What I mean by “mostly quit” is that I play only every six years or so. I should probably play more often. My investment in the game goes back decades. I grew up with the Summerhays boys—Bruce, Gary and Lynn—the same guys who eventually made a name for themselves in Utah golf circles. We lived hard by the Salt Lake Country Club with only a chain-link fence between us and the lush fairways, a flimsy boundary separating the haves and the have-nots. Breaching the fence was easy. On the far side were a rope swing over Parleys Creek and acres of scrub oak, poison ivy and June grass to search for lost balls. When one of the Summerhayses brought along a golf club, we whacked balls in the twilight after the course had emptied.
We all moved up to Highland High School, where a Summerhays played on every team. Golf was their spring sport. They had athletic prowess; I had next to none. I also had no golf clubs until a few years later, when someone gave me some of yard-sale quality. A weathered canvas bag held three woods, a putter and four irons—3, 5, 7 and 9.
I played my first round of golf at Bonneville. I remember hitting one pretty good shot on a par-3, but I usually spent most of the time in the rough looking for my ball. None of the balls I bought at the outset ever saw the 18th hole. Nevertheless, I persisted, chiefly because most of my friends played. I gradually developed some skill with my odd-numbered irons. My technique was strictly unconventional. Lacking a 4 and 6 iron, I adjusted my swing with a 5 to hit either a “heavy 5” or a “feathered 5,” depending on the distance to the green. The “feathered 5” had a shallow trajectory so I had to make allowance for roll. My rule of thumb was to hit the ball two-thirds of the way in the air and leave the last third to be covered by bounce and roll. The upshot was that my iron shots were erratic. I was better hitting off the tee with a driver. I prided myself on the ability to hit a long ball, but more often than not my drives drifted left or right.
I was a college student at the time. Money was dear. Spiked shoes were an unaffordable extravagance, so my friends and I often played barefoot to get traction. That we lost balls frequently was a nagging problem: The more we played, the more replacements we had to buy. We decided to act on speculation that the lake on the 18th hole of the country club would yield a trove of balls. At midnight on a moonless summer night, then, we made our way stealthily over a fence, across the fairways and into the lake. The lake bed sloped steeply away from the shoreline. We took deep breaths and dove into the dark water, running our hands back and forth across the weedless bottom, feeling our way into the depths. Sure enough, there were balls galore! It wasn’t uncommon to surface with two or three in each hand. When we had a 100, we took them home to divvy up. Most were brand-new, and once we found the governor’s ball with his name inscribed on it.
The lake became a private, inexhaustible source of golf balls. What were not inexhaustible were the carefree days at Bonneville and Forest Dale. An involuntary stint in the Army brought them to an end. I could see it coming, so in the months before basic training I sometimes played 36 holes a day in the name of carpe diem. Returning to civilian life a few years later, I found golf had lost its appeal. My friends had scattered, and I had two young kids. I had neither the time nor the patience for a round of golf. I mostly quit.
As I examine the list of my life’s set-asides, I look for a pattern, linkage or emergent truth. I find none. Then I try to identify which displaced what, as though my life were a zero-sum arrangement. The resultant list is unnervingly short. It suggests a net loss. Yet I don’t have extra time on my hands. I don’t have any hours available for tweaking Facebook or watching Dancing With the Stars. Could it be my life is constricting without me realizing it? After all, the universe is expanding undetected. Perhaps Willy Wonka was on the right track when he observed there is “so much time and so little to do.”
The truth of the matter is I have room in my life for golf. I have the means to buy golf shoes, balls by the dozen and a complete set of irons. I could probably call upon Bruce Summerhays for tips on finding the “consistent tempo” so long excluded from my irregular swing. On the other hand, I could allow the memories of golf to suffice. Memory overlooks lost friendships, rainy days, triple bogeys and balls hit into a lake. I am drawn to the middle ground and the contentment of a golfer who has mostly quit.