A FEW YEARS ago, after I came to my senses and realized that good golf is more than good scoring, I discovered the delights of women golfers. They are mirthful, easygoing, and a round of golf with them is festive in a way that trudging along with somber, lesson-drunk males sometimes never is.
I learned this even before I could play golf. Tuesdays were womens' days at the course I caddied as a boy. Other caddies dreaded Tuesdays, but it was obvious to me that women understood the secrets of the game as few men did: get out in the sun, feel the earth and leave the course more exhilarated than when you arrived.
Can men learn from women? Yes, if they have the humility. As golfers, women understand that the essence of the game is advancing the ball. Position golf counts more than power golf.
Males, in the delusion of their muscles, believe they can power the ball, so any thought about merely advancing it is beneath them. Women, being neither slashers nor smashers, understand the ways of advancement. They know the basic goal of a golf shot is to hit it so that the next shot becomes easier.
Put another way, the difficulty of golf is that your next shot is often harder than the one you just hit.
Men who play with women for the first time are usually amazed at how straight women drive. Women themselves are not surprised at their skill, if only because they have made such a habit of hitting it softly down the middle that nothing else is imaginable.
Accuracy on the fairway is what orderliness is in the home.
I know that many of the women playing golf can do so only because they can afford to have a maid at home doing the work of orderliness. Women can rival the sloppiness of men.
And I know that the love of order is neither a male nor female trait. But by some decree, either of the game or of heaven, the women with whom I have played golf in scotch foursomes invariably position me in the fairway, and all too often I leave them playing from the soup.
The golfer I remember best from my caddying days was a 50-year-old woman who perservered for years with a 20 handicap. A half-century of country club food gave her the figure of a tank, and she sweated gallons getting around the course. She could take the torture of it because her game had one shot she could play with stunning skill: the chip shot. In sand traps she went pale; when putting she had palsy; she topped her fairway woods. But on the fringe of the green she was deft and confident.
Once I asked her for her secret. Chipping reminded her of sewing, she said Using the fingers, having the line of sight in full view, the delicacy of it all - it was like her other great skill, sewing . . .
That was a theory I hadn't heard before, nor since, but it worked for her. It gave her something to come back to play for when so much of the rest of her game should have persuaded her to become a professional seamstress.
I have notice that many women develop the one-shot game: a knack with one club that pulls them through the day.
Can women learn anything from men?
One thing - how we have managed to keep them subdued for so long by denying them access to the golf courses. Most of the private clubs still maintain the old sexism of restricting "the ladies" to certain starting times, usually past one or two o'clock on the weekends and sometimes on Wednesdays.
Women clog the course, the thinking goes, so keep them off the fairways to let the fast-walking roosters strut along in peace. But a fairer solution exists: If the purpose is to keep play moving, it ought to be the slower players - of either sex - who are kept off the course until 2 p.m.
A few women grumble about this discrimination, but I don't know of legal action being taken at any particular club. Women often have enough to contend with already in just the club of their own family.
One friend of mine, a married woman in her mid-40s, spends Tuesday evenings listening to the gripes of her husband because she spent the day playing golf. She has a regular foursome.
The old man, a six handicap, is put out because the women's game consumes more than five hours. That means he has to cook supper for himself. The dear wife escapes the kitchen for one afternoon a week and the husband is mean enough to carp at her for playing at a leisurely enough pace to enjoy the game.
What she ought to do is begin to play golf ever afternoon, not just on Tuesdays. That way, both she and her husband would be learning new skills: hers in golf and his in cooking. Their marriage would be given new life by all the new delights of conversation they would bring to each other.
The thrills of golf should not be limited to the fairways, much less to the male sex.