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Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Lifetime of Golf

Last Thursday my pals Gordon and Doug and I played golf at the Alpine Country Club. Alpine is less than 15 miles from our home course, Hidden Valley Country Club. I cannot tell how much I enjoyed our game that day. In 1989, Gordon, Doug, another pal Guy and myself got together to form a regular golfing group. For the first couple of years it was just the four us, playing 2 or 3 times per week. Ultimately, the size of our group increased. As new members joined Hidden Valley, the golf pro frequently referred them to our group. He knew that our standards were so low we would welcome anyone. Our group ultimately became known as the Staker Group. Over the years the Staker Group grew to a very large group, got smaller, got bigger and over the years has continued to change in size and makeup. New club members sometimes joined the Staker Group but moved on to other groups as they met other people at Hidden Valley. Some Staker Group members went to the Brown Group, the Sopranos or the Allem Group, all Hidden Valley men’s golf groups. Some of the Staker Group Members moved to other clubs and some moved out of state.

The Staker Group is a Heinz 57 mix of men. Ages from the mid thirties to the 70’s. High handicap, low handicap. Lawyers, accountants, contractors, retired fellows and other professions. Mormon Bishops, Greek Orthodox and anti-religious. White, Hispanic and Asian. It is truly a varied mix of men in all regards.

Several years ago, Guy, one of our co-founders, passed away. Guy was at least 15 years older than Gordon, Doug and me. Guy was a true gentlemen and in his earlier days a tremendous golfer. I felt sorry for Guy as the years went by because his body would not let him play at the same high level he had played as a younger man. It used to frustrate him that he could not hit the ball like he used to. I did not quite understand his frustration. When we started the group, I was about 37, now I am 57 going on 58 in October. As I watched Guy’s frustration, I wondered why he couldn’t be satisfied just to be able to play golf. My own dear father has not been able to play golf, or for that matter, walk very well for 15 years or more. So why was Guy frustrated, why didn’t he just enjoy golf the way he could then play it?

As I have gotten older my handicap has increased from a good 10 to a bad 16, I have had to deal with back problems and other aches and pains. It is hard for me to make a back swing. It is hard to follow through on the downswing. I now hit my tee ball 30-50 yards shorter than I used to. Guess what? As my game has deteriorated, I started to be frustrated and upset that I couldn’t play like I used to. I lost enthusiasm for the game. I complained about my game. I threatened many times to sell my clubs and quit forever. It was no fun because I couldn’t play like I used to. But then a couple of years ago, I thought about Guy and his frustration. I thought about all the times I told him to “relax, enjoy a day on the course with his buddies, and just be glad he was on this side of the grass”.

As I recalled myself telling Guy these things it made me realize that my admonitions to Guy were true. I am not a pro, I was never great and I certainly am not as good as I was in my younger days. It is likely that I am not ever going to get significantly better. But I can still play. I can still enjoy my friendships in the Staker Group and with other men and women golf friends at Hidden Valley and at Ironwood Country Club in Palm Desert. I can still play with my dear wife, the Lovely Sharon. Her and I can play afternoon golf together and play Sunday Couples. We can travel on golf excursions once or twice a year. We met through golf, we got married on the golf course and golf is a large part of our life together. By and large our friends our people we golf with.

As I watched last week’s British Open from St. Andrews I recalled years past when Gordon and I stood on the Swilcan Bridge in the 18th fairway of the Old Course; arms around each other’s shoulders, smiling for the camera, ready to finish our round of golf on the Old Course. The caddie took our picture. A moment frozen in time. As we stood on the bridge we looked at the course, the town and our caddies. I remember the awe of being there and being there with a dear friend. If I recall correctly, Gordon beat me one up that day. That photo is now on a plaque in Gordon’s home office along with a Twenty Pound Bank Note that I paid Gordon for our golf bet.

As we walked off the course that day, waiting for us on the steps behind the 18th green were three old gentlemen that we met the night before over glasses of single malt scotch. They were members of the Royal & Ancient Club and after too many scotches, insults and jokes, they invited us to go into the R & A Clubhouse after our next day’s round of golf. As you may know, the R & A Clubhouse is a holy shrine of golf. What a thrill it was to walk into that hallowed building to see its locker rooms and dining rooms. Most special was seeing the Championship Trophy, the Claret Jug. Engraved with the names of Hogan, Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Greg Norman and all of the other Champions of the Open.

So as we played at Alpine last Thursday, I thought about Gordon and Doug and Guy and all we have been through together since 1989. Guy has passed away, Gordon, Doug and I have gotten old or at least older. Our children have grown and many of them have children of their own. Like all families, we have had family tragedies, we have had shared illnesses, weddings, family births and graduations. We have had shared the ups and downs of life. But through it all we have had golf. Golf together. Golf brought us together and golf has kept us together. We have participated in each others’ lives. We have cared for each other. All because of golf.

Somewhere on the back nine last Thursday, I looked at the green grass and the blue sky and felt the heat of the late afternoon- early evening summer sun on my face. As I watched Gordon and Doug get ready for their next shot I told them how nice it was to play together that day, just the three of us. After I said that overly sentimental statement, I was a little embarrassed for saying out loud what I was feeling. But there was no insult or joke back from them. There only comments were from Doug who responded to my sentimental observation with “yes it is nice, the founders of the Staker Group still at it” and Gordon who agreed.

When I play bad now, which is often, I don’t get quite as upset as I did a few years back. I am starting to accept what I can do and what I can’t do and my expectations are lower. I love the game, I love what it has brought to my life and I love who it has brought to my life.

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