One disadvantage – no doubt, among several – of being a gentleman of leisure – which is a more dignified way of saying, “unemployed” or “prematurely retired” – is that when you are spotted walking your dogs every morning at the sporting Club you’ve been a longstanding member of, idle minds construe, as idle minds are prone to, that if there is someone still sprightly enough, despite physical evidence to the contrary, to keep two Beagles with minds of their own and wild adventure in their hearts in check, then here is someone supremely qualified to take up golf – the one sport guaranteed to keep gentlemen of leisure out of the hair of their family for the hours they’d rather be on their own, which, for the unemployed, unemployable and prematurely retired is pretty much all the time.
As any casual reader might have culled from the preceding paragraph, I’ve not been an advocate, enthusiastic or otherwise, of a game that requires one to repeatedly hit a ball and then go ambling after it over dale, down, sand-trap and the occasional pond, till a final premeditated and painstakingly executed nudge takes it into a hole (a process repeated not once but 18 times) that even Alice would not have ventured into despite the promise of Wonderland. Unsurprisingly, this point of view, like any other, has had its many detractors prominent among whom have been not professional practitioners of the game, as one would have imagined, they having more invested in it and, therefore, more to be fanatical about, but advanced-age amateurs who’ve thought to justify their playing the game, if indeed any justification were needed, on the grounds that Golf (with a capital G) built Character (with a capital C) and the golf course was where real business was done and, therefore, as much a part of one’s corporate job responsibility as going to office, which, in retrospect, is probably true and would go a long way to explain my current state of premature retirement.
But that was before the keen eye of a predatory pro saw me walking my Beagle bitches religiously and his idle mind, being the devil’s workshop that it was, manufactured a vision of me in Adidas polo-T, Blackberry (the live apparel brand, not the dead smartphone) khakis, Nike Tech Swoosh hat and Reebok spike-less golfing shoes, swinging a Callaway Big Bertha merrily and sending little white balls to places where the sky met the horizon, an image that must have been more seductive to me than it was to the person who conjured it because breaking down the hard-shell, crustacean resistance of decades, it recently took me to my Club’s state-of-the-art driving range.
The stray wisp or two of black feather that you might now see around my lips, if you were to make the mistake of looking too closely, is me eating humble crow – not one, but a murder of them! I also take back every pompous, supercilious and derogatory remark that I might have made about golf, including quotations that my superior and, possibly, malevolent attitude towards the game and its practitioners made me particularly partial to, for example, “Golf is popular simply because it is the best game in the world at which to be bad.”
This retraction that completely reverses my, possibly, unjustified and irrational beliefs about the game comes after one – note, just one – 50-minute session at the driving range under the surprisingly patient tutelage of a pro who, as he saw a ball stutter drunkenly off the tee and die ingloriously at his feet or disappear into areas uncharted, unintended and quite unimaginable or remain resolutely standing, unperturbed and untouched even after several vigorous swipes of a wildly wielded No. 6, must have begun to question the sanity of having persuaded me to take up the game even when his every professional instinct was telling him not to.
Now that I come to think of it, he probably wanted me to keep my head down and my eyes on the ball only so that I wouldn’t see him rolling with uncontrolled laughter at my uncoordinated bodily contortions or, alternately, weeping with frustration at my inability to understand and execute one fundamental golfing premise – that the ball is there to be hit, not air-kissed, air-brushed or just plain ignored. After this first session, I’m beginning to think that P.G. Wodehouse was probably right when he wrote: “Golf, like the measles, should be caught young for, if postponed to riper years, the results can be quite serious.”
But, then, if one allows one’s pessimism to slip a little one realizes that there might still be some advantage in starting late, if it is only not to feel like the gentleman who said: “Golf is a fascinating game; it has taken me forty years to discover that I can’t play it.”