Playing Through (Spring 2022)

GolfStyles Destinations

Course Spotlight

Love & Golf


Since marriage and golf constitute, for many of us, the top two passions of our lives, it is distressing how often the twain seem to clash. How can you be a conscientious husband, a be-there-for-you father, a recital-attending, homework-checking, car-pooling presence in your family’s life if your favorite pastime involves six or seven hours out with the boys on sunny weekend days? A loving spouse, a jealous mistress. You can make it work, but you can’t make it fly.

My wife and I actually met playing tennis, and to this day, a set of tennis is a much simpler marital activity than a round of golf. Obviously, the time, baby-sitting and financial commitments are lower in tennis, but one would think that the stark head-to-head confrontation on the court would be harder for a married couple to manage than the far more indirect competition on the course. The opposite appears to be true, just as many married couples find it easier to play singles against each other than to play doubles as a team.

What gives?

For once, it seems, those best-selling relationship counselors are on to something here. Deborah “You-Just-Don’t-Understand’’ Tannen argues that men and women have fundamentally different conversational styles. Women like to talk through problems. Men want to solve them. Women talk to cement relationships. Men talk – when they talk at all – to convey information.

Translate that to the golf course.

She skulls her fourth chip across the green, lets out a wail, turns to her life partner and asks what’s wrong, why can’t she play this shot, what is it about this game that brings out the worst in her, and how can she be expected to enjoy such a frustrating exercise. To which he replies: “Try your 9-iron next time.”

The point being, neither party in the transaction is hearing what he or she wants to hear. The Deborah Tannen woman wants to be told that she can do it, that her frustrations are valid, that perhaps there’s something her husband can share that will help them both through this difficult time. The Deborah Tannen man wants to know what she got on the hole.

There’s a famous story that Ben Hogan could play a round of golf and his entire conversation with his partners would consist of, “You’re away.” Most women react to that story with horror. Most guys I know would say, “Cool.”

P.G. Wodehouse, who wrote more about love and golf than any writer who ever lived, typically had heroines who were scratch golfers, being wooed by ardent but unworthy 12-handicappers. Rarely did a Wodehouse hero set his cap on a non-golfer, and it typically came to grief.

Concluded Wodehouse: “While there is nothing to be said against love, your golfer should be extremely careful how he indulges in it. It may improve his game, or it may not. But if he finds that there is any danger that it may not – if the object of his affections is not the kind of girl who will listen to him with cheerful sympathy through the long evenings while he tells her, illustrating stance and grip and swing with the kitchen poker, each detail of the day’s round – then, I say unhesitatingly, he had better leave it alone. Love has had a lot of press-agenting from the oldest times, but there are higher, nobler things than love. A woman is only a woman, but a hefty drive is a slosh.”

Well, my wife is definitely a slosh, so there are compromises to be made. With three kids under 10, we have become serial golfers – she goes out at dawn with a friend one morning, and I follow the next day at dawn with my buddies.

The demands – and the attractions – of a good marriage and a good golf game are the same – time and lots of it. Any fool can be there for Christmas morning or the birth of the kids, just as any duffer can turn in consistent 105s just by showing up at the first tee enough times. But it is the reading of “Babar’s Summer Vacation’’ for the 14th straight time, the tying of the shoe and the wiping of the nose that makes the good husband and father, just as it is the lonely hours chipping in the back yard or beating that 7-iron at the range that produces the good golfer.

The unsatisfying answer is that it is a balancing act. In our much-anticipated golden years, perhaps we’ll have time to do justice both to marriage and golf. (The grandkids could even caddie.) For now, though, it is the golf that has to suffer. And anyway, one happy marriage, three healthy kids, and a 105 isn’t that bad a cumulative score. 

By David R. Sands