Spirit of the game: Finding something I wasn’t looking for.

From the first tee at Kearney Hill Golf Links, without another soul in sight.

On Saturday afternoon, I decided to play golf in the rain.

Understand that I wasn’t playing golf and then it started raining. Rather, it had been raining for several hours and I decided to go play golf anyway on a cool December day.

There were two staff members in the pro shop. They didn’t laugh at me outright when I walked in and told them I wanted to walk as many holes as I could, but I’m sure that giggled at me after I left.  There was literally no one else at the course.

The young woman and older gentleman in the pro shop were actually kind of sweet about it, encouraging me to play wherever and however I wanted to, including playing cross-country golf and making up my own holes if I wanted to, because there wasn’t anyone on the course for me to bother or disturb.

I briefly considered taking the opportunity play some cross-country golf, but given that I was out at the course seeking a bit of quiet and stillness of the mind, just playing the course straight up in the rain, avoiding casual water and muddy turf would be plenty enough mental challenge.

Believe it or not, the Sun did come out for about 4 minutes during my round, but I neglected to take a photo of it.

Since there would be no effect on my GHIN handicap and I had no one to lose any wagers to, I headed straight for the first tee rather than hit any range balls.  It took a few holes to truly find the true groove of my swing, but I was moving the ball alright regardless.

Mustering sufficient strength on putts across slow, soggy, December greens proved a wholly different challenge. A series of poor approach shots left me no closer than 40 feet on any of the first four greens, which lead to four consecutive awful four putts.

No worries, though. My swings and my scores didn’t matter.  No one was watching and no one cared.  The conditions, wildly variable breezes and gusts, and precipitation that ranged from sunshine to you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me downpours, mandated that I not try to play golf swing, but rather had to play golf shots.

I cared about my score, of course, trying to simply play the best that I could.  But it had no real effect on my disposition.

Part of the fun on a rain soaked day is making sure to strategically avoid the puddles in the fairway and approach.

Playing in the absence of other humans, with only the weather and my golf ball to worry about, I realized a few things that have stuck to the forefront of my brain in the days since that round.

First, playing golf shots instead of golf swings is the most entertaining form of the game. The soggy conditions meant hitting longer clubs than would normally be required. And the lack of roll out meant I could be more aggressive with my target lines, since it was unlikely that the ball would roll or bounce much past its landing spot.

For the most part, the greens at Kearney Hill drain pretty well, so there were opportunities to be use both the ground game on the slower greens, as well as more flighted pitches and flops than I would normally attempt.

Second, I discovered that my foul-mouthed inner cur is still very much alive. I have largely cured myself of cursing in polite company or in professional settings, due in no small part to such a high percentage of my conversations including a three-year old and one-year old.

I still think in expletives and curse words. That my internal filter catches as many of these as it does is a small miracle.  However, with no one around to know the difference, my first instinct after a poorly struck shot was always to seek the sweet endorphin release associated with a loud collection of unspeakable words and phrases.

At moments like these, I’m reminded that golf is a game to be enjoyed, more than an endless cost/benefit analysis or pursuit of perfection.

The words, uncouth though they may be, just poured out of me with each successive pushed drive or fanned approach, and each time, invariably, I immediately felt better, cleansed.

Third, distance, or the lack thereof, is not what holds my golf game back. I was playing the blue tees, which on the scorecard measure 6,633 yards, though at this time of year, they are probably set generously, at closer to 6,400-6,500 yards.  Under soggy conditions, where drives were typically spinning back in the fairway and going nowhere in the rough, it played significantly longer.

Nonetheless, I was still generally hitting the correct type of club (long, mid, or short) into the greens.  The only thing inhibiting my scoring on a day when the balls were stopping on the greens was my putting.  The entire afternoon proved instructive for my winter practice going forward.

Finally, the inescapable conclusion was that I really enjoy, and perhaps love, golf.  It is not that I don’t enjoy spending time with my family.  I do.  I was actually playing golf in the rain this particular afternoon precisely because it was the boys’ nap times.  We had enjoyed a big morning together: breakfast at home, basketball practice at the YMCA, attending a combined birthday party for two four-year olds at Malibu Jacks (think Chuck E. Cheese meets Dave & Busters).

After a long week of nothing but darkening gray skies, I needed to get out of the house, needed to see something green, even if I had to lean into some adverse weather.  Kearney Hill was the perfect place to accomplish my goals.

I outlasted the staff, who decided, wisely, that there time and efforts were better spent elsewhere as what little daylight remained waned.

Having capable rain gear made this experience possible and enjoyable.  My Christmas list includes some high-end rain and cold gear, as kind of a pie-in-the-sky gift ideas.  However, a decent pair of Columbia rain pants and a several years old Sun Mountain rain jacket held up well enough for me to never be uncomfortable.

I minded my footing because I didn’t want to fall or hurt myself, but otherwise, the rain was just something I had to strategically account for rather than a misery maker or mood dampener.

And my God, the serenity of being out there, on the playing field, all alone.  It recharged the batteries of my soul, as the all the pressures and commitments of the holiday season bear down upon our family.  On the golf course, I could be single-minded, consumed only with the last shot and the next shot.

Just me, the ball, the clubs, and the course.  No pace of play pressure.  No anxiety of impressing or disappointing anyone.  Just a singular task and a strenuous walk.

The only reasonable stress of the round of golf was how long to play.  Nine holes only took a little over an hour, and the weather certainly hadn’t gotten any worse than when I started. Kearney Hill’s back nine is particularly useful for playing an odd number of holes given the way that it routes back to the clubhouse between the 13th green and 14th tee.

Par, par, par, double bogey to start the back nine? Couldn’t end on an ugly double like that. So I persisted through the par five 14th hole and cut over to the par five 18th to close, content that I had survived and indeed thrived in conditions that no one else had bothered to play in.

It was an afternoon at the golf course on which I could take the time.  Time to hit an extra shot. Time to take a deep breath. Time to look around at something green and know I was the only one to see it in that moment.

It was an afternoon on which I found the true spirit of the game in those couple of hours of solace.  I’d found something that I didn’t know I was looking for, but now that I’ve found it, I don’t ever want to let it go.

9 thoughts on “Spirit of the game: Finding something I wasn’t looking for.

  1. David,

    Your article was worth waiting for! I felt as if I was with you because I have played golf in the same conditions on an empty course as well. The calm, serenity of playing accentuates our love for the game for sure. Thanks for sharing your special moment with us!

    Cheers Jim

  2. Great post! I fished alone in the rain and sleet 36 degrees this evening and had the same sort of experience. And I have golfed much the same way. Well said sir.

  3. Dave, really enjoyed the post. Sometimes, these rainy winter days where we have the course to ourselves is therapeutic. Scores do not matter as much, an extra shot to the green here and there, and just enjoying the solitude is energizing. Hope I have a round like that soon!

  4. David,

    Great story! Some of my fondest memories in golf are those in “poor” conditions, whether by myself like in your case, or with others when we’re the only ones on the course. Glad you got out and made this discovery!


  5. Pingback: Managing Unrealistic Golf Expectations | One Bearded Golfer

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