The last of the four most prestigious professional tournaments ended Sunday, and I, for one, am glad "the Majors" are over. Don't get me wrong. I like seeing golfers hit it farther and putt better than I can even dream. But when I'm watching golf, I'm not playing. And playing golf and enjoying yourself is what it's all about.
Unlike the pros, who expect birdies (one under par) and scowl at anything higher, my golf partners high-five after making a par and smile for the next three holes. Birdies are rare, and the only eagle (two under par) we ever see is on the back of a dollar bill. We are not alone. An awful lot of golfers march to the beat of a bogey drummer (to the uninitiated, that's one over par). I have no wish to play championship-level golf. I'm not endowed with the money, time, athleticism, or psychological stamina to succeed, even if I were so inclined.
Playing too well is limiting. After a final round at Pebble Beach, a reporter asked Tiger Woods whether he ever stepped back to enjoy the spectacular views along the rocky, wave-swept northern California coast. Woods smiled and said he knows they are there, but when he plays, his entire attention is on the game.
That's a big difference between his game and mine. He cups his hands over the bill of his cap as he stares down a putt. I take in the scenery. He plays for profit and fame. I play golf for fun, and it stays fun as long as I remember I am engaging in a recreational pastime, not putting for bucks. To play recreational golf means playing a no-stress game during a relaxing, diverting round. It means being away from work, out with friends or family, enjoying physical activity in a beautiful outdoor setting. It can, but doesn't have to, involve competition.
Being an amateur golfer is no guarantee that you will love playing. I know a fellow who reads golf books and magazines, takes golf lessons, haunts the golf course, and subscribes to cable TV for the golf channel. But when he plays, he's a portrait in misery. He maintains a rigid, unsmiling posture as he marches from hole to hole. Golf is his pure punishment.
So if we're not out there for money or glory, what are some reasonable goals for recreational golfers? One is turning off the TV and getting out on a course regularly with people who love the game. Another is to insist that we enjoy ourselves. A "good" round should depend on all the positive things that happen during play, not on the number of strokes. The satisfaction of recreational golf comes from companionship, the beauty of long shadows at sunrise and sunset, the heft of the club that we hold, the moment of relaxed patience before starting our swing, fresh air, and the sounds of a wind-blown flag or a ball falling into a cup.
For centuries, people played and enjoyed the game without expensive equipment and countless rules. That game is still there, waiting for us to rediscover it and claim it as our own.
Michael Holstein is the co-author of 'Golf for the Fun of It: Enjoy Your Game No Matter What the Score' (Madrone Press, 2001).