For reasons that escape me, the obsession of our time is golf. Not since bowling has any sport become such a craze.

It's not that people play it, but it has become their main topic of conversation when they are off the links. Golf is now the road to business success and is considered the only ladder to upward mobility.

If I sound bitter, I have reason to be. I spent $290 for dinner the other night, and the only subject my guests talked about was the difficulty of hitting a little white ball with a seven iron.

"Do we have to talk golf?" I asked.

They all gasped.

Dinah said, "Is there anything else to talk about?"

I replied, "What difference does it make if you hit the ball in the rough, the sand or the water? When the game is over, it's over, over there."

David expounded, "Golf is only over for those who were never there. Golfers remember every stroke of every game they ever played. That's because we have invested our lives in the sport."

I protested, "But do you really care if Dinah shanked her drive or not?"

"Not really," Richard said. "But if I don't listen to her story, she won't listen to mine."

"I'm very good on details," Dinah told us.

"The trouble with golf is that it has become more than a game," I argued. "Most of our important decisions are now being made on the fairways of this land. People are being given responsibility for nuclear reactors not based on their ability but on their golf scores. A guy who shoots a 76 is considered a better architect than one who shoots a 103. A brain surgeon who scores an 89 is held in higher esteem than one who can only shoot 120."

"What's wrong with that?" Richard asked. "Americans look up to those players with low scores. I was on the course the other day with a terrific golfer. He birdied half his holes. Well, I did what anybody who plays golf would do under the circumstances. I gave my insurance business to him instead of to Ida Kessel, who never leaves her office for lunch."

"People who don't play golf shouldn't pass judgments on those who do," Dinah said. "We who play at country clubs have paid our dues."

"All right. But if golf is such a healthy activity, why do you need golf carts to get around the course?"

"Because with a cart you can get back to the club faster and tell everyone about your game," David explained to me.

"He's making that up," Dinah said. "Golf is a sport on wheels, and the less time you spend walking, the more time you have to study the lay of the ball. I don't believe you would have this surge of interest in the game if there wasn't public transportation from hole to hole."

"I got a 15-foot putt today," Richard told the group.

David sounded excited. "Let's hear all about it, and don't leave out any of the details."

"I don't want to hear about it," I protested.

"Don't be too sure," Dinah said. "Richard's stories are always much better than his golf."