The call of the mild

 

“Golf, like the measles, should be caught young, for, if postponed to riper years, the results may be serious.” 

P.G. Wodehouse

 

“Golf is so popular simply because it is the best game in the world at which to be bad.” 

A.A. Milne

I’ve about had it with winter. It’s the middle of April and still there are dirty brown snowdrifts smothering the garden and choking the life out of the tulips. The thermometer claims it’s 36 degrees. That’s being generous. Winter keeps coming back like my childhood dentist when he poked his head into the waiting room, looking for victims.

I’ve done all I can to ease the pain. I putt in the living room, I chip onto the sofa. I’ve even bought a coffee table book: 100 Courses You Can Play—knowing I can’t play a one of them.

On the windward side of the Hawaiian Island of Oahu is the Koolau Golf Course. It mocks me from the colorful pages of the book. Considered by many to be the toughest course on earth, Koolau is set within an ancient volcano. Locals have dubbed it King Kong in a grass skirt. Monster Mash. Beauty and the Beast. Bring twice as many balls as you have strokes in your handicap, they advise. The course record is 69. Lost balls, that is.

I don’t care. I’d golf the Sahara right now. Sand traps aren’t that bad. Bring it on. Christopher Columbus went around the world in 1492. That’s not a bad score when you think about it.

I phone my friends Vance and Ron. “I can’t take it any more,” I whine. “I’m pulling my clubs out of cold storage. Let’s go.”

The clubhouse is dark and vacant when we arrive. Jim, the course manager is busily repairing the bridge that crosses the creek to the first tee. I chat with him about the level of the creek, about his family, about Christmas. But he knows why I’m here. I’m like a bird dog pointing at the first tee. Surely lifers like myself can get on a wee bit early, I plead. He laughs and points at the fairway on two. There’s a lake on it large enough to attract a floatplane, he says. You go out there we’ll have to form a search party.

I glance over at Vance and Ron who are waiting patiently in the van, their noses pressed against the frosty glass. I can’t quite tell, but I think they’re drooling.

“How about a bucket of range balls?” I beg, hoping Jim will throw me some scraps.

“Sure,” he smirks. “Just don’t slip on the skating rink there on the left.”

We cross the bridge expectantly, each of us lugging a well-rounded bucket. Long months of winter fade into memory as we trudge through the muck laughing like little children on Christmas morning. Tired golf jokes are funny once more.  The clouds overhead scatter allowing the sun to poke through. Silver linings are everywhere.

“See that sand trap by the 150 yard marker?” I point.

“That’s no sand trap, that’s a snowdrift.”

“Come on. Use your imaginations. Let’s try to hit it,” says Vance.

“Okay, you shoot a ball, then it’s my turn,” says Ron.

“We’ll shoot until someone lands in the trap. Loser hits the rest of his bucket with his shirt off.”

I’m not worried. I can beat these guys with my eyes closed. The first day of the year my golf game is together. My swing hasn’t had time to know any better. There’s a little rust on it, a little frost, but since I have no expectations of doing well, I am usually tremendous. I tee one up and chip it toward the snow trap, tingling with anticipation at the long summer stretching before me.

Watching the ball take flight I remember why I love this game.

There’s the wonder of majestic scenery, of course. But it goes far deeper.

I love the stillness out here and the talks with my sons as we look for my ball.

I love the smell of fresh mown grass and the reminder that life is a walk not a sprint.

I love the way golf brings my sins bubbling to the surface like no other sport, reminding me of bad habits I need to work on.

I love the amusing grace of a mulligan.

I love the way this game has begun to teach me humility.

I love the camaraderie of a Texas Scramble, of best ball. Perhaps it’s the closest some of us get to a church where we care about the other guy’s swing, where we cheer each other on.

I love the discipline of working at something I know I can improve upon.

I love the hope I feel before each swing.

I even love the embarrassment of forgetting I have golf shoes on and standing at the checkout line in our small town’s one and only grocery store with little kids pointing at the “funny old man” who writes those books.

And now that I think about it, I don’t even mind winter so much. Maybe next year I’ll make a concerted effort to complain less. To change my attitude. It’s one of the best clubs you can have in your bag, I’m told.

They say God’s faithfulness is like the seasons. That “as long as the earth remains, there will be springtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night” (Genesis 8:22). It’s the hope every April golfer clings to where I come from. Springtime is a reminder that God’s mercies are new every morning, that his faithfulness is unending, that he hasn’t failed us yet.

These thoughts have me smiling right now. I don’t even mind losing to these guys. I’ll finish this bucket and then put on my shirt.

 

O

 

“For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation.” (Psalm 100:5)

 

Question of the Day: How have I seen God’s faithfulness in the past year?

 

Tip of the Day: Always warm up. If time is short forget the range. Instead, chip and putt. Swing 2 clubs together twenty times. Starting two feet from the cup, drop four balls a foot apart. Move out a foot only when you sink one. This way you can save $3 a day on driving range balls. In the average lifetime that’s over $87,000.

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