Par for the course? Hardly

By Randy Riley - Contributing Columnist

Golfing in one of the stupidest games I’ve ever played.

I am not an athlete. I’ve never been an athlete. Anyone who has ever played golf with me will agree with that.

Yet, for some reason, I enjoy playing the stupid game.

I enjoy being outside. I enjoy being with friends. Golf is a fairly good way of achieving both of those pleasures. I’m just not any good at golf… not at all.

The only time I consistently enjoy the game of golf is on Sunday afternoon when one of the PGA Tour tournaments are being played. I’ll nestle into my end of the couch. I’ll sit there and watch. Then, I’ll recline back and watch.

Eventually, I’m totally reclined; my feet are up and my eyes are shut. I’m not watching anything.

It’s at that point, that I fully and totally appreciate the game of golf. It makes a great backdrop for the perfect nap.

When I worked as a manager at the hospital, each year in early November, several of us would head to Waynesville, North Carolina for three days of golf, fellowship and lots of laughs. The guys I played with were all pretty good golfers.

I always appreciated that they tolerated my lousy game. The only part of the game that I excelled at was the number of lost balls, balls out of bounds and, of course, highest score. The other part of my game that I excelled at was laughing – usually, laughing at myself.

I started playing golf about 40 years ago. After a few years, I thought I should be getting better.

That didn’t happen. Instead of my score dropping, it stayed high. Anytime I shot less than 100, I considered it a great day. The harder I tried, the more mediocre I became.

I subscribed to “Golf Digest.” I tried to apply the lessons they described, but nothing improved my game. I became more and more frustrated.

After one particularly frustrating round of golf in the mid-1980s, I admit to getting angry.

That’s when I experienced a minor epiphany. If I was going to play a game that made me mad, I had two options: first – practice, practice, practice, take lessons, work hard and practice some more. That didn’t sound like much fun.

My second option was to change my attitude — focus on the pleasure of being outside with friends, the sun on my face, the wind in my hair, a cold refreshing adult beverage and, occasionally, a good cigar. That change of attitude changed my game completely.

I’m still a mediocre player, but I now enjoy every game.

Golf was invented over 350 years ago in Scotland. The oldest known book of rules was written in 1744. They finally agreed on how to hit the ball and that a match consisted of playing 18 holes.

I think it is absolutely no coincidence that there are 18 holes in a game of golf and 18 shots in a bottle of Scotch whisky.

Later this month, about 20 people will gather in Myrtle Beach for a week of golf. Most of the golfers will be retired or active ministers or church leaders. We have seminar sessions each morning, followed by golf around noon, which is then followed by a nice dinner.

Dinner is usually followed by fellowship. Fellowship usually involves poker with a few sips of scotch or Irish whiskey. I consider it a part of the game.

Many years ago, the hospital sponsored an annual golf tournament for employees and families. One year, I decided to splurge and make it a true family event, so I sponsored our foursome, which included my Dad, my two sons, Josh and Danny, and me.

As we approached the third hole, a long par 3, Josh bragged a bit, telling his Grandpa about how he aced that hole the year before.

As we started to tee-up, Dad told Josh, “This is your hole. Show us how it’s done, boy.” Josh responded by blasting a mighty shot right into the … sand trap.

Without hesitation, Dad said, “Here, let me show you how it’s done.” He teed it up. Addressed the ball and took a strong swing.

The ball soared toward the left edge of the green and started drifting right. It hit just in front of the green and rolled right toward the flag and PLOP… It dropped right into the cup. Not only did Dad make a hole-in-one, he called his shot. Amazing.

As I get ready for our Myrtle Beach trip, I ask myself, “Why, oh, why, oh why, do I continue to play this stupid game.” It is certainly not because I play well. I play golf despite not playing well.

I guess I play because it’s fun and things happen on the course that make me laugh.

And, it’s always fun to watch good players play.

Who knows? Someday, I might even get a hole-in-one.

I doubt it, but I least saw my Dad get one.

Randy Riley is former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.

By Randy Riley

Contributing Columnist