Nine holes at a time.

Kearney Hill, with it’s wide open spaces, is perfect for a walk as the day winds down.

Some golf beats than no golf at all. Once one accepts this fundamental premise, that nine holes might be enough, the struggle for balance between family, career, golf, and other responsibilities feels less like a battle and more like a puzzle.

Outside of formal club or league tournaments and golf trip getaways, a majority of my golf comes in four, nine, and thirteen hole chunks on the odd weekend afternoon while at least one child is napping, or the occasional weeknight outing at twilight during the long evenings, chasing the last few holes against the growing darkness.

The challenge of playing well enough and playing fast enough through the first few holes to justify speeding through the first nine holes in order to make the turn and try to get a complete 18-hole round played was a game I played with myself at the beginning of every round. That need to get “more” from less was ingrained at a primordial level. My desire to stretch each golf opportunity into a full eighteen hole outing was strong, for several reasons, some of which I don’t think I can fully express as anything other than habit and vanity. I always wanted more golf in my life.

Walking up the 9th fairway, looking at my watch, remembering who was waiting at home, calling it a day was an easy decision.

However, as my non-golf interests and responsibilities continue to evolve, that desire to grab a little more time and a tad more golf for myself has begun to recede. Especially outside of daylight savings time, golf beyond nine holes proves aspirational, a special treat. Nine are enough, and can be a damn good time.

This past Sunday, both of my boys were willing to lay down for a rest after a long, fun morning at their grandparents’ farm. In the absence of truly pressing chores or the Wife claiming a priority issue, it created a prime opportunity for a Sunday afternoon stroll with a 3:00 pm tee time. In years prior, I’d probably tried to race through, saving enough daylight to make the full 18-hole circuit. Instead, the decision on this day was nine holes vs. thirteen holes; Kearney Hill has wonderful four-hole loop to begin the back nine, which brings the player right back to the clubhouse.

Am I glad I headed out that afternoon! When I popped into the pro shop to check in, I was able to chat up the John, the assistant pro, who I had spoken to at any length in many months. It sounds like he’s got a whirlwind waiting for him with the City’s junior golf program.

I was a solo for my tee time, but got paired up with Paul from Chicago in the pro shop. He stopped by the course as a place to stretch his legs, breaking up his drive south from the Windy City to Florida for a little golf getaway seeking someplace green and warm.On the first tee, I learned that he’d just had his youngest of three daughters graduate St. Louis University He rode in the cart, because he didn’t want to tire himself out with a significant drive still ahead of him, but he mostly drove the cart within earshot for the entire round.

A lot of fun can happen in nine holes of golf, among friends old and new.

Over the 90 minutes that we shared each other’s attention, I learned we shared a similar passion for golf and golf exploration. I regaled him with tales of Elie and Carnoustie, and in turn, he explained why the Ballybunion area might have the best, densest collection of great golf in Ireland. Paul’s a good player, who plays fast with a sense of humor, and by now he’s probably golfing his way from Jacksonville to Orlando, and I’m jealous beyond belief. And if he’s got any insomnia issues, I told him about the Blind Shots Podcast to help with his symptoms.

My buddy, Donovan, caught and joined us on the 9th tee, as he was out knocking off the rust for an upcoming tournament. I felt a little bad that I decided to end my round after nine holes because I was having such a fun time, but a Click-List pick-up window approaching, and two boys who surely would be awake soon, informed my judgment that a joyful nine holes were enough. After fist-bumps and salutations with the guys, it’s on to the parking lot and life beyond golf, with my golf appetite satisfied for the day.

Perhaps it’s that, here in central Kentucky, we have a three-month inactive season for handicap index posting purposes, and, thus, winter golf rounds take on a relaxed feel, exploiting the “just happy to be out here” feeling of cold weather golf. Or maybe it’s one of the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that makes friendly conversations around the golf course, with friends new and old, such cherished notions.

If someone tries to convince you golf should be anything other than a fun way to spend a couple of hours now and then, don’t you believe a word they’re saying.

Whatever it may be, I’m loathe to imagine all of the fun I would have missed out on if I’d decided that not to go play golf on Sunday, just because I didn’t have time for a proper 18-hole round. I got to chat and catch up with two old buddies and make one new one, try to take my recent lesson to the course, hit two of the best long bunker shots of my life, and, of all things, I birdied the 6th hole!

Golf is a game. It’s a lot a things to a lot of people, but in the end, it’s still a game. It’s meant to be played and shared, and you ought to be damn sure to try to have some fun doing it! That’s why, sometimes, nine holes really are enough.

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