For 10 years," he wailed. "For 10 years, from the time you were 7 until you went off to college, I tried to get you to play golf. I offered you lessons at the club, the best courses in the city. And you said no. Now you tell me you're taking golf lessons. Geez . . ."
My father's reaction was unexpected but not unpredictable. If you know my father.
At age 63, Daddy shoots a 95 on the club's north course (the one that bars women on weekend mornings) and maintains a 25 handicap, up from a 19 some years back when he was club Class C chamption. As a teen-ager, I secretly knew that he secretly harbored a fantasy of father and daughter playing club tournaments and walking off the 18th green together. Instead, he settled for playing occasionally with "that boy" I married.
I chose not to learn to play golf with my husband, either; through years of vacations, I either rode in the cart or found tennis-playing golf widows like myself.
Only now, at 36, am I learning to play golf.
I wonder whether this is part of mid-life crisis -- golf shirts always seemed so middle-aged in the past and now they are about the shortest thing I can wear with dignity in public. Of course, it could be that for all those years I was truly liberated, i.e., not learning golf just to please the men in my life. But I don't think so. The fact is, following a little ball around acres of hilly ground just to hit it with a stick never appealed to me before. It seemed like an extraordinary waste of time. Give me tennis, give me skiing, give me jogging, biking, softball with the company team, soccer at the park with my children. Anything that's fast, sweaty and mostly action. Who has the time to spend hours walking and only minutes playing the game?
Besides, with a few exceptions, where I grew up golf was for old people -- our parents. It was the game that Daddy left for on Sunday morning and didn't come back from till late afternoon. Meanwhile, Mama was there with us kids, but in retrospect probably not so terrific for Mama. So, when I became Mama, golf was something I not only didn't want to play myself, but something I didn't want Papa to play, either. Golf was something I simply wanted to erase from our lives. Lucky for Papa that he is one of those beautifully coordinated men who, after not holding a club in hand for a year, can go to the obligatory law firm outing and shoot a respectable score.
So how come I want to play golf now? Well (she said through clenched teeth), I'm a wee bit older now. The walk around the course looks a tad more inviting; in fact, even riding in the cart at The Homestead now seems rather sporting. Then, too, with the children growing up, I see a long string of Sunday afternoons ahead that are going to be hard to fill with a fast set of tennis. And I have a face-saving way to play golf. I don't have to join a country club with its rarefied social life, its admissions committees, its scorn for "improper attire," its dues, assessments and eating up of minimums. I'm learning to play at public courses. It's cheap, it's convenient, and I can curse myself out loud.
So now the question becomes: Can a woman of 36 with an increasingly annoying lower back, a modicum of coordination, her mother's discarded clubs and sneakers learn the game quickly enough and learn to play well enough that her golfing buddies will still be her friends after their first three rounds together?
The answer, I believe, lies in maturity, oceans of it. First of all, I must not expect too much of myself. In that frame of mind, I will address the ball with confidence, maintain my dignity after slicing through thin air and replace my divots with composure, whether they come up with or without a ball in front of them. I will swing gently but firmly, moving the ball as far down the fairway as possible in three strokes, then, if I am still trailing 200 yards behind my companions, I will ever so delicately lean over, extend my left hand -- attractively clad in classic fingerless pigskin -- pluck the little ball noiselessly out of the grass and carry it past the sand traps to the green. There, I shall place it 10 years from the pin and follow the foregoing procedure once again. I shall learn to choose the appropriate club for the lie. I shall become more adept at driving a cart and refrain from yelling "Wheeee" as I go careering down the steeper hills. And I shall be receptive to instruction by the men with whom I play, even my husband -- for men, I have learned, feel compelled to instruct.
The prospect has its allure. I might not even be so bad at the game. If I really come to like it, maybe I could even teach my children. Someday, maybe we could even play tournaments. I can just see us all walking off the 18th green together . . .