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Life’s lessons are learned through the game of golf

By Staff | Jul 27, 2011

The story of my golf game originates in a tradition dating back 429 years, thanks to the legacy of Pope Gregory XIII. Yes, midnight on December 31, the annual, big to-do when we ring in the New Year, is responsible for why I started golfing.

Traditionally, we observe January 1 as the new year because some church-y guy said so, and no one was adverse to a good party to temporarily relieve the freezing cold, post-holiday doldrums.

That’s form, though. In function, routine has most of us observing the new year in the Popsicle-melting days of August. Times Square may not be atwitter and nobody’s poppin’ bottles, but after decades of new teachers, classes, school supplies, and curriculum, August becomes, if not the traditional, the true New Year.

Even after we’re free of educational institutions, graduation parties and back-to-school promotions act as recess bells, recalling the routine. Like the old guy down the street who knows “a storm’s coming” when his knees ache, our bones feel the new year as natural as each night’s sleep or going on the rag. Come August, whether enrolled in a higher learning system or not, our brains know what our cancerous, sunburned skins and shriveled, cirrhosed livers have forgotten: it’s time to get our ass in gear for a new year.

And so it was, yearning for the annual challenges and edification of years’ past, searching for a mind-opening experience, I purchased a set of deeply discounted women’s LaJolla golf clubs. And, I’m sorry — did I say mind-opening? I meant soul-crushing.

I chose golf, and not something practical like, let’s say, a bike-maintenance class, because many of my friends play the game, and I’m not what would be deemed “athletic.” I knew it was a bit hoity-toity and expensive, but logic persisted that if my average friends played the game with any amount of success, I, too, had a decent chance of performing well. After all, just hit the ball into a hole — easy. There’s not even an opponent!

But like a three-legged zebra lapping water at the watering hole, I was mauled my first day on the course. Like a giant lioness who hadn’t eaten in weeks, golf ambushed me, ripping limb from torso and dragging me home half-dead.

Everything I thought would be natural (swinging the club, directing the ball) was counter-intuitive; everything I thought would be easy (putting, even teeing up the godforsaken ball) was difficult. And if I thought the play was complicated, the etiquette was quantum physics (how the hell are you supposed to maneuver the green without stepping in anyone’s line when everyone’s ball is within four feet of the hole?!).

Golf’s most heinous offense, I find, isn’t its difficulty but its sneakiness. This is not marathon-running or bike-riding where you seek to accomplish a thing, learn said thing, and then do said thing. This is golf! Where you observe, understand, and execute several very-well hit drives only to step up to the tee, take a magnificent swing, and watch the ball soar gracefully up into the air … and then come down into the windshield of a car — parked behind you in the parking lot. No other sport is so derisive as to make you think you’ve accomplished a technique only to throw it back in your face like a cup of acid. Golf is the only sport that yields so much shame from so little action. It kicks you when you’re already down, bleeding, and crying.

Since I’m fairly positive that “teaching by shaming” isn’t one of the Board of Education’s methods for success, I might better satiate my need for learning this year by setting down my clubs and instead cranking up the a/c, cracking open a calculus book, and throwing back a flute of champagne.

But instead, I’ll continue to sweat through my shorts, exhausted and near-death on only the 9th hole because golf is the great equalizer. Golf renders every novice a fool. And in that there’s something to be learned.

Contact Katharine at