My friends are usually shocked when I tell them I was on the golf team in high school. Maybe it’s because I’m a woman, or because I grew up on the government cheese side of the tracks, or because I wear wedge heels to walk my dog. Nevertheless, the reaction is always the same. “Really?!. . .No seriously. Really?" People simply can’t imagine me partaking in a sport associated with well-to-do businessmen.
I spent my childhood in my grandparent’s house. Every Saturday, if I woke up early enough, I’d see Grandpa at the bottom of the stairs arranging drivers in his big leather bag. It was always before dawn, quiet and still dark. I’d watch him carefully pack cleated shoes into a side pocket, and count out wooden tees in his hand before dumping them into a little sac.
My brother and I would spend the morning accompanying my grandmother to her weekly hair appointment, then get doughnuts, then watch about three hours of cartoons. When Bugs Bunny came on we knew it was about time for Grandpa to get home. He’d put his clubs away, settle into his easy chair and make us change the channel to—golf.
I could not understand it. What was so appealing about this sport? The commentators whispered. The crowd stood perfectly still watching another person basically stand perfectly still. A man would swing a big stick and then they’d all walk across a giant lawn, no landscaping, no pretty flowers to look at. It all seemed so boring. I did not get why grandpa devoted an entire Saturday to what seemed like walking across grass.
When I was thirteen he bought me a set of clubs. They came in a navy blue nylon bag. I ran my fingers over the fuzzy covers on the drivers. I didn’t want to hurt grandpa’s feelings, so I acted excited. But inside I thought, Golf? Blech. There’s absolutely no way I’ll be interested in golf.
He took me to a public course. Three par he called it. He showed me how to position my hands on the grip. It felt odd to interlock my fingers in such a way. He showed me how to stand, where to hold my head, and how to keep my arms straight as I pulled the club back.
On my first swing I lost my grip and the club went flying behind me. On my second, I ripped up a giant clump of earth and grass roots. On the third swing I heard nothing but a loud swoosh and looked down to see my pink and purple ball still waiting patiently on the tee.
“That’s okay,” Grandpa said, “Just keep your eye on the ball and try again.”
On the fourth swing there was a loud SMACK. I felt a satisfying reverberation in the club as the ball made a perfect arc through the air.
“There you go!” Grandpa clapped, “That’s how you do it Stephanie Marie.”
The ball hadn’t even gone that far, but the feeling was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. It was like the vibrations from the club had entered my body and created a fizzy little happiness that bubbled all over. I wanted to do it again. For the rest of the afternoon I chased that feeling; that swoosh, smack, release that felt so good. Most of my shots that day (and many days after) were duds, divits and clear misses. But occasionally the ball sailed perfectly straight, up and away, and gracefully skipped down the green. Those shots made it all worth it. That swoosh, smack release was as potent as any drink or drug. There was a calm in it, a swell of happy accomplishment.
I started to think, I could spend an entire Saturday doing this and maybe now understand why my grandfather did. For thirty five years he worked all week in a factory mixing paint. Sometimes I’d visit him and my grandmother there. The building was large and every surface was a variant of the color grey. It was loud and filled with chemical odor. I'm sure he was happy enough there. But on the weekends, I imagine he just wanted to shake off the sounds of whirring machines and noxious fumes and breathe in fresh air. He wanted to walk in the sunshine on freshly clipped grass and sink into the rhythm that can only be found on the green. Swoosh. Smack. Release.