  On the course, they smoke cigars, pee in the woods and ask to “play through” which means they have a notion that any woman golfer will automatically play slowly: a sub-par player.

If I am honest, “sub par player” is a term that might aptly apply to me.  I have made few pars, and most are not exactly a par, since I kick the ball a little to move it into better play and sometimes take the best of three shots from a lie.  These habits could explain why men want to play through, but when the course is crowded (which happens only on really good courses which I rarely play) I am careful to throw my ball to speed up play, and I limit the number of “choice” hits to two. In these tense conditions, I am willing to skip whole sections of par 5s which can wear me out.  Practices that compensate for my speed.

I have played a few nicer public courses.  In these cases, ogled women serve better beer at the bar and nubile girls drive treat carts around the course wearing tight white tee-shirts and pony tails--generally the only females I see at golf courses.  I am never polite to these women as I think they are better off serving root beer at a local drive in.  I want to take these women aside and give them a little pep talk to explain that they are better than this job and that they do not have to be objectified in the workplace.   But I refrain from this lecture and maintain disdain, which I discover at this writing is unkind.  I need to work on this part of my game.

Few of my girlfriends play this sport, but one who does taught me to take the game more seriously.  She explained that setting up a shot is very important, and a golfer should take her time since 90% of a good shot is mental.  I thought it might be a good idea to develop a set-up ritual.  Examples I have observed include: adjusting the angle of the cap, tugging at the sleeve of the golf shirt, or shrugging slightly a single shoulder. I don’t have any of these important rituals.  But I’m working on that part of my game. 

Another girlfriend I played with got her period on the fifth hole, and since many public courses expect players to pee in the woods, we had to forfeit our game to rush to the clubhouse.  Clubhouses are named for golf clubs, I presume, since they lack a fun club-like atmosphere.  They smell of stale beer and mold, are decorated like hunting lodges, and offer a limited menu consisting of middle class beer, week- old hotdogs and candy bars.  A retired guy sits behind a desk watching golf matches on a small TV (presumably to sell the limited selection of shirts and hats clinging to circulars).  The restrooms for women in these clubs are cold and cramped, have dirty corners and lack amenities.  It takes some courage to put out a hand and grope the wall for a light switch in these rarely inhabited facilities.  Needless to say, my friend from the fifth hole forfeit did not find a friendly cache of female products in the clubhouse.

My brother tells me that since women are not around often, cussing on a golf course is considerable. This may be true since the limited cussing I have observed on the golf course and copied seems to follow tight rules: one may cuss when a drive hits a tree, skims along the ground or shoots sideways. It seems ungentlemanly to curse if a ball falls short into water or a putt circles the hole and pops out: sad shots that should be managed with decorum. In these instances, a golfer should mutter only.

Like any golfer I hate worm burners and 10-foot “loft” shots off the tee, occurrences that instigate the singular string of curse words I find falling from my mouth like toads. One of my golfing friends (an older guy) would never cuss at golf.  He tolerates my frequent failures to behave in a gentlemanly manner, but I find myself cussing, confessing, cussing and apologizing over and over: a practice that hurts my game and my concentration.  Still I like to play with this gentleman since he always shakes my hand, gives me excellent eye contact and says, “good game” at the end of the round.  Which is generally a lie but very polite. 

All this talk might lead you to believe I don’t enjoy the difficult man’s world game of golf, but I do.  I especially like to play when a course is empty so I can take little side walks in the woods, try to reclaim balls from water holes, and talk on my cell phone at my leisure.  I am elated when the ball makes a little ping noise and goes up in the air in a nice arch or rolls along down a hill or bounces across a cart path in a faithful manner.  These are satisfying moments.  But there aren’t that many. Early in my golf career, I told my husband (my faithful partner) to never never give me any instruction on occasions when I duff a shot or top a ball. He has learned to bite off advice.  But this is hard on his game.

Men love to instruct women in golf.  The men I play with try varying support techniques to which I pay zero attention.  Men believe it their responsibility to instruct me when they would never venture to instruct another man.  Such behavior would simply not be good golf etiquette.  Male golfers assume that a woman will want a man’s expertise instead of his companionship, which is a male trait that women do not appreciate generally.

Golf is best when the sun is out, the greens are soft and the course is empty.  Golf is good when the terrain is hilly and curvy with lots of big trees and cart paths that include wooden or stone bridges. Golf is also good when the rough is loaded with wildflowers or offers an unexpected animal and when the ball sails over the water and lands in the fairway or a shot bounces off a tree and back into play.  Wonderful surprises. Happy moments that mirror life.  As I’m sure many other golfers have noted.

I’m going to keep playing golf because I think it a woman’s duty to pop up in places where men think they are in control, because old people who aren’t the least bit fit can play the game, and (as men know) because golf is a lot of fun and takes you out of the house for most of a day.  Golf also gives me a chance to tell women, “Do not take a job as a treat cart salesperson.  It’s beneath you.”