One disadvantage, among several, of being a gentleman of leisure – which is a kinder way of saying, “unemployed” or “prematurely retired” – is that when you are spotted walking your dogs every morning at the sporting Club that 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 all physical evidence to the contrary, to keep in check two Beagles with minds of their own and wild adventure in their hearts, then there goes someone supremely qualified to take up golf – the one sport guaranteed to keep gentlemen of leisure out of the hair of their family members (most notably, their wives) for at least a few hours a day and, with a little bit of encouragement and false flattery, several in the week.
As any casual reader might have culled from the preceding sentence, I’ve not been an advocate, enthusiastic or otherwise, of a game that requires one to repeatedly strike a tiny ball and then go ambling after it over dale, downs, sand-traps and the occasional pond, till a final series of premeditated and painstakingly executed nudges takes it into a hole that even Alice would have been reluctant to venture into despite the promise of Wonderland – a masochistic operation conducted not once but 18 times, invariably accompanied by warning shouts, agonised groans and screamed epithets and, on occasion, twisted necks, painful backs and feelings of severe self-doubt.
But all that was before the keen eye of a predatory Pro spied me walking my Beagle girls one ordinary morning and conjured up an alluring vision of yours truly in Adidas polo-T, Blackberry khakis, Nike Tech Swoosh cap and Reebok two-toned golfing shoes, swinging a Callaway Big Bertha with swashbuckling abandon and effortlessly sending little white balls to distant places where, on a clear day when you can see forever, the sky meets the horizon – a slideshow seductive enough to crumble the hard-shell, crustacean resistance of decades and lure me to the Club’s state-of-the-art driving range, stick in hand and gleam in eye.
One session of 55 minutes was enough for me to eat humble crow – not one but a murder of them – and retract every pompous and derogatory remark that I might have made about the game, including adages that my unjustifiably supercilious attitude made me particularly partial to, like: “Golf is popular simply because it is the best game in the world at which to be bad.”
Or, as P.G. Wodehouse once wrote: “Golf, like the measles, should be caught young for, if postponed to riper years, the results can be quite serious.”
This absolute retraction comes after 55 minutes of agony, as much for me – bending, picking ball, placing, straightening, crouching, swinging – as for a surprisingly patient Pro, who, as he saw a ball stutter drunkenly off the tee to die ingloriously at his feet; or disappear into areas unintended and uncharted; or resolutely stand its ground, unperturbed and untouched, even after several vigorous swings of a wildly wielded No.6, must have begun to question the sanity of having persuaded me to take up the game when, ten minutes into the session, his every professional instinct was telling him he shouldn’t have. And while I was engaged in unimaginable, uncoordinated bodily contortions, he must have silently wept 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.
“Golf is a fascinating game; it has taken me forty years to discover that I can’t play it.”