Improve your game and your marriage at the same time? It’s entirely possible, provided you’re long on the greens and short on pointers.
In my wife’s case, the final straw came on a July afternoon in Scotland fifteen years ago, a bitterly cold rain slashing across the dunes, my drive somewhere left of one of the fairways on the great links at Nairn, upon Moray Firth. Hacking through the high grass, Patty muttered to herself, “This is ridiculous. At least I could be looking for my own ball.” She remembers that epiphany clearly, and a few weeks later, on a sunny afternoon in our backyard stateside, she took up the holy game.
So it is everywhere. Spouses – the wives, in the great majority of cases are joining their wedded ones on the fairways of the nation. Women now make up about a fifth of all golfers in the United States, 40 percent of new golfers, and an ever-growing percentage of the really zealous players. The readers of Golf for Women magazine average an astonishing sixty-eight rounds per year. Quite a few golf clubs have capped or even reduced their membership rolls by attrition because the new golfers are putting so much extra pressure on the first tee.
I’d encouraged Patty to play, but before I polled the male cohort I wondered whether many of us might resent this distaff incursion on our territory and yearn for the early days when at least a few women had their own courses to play (at venerable Shinnecock Hills on eastern Long Island, for example), or even their own clubs (the last of which, Women’s National in Glen Head, New York, was bought by another club in 1947).
I was dead wrong. I apologize. Steve Gaskins, my old golfing buddy from years ago, now a founding partner of Flynn ex: Gaskins, lawyers-at-large out in the Twin Cities, did assert that “the reason you play golf with your spouse is that you like your spouse, and if you didn’t play golf, you’d have to mow your lawn” but Gaskins was teasing both his wife Kathy and us. (Nor has he mowed the lawn since he was growing up in Odessa, Texas, many decades ago.) It is possible that a little self-serving calculation might he behind some husbands’ encouragement an island vacation, especially, is not quite so unnerving a prospect if we’re guaranteed seventy-two holes of golf with her full approval and participation and perhaps some of us who are gone from the house most of the time feel a little guilt on this score, but the main reason we husbands want our wives to join us is that golf is a great game that can be enjoyed at all levels of competition in wonderful settings all over the world, and we think they’ll love the challenge and the camaraderie as much as we do. Pool, poker, Ping-Pong, bridge, and bowling? They’re all great, of course, but strictly indoor action. Tennis can be fun in the sun, but you can’t play tennis to a handicap, and the courts are identical and boring worldwide. So golf is the game, and we want to share it.
On the other hand, we have to be careful. This is a hard game that tries the patience of every practitioner, especially beginners, and the question of how to offer and accept advice is the one issue that must be resolved and quickly in the interests of amicable spousal golf. The husband who forgets about his wife and drives the golf cart past her ball on the way to his own deserves’ and receives the quick reprimand. I know, but most of us correct this behavior soon enough. Offering unsolicited advice is the tougher habit to break as I also know, and as every golfing couple will confirm.
In Harvey Penick’s book For All Who Love the Game: Lessons and Teachings for Women, a follow-up to his phenomenally successful Little Red Book, the shortest entry is the one titled “When to Offer Golf Advice to Your Spouse.” The wise old pro’s answer is, in its entirety, “If he asks.” I think Harvey is being facetious here. He really means “If she asks,” because we men are the compulsive advice givers, and we never seem to learn that our wisdom never works. Don Callahan told me, “At some point, my wife Pat said, `Look, don’t tell me anything on the golf course.’ So I work with her off the golf course.” Note that Don is one of the more respected club professionals in the country, holding down two of the great jobs in the field: in the summer, he’s director of golf at the Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, site of the upcoming Ryder Cup matches in September; in the winter, he’s head professional at the Thunderbird Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California, where former president Gerald Ford has a house on the thirteenth fairway. If even he doesn’t offer on-course tips to his wife, lay husbands are well advised to lie low.