This article appeared first in the June issue of Pacific Northwest Golfer.
Don’t overthink it, was my sage advice, offered to the only person certain to ignore it in my group, and I was playing as a single.
Don’t get caught up in the symbolism of every little ritual of this return to golf, I said to whoever was listening. Just hit the ball, move it up the golf course and, for once, be a little aware of your surroundings.
This was a blinding-bright early morning at Tumwater Valley Golf Course, May 8, three days after the return of golf to Washington, on a packed course, with a twosome moving right along ahead and another duo not too close behind.
Tumwater Valley is a venerable muni run by the city of Tumwater. It’s the course of my heart, for reasons known only to me, and I’m not even sure. It’s my home course, the course I’ve been known to call Tumwater National Golf and Polo. Or the Golf Course in the Valley of the Shadow of the Brewery.
How long had it really been? I looked it up: March 8, when I played with three buddies at Capitol City. So barely two months. I’ve gone that long between rounds many times.
Against all counsel, I overthought it. But it wasn’t in some new way, where I noticed everything different forced on golf by the reality of a public health crisis. There wasn’t that much to notice. My overthinking was of the usual kind – standing too long over tee balls, entertaining too many swing thoughts and too few positive affirmations.
My scorecard was spotty – no 8s but also no 3s – and that wasn’t that different, either. By the end (less than three and a half hours later; that WAS different), I felt okay about my first round in the new golf culture, a warmup for the real coming-out party the following day.
We call our season opener the Bent Shaft Classic, we of the Grey Goatee Golf Association, known around the world as the 3GA Tour. Golf opened May 5; the Bent Shaft, our 15th annual, was on the docket for May 9, five weeks later than originally scheduled.
The sporting gentlemen of the 3GA helped me acquire our coveted tee times on the Saturday before by going online individually and reserving enough slots at Capitol City to cover our expected 18 players. That meant at least nine reservations, about twice what we usually need to procure, because, as we learned, twosomes are restricted to two players each.
It was tense. There might have been an easier way, and we’ll know next time.
We didn’t shake hands, and we didn’t share flasks. We settled for elbow bumps. We laughed about the contortions and machinations in executing our various versions of the air bro hug.
I’m sure, on balance, we could have done a better job of distancing, but we were clearly happy in the company of friends we hadn’t seen in months — at least two for a few of us (at that “last round” in March), and as many as eight months since the last Association event in September. We probably stood too close together sometimes.
It could have been any kind of gathering, and the conversation could have been about all the things we’d learned are more important than golf in the few weeks we’d been without it.
But it was golf that brought this group together 15 years ago, and it was golf we talked about that Saturday as we lingered post-round in the east parking lot at Capitol City: why nobody but the KP winner on No. 16 (at 25 feet?) even hit the green; about the different ways the few golf courses we’d played since the reopening treated the cup to minimize contact with the pin; about where and when our next event on the revised golf calendar would be played, and how we’d get tee times for it.
COVID-19 was in the conversation, but it didn’t dominate. After it all, the thinking among us, not to overthink it, was that even with some tiny adjustments to be made, it had felt a lot like golf. It was good, and at this time in life and history, good is good enough.