That was the response of my friend as he and I watched my first tee shot of the year clip a tree branch and bounce into the fairway of the hole running parallel to the hole I was playing.
I pulled the brim of my hat a little lower and watched the ball bounce and bounce in the wrong direction as I pretended to not hear my friend. I tossed my driver back into the bag and shook my head in wonderment.
My friend, knowing I was ignoring him, reiterated his point.
“What the heck was that?”
Slyly, I replied, “Well, I’d say that’s golf.”
The two of us shared a laugh as we trekked after our balls. It had been almost nine months since we’d last teed it up together.
For many college students like me, the first round of golf doesn’t come as soon as the weather gets nice. Instead, it often comes a few weeks later when students return home to their nine-irons and home courses.
The weeks spent watching and waiting while other people lace their Foot-Joys and head to the course ignites even a stronger passion inside the hearts of many young golfers. And sometimes, it can drive them a little bit crazy.
“If only I had a five iron,” they’ll say to themselves. “I’d go over to that course and hit flop shots and stingers. I’d shoot par with a five iron and a shoe horn.”
Or, “God I’d give anything to get buried in a greenside bunker and make triple bogey right now.”
However, as my friend and I were learning on that warm May day, the first round of the year is always well worth the wait. For people who truly love the game, playing the first round of the season is like catching up with an old friend for a good couple of hours.
However, it isn’t just college students whose hearts beat a little faster when they dust off the clubs for the first time. The love of golf, and the newness of the opening round, transcend all ages. After spending most of my last six summers working at Elkdale Country Club, I’ve seen many examples of this.
It happens to young adults as they tee it up for their high school matches and get to experience the thrill of competition for the first time on the links.
It happens to middle aged men who barely can find time to play the game they love.
“Where you been all year Tom?” they’ll say to their friend.
“I’ve been busy. You know with the kids and the wife and the new house,” he’ll reply. “But it feels good to be out here now. It’s a great day for May.”
And the friend will reply, “Umm, Tom. It’s August.”
Maybe the group that experiences the joy of the first round the most is the elder population. For some of them, just making it through the winter months and getting to tee it up for another summer is an accomplishment. Others spend their winters in the south and are overjoyed to play with their old friends in the North.
“Oh gee,” they’ll say when they meet up with their old playing partners. “I broke 90 once down there. It’s always a good day when my scores lower than the temperature. But god it’s sure good to see you.”
“It’s good to see you, too,” is the common response followed by a warm embrace.
Whatever a person’s age, it seems that there is something special about the first round a golfer plays every year. In many cases, a golfer’s usual foursome is as strong a family is the one he has at home. People who would never even speak to each other off of the course often build lifelong relations amidst sand traps and spike marks.
I asked my friend if he had any ideas about what it was that made the opening 18 holes of the year so magical and magnetic. He shook his head and responded.
“I don’t know exactly. I think it’s a combination of all the emotions and feelings the game brings. When people spend four months or six months away from the game they miss out on a lot. They miss out on friends, memories, stress relief and joy. They don’t get to experience the agony of missing two-footer. They don’t get to be overcome with joy when they chip it in from 30 yards. They don’t get to feel so nervous that they want to vomit in their golf shoes as they stand over a match-clinching putt.
More than anything, I think when a golfer’s away from the game for a long time, they get lonely. A part of them is missing and when they return for that first round, they get to feel alive again. But, in all honesty, I don’t know what you’d call that.”
And, as I watched my punch out shot bounce in the fairway and into the rough on the other side I replied, “Well, I’d say that’s golf.”