Karl Lindholm: My first-world problem

“Dad, that’s the definition of a First World problem,” my daughter Annie said, declining to listen further to my lament.
I admit my dilemma is not a matter of global concern in our troubled world. But it is an immediate and personal conundrum requiring serious cogitation and mindfulness before I make a decision, and I feel the need to make a decision pretty soon.
I must decide whether or not to play golf this summer, or really any summer that I have left.
I love the game, appreciate so much about it, its country club aura notwithstanding. I even listen to golf on the radio in the car.
It’s a game that invites and rewards obsession. The skills demanded are so multifarious and hard to master. It’s difficult to dabble at golf, but that’s exactly what I do — and indeed have been doing for many years.
I have a consistent rap, which has become tiresome to me now. I tell people, playing partners, “I don’t play well, but I’m good-natured and play fast.”
“I don’t care really about my score,” I go on. “It’s a beautiful day, the course is lightly played, the setting magnificent; I’m out with people I like, and I’m getting great exercise.”
I grew up with golf, worked every summer from ages 13-21 on the golf course at the Poland Spring Hotel in Maine, first as a caddy (before the motorized golf cart made the boy caddy all but obsolete), then as the Caddy Master.
I played a lot in those last few summers. The game was much easier then when I had a more supple body, and all the time in the world. So I tell these now, “I played pretty well a long time ago, but the years have not been kind to my game.”
And that’s all true, but I’m tired of hearing my own voice repeating these clichés and rationalizations. The fact is, I’m tired of playing so poorly. That’s the issue: I want to play better.
But I don’t want to play more.
I’m not sure I want to devote my time, my remaining time, hitting a tiny white orb with a stick into a little hole off in the distance, sometimes a quarter of a mile or so away.
The problem, really, like so much at this stage, has to do with the passage of time. I’m on the back nine of life — hell, I might be putting on 18, but there is still much I want to work on, maybe accomplish, before I putt out.
There are writing projects (even beyond this fabulous Independent gig) that happily occupy me; I have grandchildren nearby; we live on 13 acres where the woods are constantly threatening to engulf the house and need to be relentlessly beaten back.
It’s not about money. Golf can be an expensive sport, but doesn’t have to break the bank. I have so many identities at Middlebury College (alumnus, retired faculty/staff, parent) that the Middlebury course, Ralph Myhre, practically pays me to play there.
Golf should not be the private domain of the wealthy; its country club exclusivity is an abuse to its essential nature and appeal. In Addison County, the hoi polloi are welcome. What I encounter are lots of regular folks whacking the ball around (and cursing).
By this point, gentle readers, I suspect you may be in Annie’s camp, thinking:
“Get over yourself. Play nine once or twice a week, enjoy being outside walking the course with your friends.”
I know. I get it. I’ve been getting over myself for a couple of decades now. The game has become harder, with age. Last year, on the tee, I whiffed once, a swing and a miss! Grin and bear it, right? Make a joke. Through gritted teeth.
A whiff!
The glory of golf is that it is outside, on God’s great green acre, often in a lovely setting, warm weather. Your chief adversary in golf is the terrain. The playing field is a vast expanse, the earth itself.
This beautiful manicured wilderness, however, often sabotages your best efforts: your ball lands in the tall grass (or the woods — lost ball, penalty strokes), or in a hazard (great term!) like sand, or water (more penalty stokes!).
Or you might be in the middle of the fairway (another great term, “fair way”) but the ball has come to lie in a place where it’s difficult to hit. You have a “bad lie.”
Most “bad lies” are on the scorecards of average players (or Presidents of the United States).
Well, as I write these words about my golf problem, it’s noon on Tuesday, the deadline for this column. The temperatures have warmed into the 60s. The golf course is not open yet, too wet. But the practice range is open.
Maybe I’ll just go hit a few balls.

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