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WGM ESSAY [by Joel Zuckerman]
Non-Playing Wives

I spend an unsupportable amount of time on the golf course and have borne witness to literally hundreds of circumstances that can best be described as contemptible. In the last dozen years, thousands of rounds, 10,000 hours and 100,000 holes, there have been innumerable highlights, but plenty of lowlights (and lowlifes) as well. I’ve seen club throwers, turf gougers, whiners, crybabies, sandbaggers, spike draggers, excuse makers, cheaters and braggarts of every stripe. I’ve shaken my head at the foot wedgers, mismarkers, change jinglers, shadow casters, cart gunners, scorecard fudgers, club losers, divot leavers, ball mark neglecters and bunker rake ignorers.

I’ve observed the freak who walks off in midround because of poor play, the meek who walk off the course at the first raindrop, and the geek who walks off the course at the first cell phone call from his wife. I’ve seen par-3 tee shots resting slightly over the edge of the cup that were a quarter inch from an ace, skulled bunker shots that hit the stick at a million miles an hour and dropped in and four-putts taken from less than six feet. I’ve played with fat guys who had suction cups at the end of their putters, millionaires who played with range rocks, family members who whiff five times consecutively and the perpetually flatulent who can’t take a swing or put down their marker without an ad lib. But for all the weird and wacky, the peculiar and pathetic behavior and situations I’ve been privy to, there is one thing that stands out from the rest: non-playing wives who accompany their husbands on the golf course.

It’s a particular brand of vapidity that keeps these spouses in tow, sitting endlessly in the golf cart while hubby thrashes it sideways. Perhaps I’m missing something here, but you can only use your own frame of reference for any sort of comparison. My own tennis-playing, yoga-teaching, child-rearing wife wouldn’t deign to spend four minutes on the couch watching Tiger, never mind four hours in a cart watching me stumble through the woods. That’s not to say she’s never ambled the linksland. As newlyweds, my fitness fanatic would shoulder the bag and caddy for me from time to time, including one particularly memorable episode in the eighth month of pregnancy when she went into false labor, but that’s another story.

I’ve met up with these non-playing spouses who are “just along for the ride” from time to time, but a spate of encounters in recent months, including a listless lady who was riding shotgun for the duration of a four-day golf trip, really got me thinking. It’s not as if I’ve ever had a bad experience in the company of a tagalong – none has offered unsolicited swing advice or squealed the brakes in my backswing. It’s just their omnipresence, like knowing there are Pauly Shore movies available to rent at the video store, that bothers me. I’m all for togetherness and close, caring relationships, but aren’t there 50 other more fruitful alternatives to lazing away the day in an E-Z Go? Perhaps a movie, a tour, some shopping, lunch, a library or museum?

Treat it like the kid’s soccer practice: Drop him off, then pick him up later. If one insists on being attendant from the opening drive to the final putt, wouldn’t a book, a Walkman, a Gameboy, a Rubik’s Cube or a pair of knitting needles help the time to pass?

Virtually every non-golfing wife I’ve seen (there are surely husbands out there as well, but I’ve personally never encountered one) reposes like a benign Buddha. Some might assist in the search for a lost ball, most will drive the cart around to the back of the green and all are willing to commiserate after the inevitable bad shot. Other than that, like the occasional 1-iron you see popping up in a golf bag, they seem to have no purpose.

I was matched up recently with a struggling threesome consisting of two couples minus a cart-warming wife. When I inquired about her non-participation, the husband told me, “She’s the smart one.” I chuckled along with him but immediately thought that his descriptive wouldn’t have been my first choice. Maybe sluggish or lethargic, perhaps insipid or bored-to-tears. The word “smart” never would have occurred to me.

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