A junkie’s a junkie

You wouldn’t peg me for the golfing type, and I’m not in any way except one: I love golf.

That game gets its psychic talons as deep into your imagination as any addiction. If you’ve played at least a hundred times, there’s a module in your brain that never — never — stops visualizing your swing and your shot shape. It runs in the background most of the time, but it’s always there. Golf commandeers this bandwidth with military precision and parasitic intent, driving out neurodiversity and stealing cycles from your other concerns. What it gives back in return is anyone’s guess.

Golf takes time and money, large chunks of each, another strong argument for considering it a classified substance with high potential for abuse. In recent years I stopped playing. I could have continued to prioritize it in my increasingly busy and penurious life, but the sacrifices would have been too great if I wanted to maintain the frequency of play of my 30s and 40s.

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Ultimately, I knew I would have had to settle for much less, and golf is not good at that kind of settling. Doesn’t take it well at all. It got to the point where I would rather play none at all than five or ten times in a season. I chose to keep golf in its cage and not break the seal. I did not want its constant disruptive clamoring in my soul.

I also didn’t much like the game’s cultural associations, its not-unearned reputation as a good-old-boys power-structure obsession. Augusta National, the most beautiful, bewitching golf course in the world to my eyes, did not integrate until 1990. Read that line again. It didn’t admit female members until 2003. Yes, that’s one private club, Southern, and rich, but it is also golf’s mecca — the values of the sport flow downstream from there.

Golf, in the abstract, is hitting a petrified sheep turd with a cow’s leg into a gopher hole, and then gradually getting all human and scientific about roughly the same timeline as the Industrial Revolution. In the abstract, it is beautiful and natural, or at the very worst neutral. It’s the body reveling in its agency, in the bliss of practical physics. But all that it has come to mean via semiotic accretion is unpalatable to me.

Still, a junkie is a junkie, and junkies are typically not concerned with issues like fair trade in the supply line. Golf being bedfellows with patriarchal and corporate greed and the despoliation of everything is not what stopped me from playing. It just sort of sweetened the pot when other factors had me leaning toward a cold-turkey break.

So I played golf today. An old friend and golf buddy asked me to join his mom and him at the lovely Apple Greens in New Paltz, my favorite course and one that consistently fits my shot shape. Covid crazed, I figured I just should. My biggest fear was not a bad time on the course, but loosing the beast from its cage.

I needn’t have worried. My first three strokes covered about 75 worm-burning yards. The party behind us, my friend, and his mom all had the look of people who were now regretting my decision to join them. Then my body remembered how to advance the ball in lurching, savage chunks, and everything was all right. Not pretty, but all right. I shot a ludicrous 58 on the front nine with a quadruple on the first and a quintuple on the ninth.

Then, every muscle hurting and wanting to get the hell off the course forever, I shot six pars and a birdie over the last twelve holes, including pars on the final four. I only carded a 44 on the back nine, but that was with two triples and a double.

Sometimes golf’s cruelty is the way she smiles on you when she sees you are losing interest. And now I am regretting my decision. I will not stop thinking about golf for months now.

Read more installments of Village Voices by John Burdick.