The first golf lesson goes into the rough


IT STARTED like this. I'd always wanted to try golf. Notice I said "try." I did not say marry it, get good at it, or even take it up as a serious hobby.

I love watching it on television because the golf courses are so pretty. And from watching golf on the tube I know what a birdie, a bogey and an eagle are, and that's a lot to know, right? Well, wrong.

I used to play tennis, but it got a bit strenuous, and golf looked kinder and gentler. Wrong again.

Here is my golden opportunity in my golden years -- summer golf lessons are free for senior citizens at several colleges.

First, I lured Jane, a buddy of mine, into the idea. She, too, had never hit a golf ball, but she insisted her background in croquet was going to help.

"Think how good this will be for our bodies, all that walking, being out in the open, and you don't have to run after the ball, you just hit it, find it again and hit it again, and again until you sink it," I told her. Right?

"Sounds silly to me," she said. "And it's too hot to start our lessons in the summer."

"All I'm saying is if we can hit a tennis ball, we can hit a golf ball," I nag on.

"I dunno, " she says, "a golf ball is a lot smaller, and I wear trifocals . . . ."

But we decide to do it. We drive to one of the nearest suburban colleges to sign up.

When we get to the college and finally find a parking place -- Ever tried to get a campus parking place when you are a visitor? -- we have to figure out which building to go to. We figure it would be the registration building. There we talk to a not-very-friendly woman who says, "Golf!" like we are going to take sky diving.

"You are two weeks too early and you have the wrong building," she explains.

Then I showed her the summer classes brochure I had in my hand. It says, "Physical Ed -- "2500 101 1 to 2:30 D TF PE Gym. One credit."

We ask her to interpret all those letters, but she can't because she's emporary help. She isn't sure where we should go to sign up for golf. But she tells us that Building G might have it. I guess that's G for golf.

We walk another quarter of a mile to Building G, where we corner an adult clerk who looks us over and says, "You do understand this is for credit? There will be a $45 charge for the greens fee, and there will be exams."

"But wait," I exclaim, "we don't want credit. We are in our sixties, we just want golf for fun, and we don't want to take any tests. I'm not even sure I can see the ball."

"You don't understand ma'am -- (oh, how I hate to be called ma'am) -- credit courses require exams."

"Look, I have not had a test since 1943, and I do not want a doctoral degree in golf," I shout.

And to the embarrassed Jane I whisper, "I think God doesn't want us to learn to play golf." I am now more determined than ever.

Some of the course codes in the brochure are explained to us: That "TF" means Tuesdays and Fridays, and "D" means "day time," natch.

We tell the woman that we can afford the $45 golf course fee.

"After all," Jane guesses, "we are probably going to tear up the greens a little bit, you know."

OK, we are now signed up for golf lessons, and as of today I have spent more than $100 in shorts, caps, sun screen, sweat bands, a golf glove, and I haven't even bought any golf balls or clubs. I'm wearing my old tennis shoes for good luck.

Now, back in the gym, we are listening to the instructor. The gym is air conditioned, and the instructor looks like Robert Redford.

I'm wondering if I will ever hit a golf ball. Then I remember my first pregnancy. I used to think I would never get through it, until I looked around at all the people walking by me and realized they all got here the same way.

Same with golf. I see all those hackers out there playing for fun in the heat or cold, and I know I can do it too.

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