Golf is an interesting hobby. It is technically a physical activity, but to spare yourself from something as physically demanding as walking, you drive yourself from shot to shot. Speaking of shots, unless it is being played at a legitimate competitive level, it is often nothing more than an excuse to drink in the middle of the day. It is a hobby that should bring at least some level of enjoyment, but is guaranteed to make you miserable. For a game that can cost a lot of money to play, the whole point is to be done in as few shots as you can and inherently not get your money’s worth of the time on the course. And yet we play.
I am in a generation that was exposed to playing golf via Tiger Woods. Before Tiger, golf was something your old, male relatives always seemed to have on the TV for some reason. After Tiger, it was something a kid in high school wanted to try. I’ve played with the same relative infrequency for the last twenty years or so (wow that makes me feel old to say that), without really getting much better. And that’s fine, because I definitely fall into group who enjoys the afternoon beers more than I enjoy a well placed chip shot. Perhaps that is because I am much better at drinking beers than I am at chip shots, and I just want to play to my strengths. Regardless, the old cliche is true – a bad day golfing is better than a good day working. But is a bad day golfing better than an average day parenting?
A relaxing day on the golf course for me means a day with all three of our kids to herself for my wife. Factor in drive time to the course, 18 holes of bogey (or worse) play, maybe a stop for lunch thrown in there too, and we are talking about four or more hours of me time. Which, don’t get me wrong, is great. For me. But I honestly have to say that sometimes it makes me feel guilty. Not guilty enough to only play nine, but guilty none the less.
Maybe it would be different if I was actually good, and it was a legit passion of mine and not just an excuse to have a few beers with some friends. Sometimes I want to go golfing alone, so I don’t even have male bonding time to use as an excuse. I just want to be alone. I tell myself that golfing alone gives me the opportunity to work on my game and actually improve, but looking back on old score cards, there is no difference in my game when I am focused and alone, or several beers deep with my friends. So what is my real motivation? Just to be alone? To take advantage of the social acceptability of the opportunity for quiet solitude that golf provides? If I tell my wife that I want to go play a round a golf next Saturday morning, she’ll say yes. If I told my wife that I wanted to go sit in the woods by myself for four hours and drink a six-pack pack of beer, she’d have a few objections to raise.
Yet I play. To celebrate my last birthday, I took a day off from work and went golfing by myself. I had an early morning tee time so the course was still pretty empty, nobody within two holes of me in either direction. On a particularly picturesque hole, I sat in the golf cart with a coffee in my hand, a blueberry muffin riding shotgun, and some instrumental music streaming on my phone. I thought to myself, this is why I am golfing today. I don’t remember what I shot on that hole (probably double bogey), but I will remember that moment for a long time. The beautiful solitude disguised as athletics. Which reminds me of my other hobby that actually requires some degree of athleticism because driving to your destination is frowned upon – running. Most nice days I leave my wife and kids at home and run for an hour or so. No stroller, no phone, not even any music. Just the quiet.
Why seek out hobbies that seem to come with an inherent sense of guilt over their selfish aspects? Sure, I did these things before I had kids, but would being responsible for multiple human lives not be motivation enough to alter my leisure habits? Or is it because kids alter so much of everything else that I feel the need to cling to my solitary leisure habits? Is few hours to myself on a Saturday actually not too much to ask when I spend so much of my other hours making sure they don’t fall off of something, or eat something, or get their own poop on something, or on someone? Perhaps there is something embedded deep in a father’s subconscious that drives us to seek childless solitude? Something that dates back to primitive man’s hunter instincts. Maybe going out hunting for mastodon or woolly mammoth was never about keeping track of the animal’s migratory patterns, but about getting the hell out of that cave?
My ancient ancestors armed themselves with clubs and pointy sticks and set out to the wilderness, and today I arm myself with overpriced clubs and pointy tees and set out to a patch of perfectly manicured grass. Each of us leaving our families behind to prove our abilities. To test our resolve. To get at least two hours without somebody asking for something. Thousands of years of evolution, and how far have we really come? If anything, a woolly mammoth seems like it would be easier to hit solidly than a golf ball. I mean, its huge. Literally mammoth. Right there in the name. If my golf ball is sitting in grass that is just a little too long, I’m screwed.
I am sure that someday when my kids get older I’ll take them with me. Though I don’t see that being a replacement for golfing without them anymore than taking my kids out to a restaurant is equivalent to quiet dinner out with my wife. If I am so worried about preventing my kids from doing something stupid that I don’t get to do something stupid, whats the point? So I’ll golf nine with the kids on Saturday, then 18 by myself on Sunday. It will be wonderful, and I’ll feel terrible.