Summer is almost here and already it is hotter than nine kinds of hell. So naturally there are folks going out in this heat to play golf.
Some years ago, I put this question to a man I was interviewing, a man whose long career in business and civic life can only be described as exemplary.
As we reflected on all that he had accomplished, I asked: “Is there anything you would have done differently.”
He paused, smiled and replied: “I would have played more golf.”
That was when I asked “Why?”
And he told me.
His life had been guided by the principle that whatever you do should be done well. He was not as good at golf as he felt he should be, therefore he should have played more and gotten better.
“But why,” I pressed on, “play it in the first place?”
Well, he continued, he belonged to a country club and he figured that if his dues included use of the golf course, he should use it.
But more importantly, he found golf to be a means of measuring the people he played with, people with whom he was associated in his company and his community. “You can learn a lot about people,” he told me, “out there on the links.”
Over the years I have pondered this occasionally, usually when I see someone driving around with an expensive bag full of expensive clubs in the back of an expensive SUV (golf and big cars seem to go together).
I pondered it a while back when my son borrowed some clubs and played in a fraternity sponsored charity golf tournament. Having been told by golfers that golf was “addictive,” I was concerned that the boy might be bitten by the bug. He wasn’t. The experience seemed to convince him that golf, as Mark Twain so famously put it, is “a good walk spoiled.”
I shouldn’t have worried, for men in my family have a history of trying golf and quitting golf, with little lingering damage to mind or body.
Shortly after my father was elected to public office, some guys in the court house invited him to join them for 18 holes. He did, found it boring, and handed his odd assortment of hand-me-down-clubs over to me.
At the same time, he handed me over to the foursome he had just reduced to three.
So, it followed that during the summer between my junior and senior years in high school, my weekends were frequently interrupted when I was called upon to join the group.
And what a group it was.
In addition to me, there was a Japanese-American Methodist minister, an 80-plus year-old dentist who had to retire when he “got the shakes” (probably the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease), and my one-armed uncle (no lie, lost it in an auto accident).
It did not take me long to realize that they played together because no one else would play with them.
Golfers frequently use expletives to describe their feelings over a putt missed or a drive gone awry. A minister in the foursome tends to inhibit this important aspect of the game. Moreover, golfers like to gamble – dime a hole back then, much more now – and you know how ministers are about gambling.
The only thing that you fear more than a dentist with the shakes is a golfer with the shakes. No telling where the ball will go, if he hits it at all.
As for my one-armed uncle, watching him made it impossible to concentrate on anything else, and in golf concentration is essential. Advantage uncle.
So we teed up and began.
The Japanese-American minister bet along with the rest of us and his presence did not inhibit my uncle’s vocal explosions.
The shaking dentist was a wonder to behold, for though the club trembled as he prepared to swing, when it came down the shaking stopped and the ball flew straight and true, never far but always down the middle of the fairway. And once on the green, he took control of the putter and won his share of holes.
As for my uncle, in addition to turning the air blue with his cussing, he showed us that he was as good with one arm and the rest of us were with two – maybe better.
That summer I discovered that not all ministers were bent on making sure we lived up to some scriptural code of conduct and or chiding us if we didn’t.
I saw how will power can overcome a debilitating disease, at least for a little while.
I came to understand that a disability didn’t always disable someone.
I picked up some new cuss words.
Though I did not stick with golf, that summer I found out that yes, you can learn a lot about people out there on the links.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.