That I now play golf is like a personal antithesis. I grew up knowing little about it and thought it elitist, which it often is, but not necessarily so in the UK. Golf can be expensive but doesn’t have to be. Equipment and cost of playing are costs that can be kept low and new and ‘best’ equipment or playing at exclusive or expensive courses aren’t essential.
Golf found me at a good time. I’d been retired a couple of years and was trading foreign exchange from home; it was a fulfilling activity but came with a high degree of stress: having your own money on the line is not always comfortable, even though you might have accepted that it was money you could lose. But, the opportunity to have golf lessons came when the IMF wanted to boost membership of its Recreation Center and offered 8-weekends of free golf clinics. I took the bait, and the rest is history. I found I could hit the ball well and enjoyed the challenge of totally new sport. As I developed and found a partner who was also a retired economist and a stay-home father, I had a good support ‘system’, though he was returning to the sport. My ability developed and I was able to make use of the deal offered, which was reduced annual membership with a sweetener of some ‘free’ lunches every month. That works! I enjoed practice and the didactic part of me, from having coached, meant that I was the sort of self-analytical type that many golfers are. I enjoyed practice and honestly the facilities on offer made that easier, with the club often empty on Mondays, when it was possible to do some range work and walk the course undisturbed but for the maintenance crew. So, it began.
However, several odd things mark my short history as a golfer.
First, during my mid-teens, my parents lived in a suburban area where a golf course was 15 minutes walk away; the course (West Middlesex) was surrounded by a high fence and shrubs and I never got a look inside, even from the upper deck of a bus. Maybe, it goes on a ‘bucket’ list.
Second, I played football in the USA on fields adjacent to a golf course and always thought it was a silly game for old, lardy (and ladidah) people; not my types, at all. I had my introduction to golf on that same course, Bretton Woods. I wan’t that wrong about the types, but like a golf swing, all kinds can co-exist.
I lived in Barbados for just over three years (2008-2010) and only went to a golf course to take a cousin to play one afternoon at Sandy Lane. I have to admit the view was spectacular, but I never had any urge to go out and play.
So, my golfing life began in 2012, and in the early days, it was the best form of exercise I could find. As I mentioned earlier, I was trading, and part of my routine was to drop my daughter at school and get back in time for the New York open at 8am. I would have a day at my monitor and taking positions. I’d usually take a break at about 10am, when London closed (3pm UK time), and then take a walk in the woods and paths by the Capital Crescent Trail, adjacent to our house. But, I found that the morning trading ‘hustle’ was wearing on me. So, I started opting for a run to the golf course after the school drop and practice on the range. Not long after getting that started, I ditched trading, completely. Golf isn’t realizing, but you need to be relaxed to play golf well. So, the tension of trading was not a good base for golf, though lots of traders are golfers. Golf also has its own set of tensions but comes without the major concern of money going west. It seemed a good exchange to opt for that, and its being a chance to be outdoors more.
All of the golf I played in the USA was recreational, but for one team event on July 4 after I’d been playing a short while. When I came to Jamaica in 2013, however, my neighbour was an avid woman golfer and she took me under her wing quickly, once she realized my interest. Ironically, my wife had opted to rent a house in a complex adjacent to Constant Spring Golf Course, and my neighbour had a key that gave access to the course. So, getting out to practice was a cinch, and walking part of the course became one of my (almost) daily routines; it still is.
I was soon blooded into competitive golf in Jamaica, when I was selected to play in a local team match play event–Lime Cup–which pitted teams loosely based around golf clubs against each other over a series of events. It was nerve wracking to be on the first tee and have a TV camera focused on me while my name was being announced” “On the tee, from…” 🙂 This was the real deal. I’d never played match play (hole-by-hole contest, with the winner being who won the most holes, not based on total strokes), but soon got the hang. I liked it because a bad hole could just be ejected from the memory; but so too the elation of a good hole, or better winning a hole you should have lost. Our team came close to winning, but the rivalries were intense and as unlike golf as anything I’d seen.
It’s now much easier to understand the players’ and fans’ fervour around the Ryder Cup.
But, most golf is based around stroke play (cumulative strokes taken to finish a round; lower is better). Cutting to the chase, I’ve done alright in competitions, and amateurs cannot get cash prizes, but you get the kudos of winning (trophy or not) plus whatever else the sponsors may offer. I’ve had my share of trophies, mobile phones, 2-3 night hotel stays, quarts of engine oil, and a 42 inch TV. I’ve not added the costs of entry against the winnings. Honestly, I often enjoy the event itself and the prizes are a bonus, especially when the event is for a good cause and the organizers put on a good affair with food and drinks that show a real appreciation of the participants. I love ‘tee gift’ bags with golf shirts, caps, and other accessories and I often give the accessories away, but have kept some items I like; my daughter has a good stock of golf shirts and caps.
But, golf is awfully frustrating and humbling. That’s what I’ve enjoyed most about it–being constantly on the verge of major disappointment even after the maximum best effort has been applied. To quote Hogan again: “A good round of golf is if you can hit about three shots that turn out exactly as you planned them.”
That said, few things are as sweet as an unexpected win in golf, and that comes about because you don’t know during the event how others are doing. I was shocked when my partner and I took a first place from a pair who got second and against whom we had finished strongly to be one stroke ahead. That was most pleasing as it was a junior-adult event and I’d merely put myself forward so that a junior had a playing partner.
I’ve also enjoyed working for golf, as a volunteer, and my appreciation for the skills of the pro golfer is now immense. Out of that involvement, I got to see Tiger Woods up close and personal several times, including at the event he hosts at Albany in The Bahamas, where the last year I worked as a driver in the pro-am event. Previously, I worked the Quicken Loans National, which was held in Maryland, and was a good fit for a long stay with my first-born over the July 4 weekend.
But, watching has been full of good insights, including how to watch golf best, which is from the inside of a nice hospitality ‘chalet’ 🙂 I’ve hit some ‘bucket’ list items I didn’t know I had, including going to Carnoustie in 2018 for The (British) Open, and a few nice days in Edinburgh. Last year, I went to Pebble Beach, CA, and it was bleaker than Scotland had been 😦 I’ve seen Tiger (The Big Cat) not play and walking with his kids and seen him on his road to recovery looking very good and also looking quite spectacular.
But, just being out there is best. I’m spoilt in Jamaica, having landed on my feet in a place with only eight, but great, golf courses–all of which I have played. I love a day trip on the bus to Montego Bay, and I love a visit to Maryland to play it’s municipal courses. I always have an eye open to playing when we travel, though if I don’t get to a course, it’s no biggie. But, when your wife books a condo at Bear Mountain, Victoria, Canada, well… :).