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Sunday, January 4, 2015

Endings, Beginnings, & A Meditation on the Game of Golf

Alma Barnes, Me & Bonnie Bell (left to right)
Despite the problematic weather I got in my traditional New Year's Eve and New Year's Day rounds again this year.  I typically play these two rounds solo and use my time alone on the golf course for some quiet meditation and reflection -- about the year that's passing, about the year that's promising, about how I'm doing managing my life -- but when I offered last week to make a New Year's Eve tee time for the Star Fort Ladies Golf Association a number of women perked up and said they'd enjoy a round too.

We were all monitoring the long-range forecast and the sun was predicted to make a brief appearance between two winter storms marching across the continent.  Still, after several days of cold rain I wasn't too surprised when I arrived at the golf course to find that our number had dwindled to three: Alma, Bonnie, and me.

I always enjoy a round with Alma and Bonnie -- Bonnie's the current club champion and Alma's held the title several times.  They're both superb golfers and just generally good company, on and off the golf course.  I always learn something when I play with either of them, not an insignificant matter with a sport that can't be mastered and that always surprises and befuddles.  So, bundled up in our various cold weather outfits we confronted the elements and slogged our way through a New Year's Eve round of mud golf.

Quite honestly, there's wasn't much that was memorable about that round if the measuring stick is athletic performance.  The day was cold enough to be almost unpleasant.  We all had on so many layers that we were challenged to swing effectively, and the greens were saturated, soggy and uncharacteristically slow.  All of us struggled to get the ball to the cup.

With Alma holding the pencil every putt was counted and there were no gimmes.  But the scorecard didn't record our laughter and the sheer pleasure that, for me, comes from managing a round of golf in punishing conditions.  The point wasn't to set a golf record.  There wasn't even any money on the round.  The point was to bring 2014 to a close with a round of golf, and that we did.

As we left the golf course Alma observed that we'd probably have company for our New Year's Day round which fell on a Thursday this year and was therefore a regular golf day for the Star Fort Ladies Golf Association.  Alma was wrong.  Despite a clear sky and bright sunshine, we played again as a threesome, Alma, Bonnie and me.

Conditions were improved and with no wind we were all stripping down to a single layer at the turn.  Our scores were better although I confess that I moaned and whined just a little bit about mine.  But I often whine and moan about my score.   Still, it was a beautiful day for golf and all of us thoroughly enjoyed our day, our golf, and the company.

Entirely aside from the pleasant company, ending each year and starting the next with back-to-back rounds of golf refreshes my awareness of two axiomatic truths.

First, an ending is an ending.  Some endings are pleasant, some not so much.  Endings bring nostalgia, sometimes regrets, occasionally sadness.  Some are welcome and others bittersweet.  All are underscored by finality.  I struggle with this.

Whether the ending involves turning the page on a calendar, putting a project to bed, letting go of a relationship, or playing a round of golf, when I turn in my scorecard and toss my clubs into the back of my car, that round is over.  I can't go back and replay the round, the relationship, the vacation, the relationship.  There's not one thing I can change about it.  The well-executed shots, the perfectly formed sentence, the putt that would have been perfect if I'd stroked with just a smidgen more energy, the misplaced word -- those are behind me.

Parallel to this fundamental truth about endings, golf has taught me as well that this fresh year, ripe with possibility and promise, is mine to claim.  I have all the equipment I need to navigate the year before me, and I know how to use that equipment to good purpose.  I understand the rules, and I know the penalties for violating them.  With that combination -- equipment, skill, and knowledge -- I'll explore new terrain, sort out and devise solutions to the challenges I face, and enjoy the relaxing comfort of the familiar.

If I'm willing to take a risk or two I'm likely to experience some moments of exhilarating excellence but because I take those risks I will also face and live through some failures and defeats.  The essential and fundamental lesson I derive from golf is this: neither the moments of high exhilaration nor the despair of defeat are permanent states.  They will all pass.

Golf will help me stay humble and remember to be grateful as I consign the events of the past year to my memory and go about the task of living with relish this new year that's before me.  And that's why I play back-to-back rounds on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.