There are many ways to recap a golfing year. Favorite courses, favorite holes, composite courses, golf trips, playing partners, greatest shots, worst shots.
As I reflected on my golfing year, I realized that I had played golf with someone in each decade of their life. I played with a four-year-old and an 82 year-old and every decade in between. If that doesn't sum up with beauty of golf, I'm not sure what does.
I'm going to stick to the extreme ends of this age spectrum because, frankly, I don't want to guess wrong on someone's age. I can assure you I played with golfers in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s. As a 39 year old, those are the general ages of my playing partners, and I was fortunate enough to meet people in all those age ranges this year.
My youngest playing partner this year was the son of my good friend, Phil. Dylan is five years old and obsessed with golf. According to Phil, Dylan loves watching YouTube videos of Dustin Johnson (even after his defection to LIV... we'll let that slide). He's a lefty with an insatiable appetite for the game. When he's not gawking at DJ's languid swing, he's bashing shots in the backyard, and sometimes in the house, too.
This round with Phil and his son was at a local pitch-and-putt course in Lexington, Mass. called Stone Meadow. We hit some balls at the driving range, Phil's son machine gunning balls out into the range. Each shot only completed with a little comment from Dylan about how good or bad it was. His bag had only three clubs in it because he left his other clubs at home after playing with them. An experience every golfer has endured, usually it the putter left behind after some evening practice in the living room.
The late August evening brought a bevy of golfers to Stone Meadow. The three of us played the nine hole course, with just one childhood "I'm exhausted" meltdown and plenty of memories. We finished in the dark, and as we walked toward the parking lot, Dylan bolted for the practice green, itching for more golf.
"Three more putts," he asked Phil.
I was glad he asked, because it gave me some time to practice my chipping while Dylan hit way more than three putts. The evening ended with Phil having to pick his son up and carry him off the green.
Recently, Padraig Harrington said in order to get a child hooked on golf, a parent has to pull them away from the course when it's still fun. That usually comes well before a bucket of balls, nine holes of pitch-and-putt, and 10 more minutes on a the practice green.
On the other end of the spectrum, I played with a 75 year-old and an 82 year-old this fall.
The 75 year-old, named Tony, picked up the game when he was 62. He thought golf was too expensive, but a free set of clubs and a cheap green fee at Franklin Park Golf Course in Jamaica Plain, Mass. changed all that. I was paired with him and his two friends, Joe and Melvin, on a warm fall morning in early November. Joe and Melvin were probably close to Tony's age, but Tony was the only one to disclose this information.
Tony, Joe, and Melvin usually have a fourth friend join them, but he was busy that morning. That was just my luck, as it was an incredible round with three friends who met because of golf. That is not a novel tale, but it's one that never gets old, as each one has it's own little nuances.
Tony sang his way around the golf course. His two main choices had titles that actually fit the game of golf: Genesis' There must be some misunderstanding and Sam Smith's Stay with Me. He serenaded us for four hours.
"Do you listen to 94.5?" he asked me on the second tee.
"Not really," I answered.
I haven't listened to that station since middle school when they played all the jams every teenager wanted to hear over and over again.
"Oh man, they had a 'Second date update' this morning," Tony said to the other two. "Did you hear that?"
The two others chimed in that they had heard it. A couple had been set up on a date by the morning show, and the couple were giving an update on their second date.
This threesome was a blue collar group. When I told Joe where I lived, he said he used to clean the elementary school around the corner from me. He relayed a story from his day as we waited on the fourth hole. A floor polishing machine had crapped the bed the previous day, and he needed to clean the hallway pronto.
He told the story with consternation, it was the type of story - a custodian's pivotal tool breaking down at the wrong time - that many would never expect to hear on a golf course. There are many golf course tee boxes that will never hear a story like Joe's. The story would likely be from someone complaining about a custodian not cleaning a floor properly.
I enjoyed Joe's perspective and my walk around Franklin Park with Mel, Tony, and Joe.
In October I had the pleasure of playing with 82 year-old Bill Babin at Oak Hill CC. Bill has been a member at Oak Hill for 43 years. He walked all 18 holes with a pushcart. Bill is a formidable opponent who is renowned for taking everyone's money.
On this particular October morning, the Dew Sweepers allowed me into their group. About 20 golfers convened in the clubhouse before sunrise, incredibly, some were in shorts, as the forecast was promising mild temperatures.
It was clear right away that people weren't just blowing smoke up Bill's ass, the guy could play. he shot his age 15 times during the 2022 season. His short, wiry frame could move fast and, more importantly, consistently. It seemed like he was never out of position and never tried to do too much. He'd hit the fairway, make a sensible choice for his second, plop his next shot onto the green, and then make par or bogey.
And, golly, could the man putt those Oak Hill greens.
He told me that he has had two knee replacements and two strokes. But the word that continued to pour from his mouth every time I asked him about his life was "lucky."
He was lucky to have found Oak Hill. Lucky to have great kids and grandkids. Lucky to have a loving wife. Lucky to have survived two strokes. Lucky to be able to still walk 18 holes with people 40 and 50 years younger than him.
I was lucky to not have to pay the man after the round even though he has us dormie standing on the 17th hole.
As we sat down for lunch following the round, the Bill Babin stories started around the table. Stories of the old man robbing the young blind on the golf course. Babin's eyes lit up as he told and listened to tale of his victories, a big smile on his face. The joy of the game was so apparent in that moment - a bit of camaraderie, a touch of competition, and the pleasure of feeling lucky.
As Phil's son looks back in 10, 20, and 30 years, he'll realize how lucky he was to have been introduced to golf at such a young age. Tony had to wait 62 years to catch the bug (Won't you staaaaay with me...).
That is the best part of golf. It's never too late to start and there's endless reasons why someone should start.
2022 could very well be the only year when I play golf with such a wide range of ages. 75 years separated my youngest and oldest playing partner.
Go find that little nugget in any other sport.