Magazine

Connections | Magazine

Our holy trinity: Family, church, and golf

We learned golf etiquette as early as we learned table manners, owned proper course attire, and mastered driving golf carts long before cars.

globe staff illustration; image from adobe stock

There’s a golf course near my house, and people often ask if I play. I say no, it’s private, and I don’t play. Yet when I catch the scent of a freshly mowed fairway, I hear my father’s voice: “You need to loosen your grip.”

The sport was part of our holy trinity of family, church, and golf — not always in that order. My parents were passionate and competitive golfers; it was what they did on Saturday and Sunday afternoons and occasional summer weekday evenings. The only photo of their honeymoon was taken on the first tee. They stand straight, both tall and slim and athletic, their hands folded over the handles of their drivers. My father looks adoringly at my mother. My mother looks primly ahead but is probably plotting how she’s going to take him to the cleaners.

They had permanent golf tans, with shirt and sock lines and white feet. The year we went to Disneyland, they fit in a round at Pebble Beach with three children trailing after. Our visuals were golf trophies and golf books and comic golf gear. Our soundtrack was the click of cleats on stone, the whack of a well-hit drive, the hushed tones of the PGA Tour announcers on TV.

Advertisement

This was not an era when parents catered to their children’s whims. My parents were loving and supportive, but if we wanted to spend time with them, particularly with our busy father, we were expected to do what they liked to do. We learned golf etiquette as early as we learned table manners, owned proper course attire, and mastered driving golf carts long before cars.

Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

I had miniature clubs by age 5 or 6 and lessons by 10. At 12, I won the lowest flight in the girls’ all-city championship, meaning I was the best of the worst under-18 female players. My parents bragged more about my perseverance in the face of driving rain than about my game.

Some aspects of golf appealed to me — shouldering my canvas bag with its half-dozen rattling clubs, reveling in the possibilities off the first tee. Golf was freedom. I could ride my bike to the course and play alone in the late afternoons, with no one the wiser that I had thrown my ball out of the sand trap or taken three mulligans.

But I was overwhelmed by a golf swing’s variables. My concentration wasn’t up to counting strokes. I grew bored of talking — and talking — about each round. And I wearied of the pressure to always be better.

No matter how he tried, my father could not resist giving us advice on every shot. Couldn’t we just go out and play for fun, I groused. I preferred playing with my mother, not just to avoid my father’s corrections but to see her in a setting where she transformed from conventional corporate wife to ferocious competitor.

Advertisement

Sometime in my teens, life shifted. Golf was too expensive, too time-consuming, too privileged. Over the next decades, I played only with family or perhaps in the company tournament, getting off the occasional lucky shot. I took lessons here and there but never really went back. At my brother’s fancy club, I smacked a ball into the guy on the next practice tee.

But I learned to like playing with my father. He was less prone to pontificate, and I was less prone to care. It was all so familiar: the grace of his drive, his stride down the fairway, his awkward putting stance. He stopped playing late in life but still rode in the cart, a warrior returned to the battlefield, happy in a place he knew so well.

I get it. Sometimes I imagine spending my later years on the bench at the 10th tee near my house, smelling the turf and flirting with the old men. And when someone asks if I play, I will quote my eightysomething friend: “I have not given up golf, but I have not played lately.”

Susan Moeller is a writer and editor who lives on Cape Cod. Send comments to connections@ globe.com. Get the best of the magazine’s award-winning stories and features right in your e-mail inbox every Sunday. Sign up here.