When Minnesota’s golf courses reopened last week, the Frail Foursome, of which I am a charter member, was granted a glimpse of a small slice of the post-confinement world. And, like a duck hook that glances off a forest elm and bounces into a fairway bunker, it could be worse.
The clubhouse was closed, for instance, which meant no adult beverages prior to teeing off, but the carts were so clean that I felt like I should’ve washed my hands before gripping the wheel. Flagsticks were not to be pulled from the hole, an obstacle I would later claim disrupted my normally surgical putting stroke, and bunker rakes were nowhere to be seen, which allowed me to get in and out of the sand in half the time. Sharing a cart was verboten, so we each had to pony up for our own set of wheels, but that allowed each of us to chase our own wayward ball rather than looking for two of them, thus ramping up the pace of play. In times of crisis, you take the bad with the good.
Still, all of this would’ve been quite inconceivable just a couple of months ago. Back in February, I was anticipating the return of The Tin Man from his winter haven in Florida, happily watching the snow recede from my backyard, and dreaming of late-April afternoons groaning over missed 8-inch putts. The reality we encountered last week was both jarring and surprisingly uplifting.
“We’re playing golf in April!” The Tin Man exulted while we warmed up on the first tee. Sure, we couldn’t fist-bump or high-five or trade stories in a shared cart, but the new rules — the fractured expectations — somehow heightened the experience. We all had to pay attention, appreciate the moment.
In his book Bring Me the Rhinoceros and Other Zen Koans to Bring You Joy, John Tarrant reminds us that it’s the shock of the unexpected, the unforeseen crisis, that often wakes us up to the ordinary treasures we tend to overlook as we trudge through our everyday routines.
“The old teachers thought that what is inconceivable to us is, ultimately, the only thing that we can genuinely rely on,” Tarrant writes. “In this way they managed to find happiness inside disaster and peace inside war. When disaster is here, and you want to be happy, the happiness has to happen here, the dancing and the music here, even while there is disaster. Where else would you find happiness?”
There’s plenty of joy lurking on the links during a glorious April afternoon, and our Frail Foursome seldom has difficulty finding it, but I was struck last week by how quickly we settled into the new normal. Despite the strange protocols, it was just golf, after all: sliced tees shots, skulled fairway irons, flubbed putts. The Admiral, as is his custom, muffed a wedge shot and flung his club at a nearby tree. Nothing new to see here.
But on the 9th hole, while I was searching for my ball near the cart path behind the green, and The Tin Man and The Commissioner were occupied with a similar mission, the inconceivable occurred: The Admiral chipped in from well off the green for a birdie. Or at least he said he did. None of us had actually witnessed this miracle, but the ball was in the cup.
Later, while we quaffed beers and reviewed the scorecard at a safe distance in The Tin Man’s backyard, The Commissioner raised some doubts about that 9th-hole stunner. “You know,” he said, raising an eyebrow at The Admiral, “nobody actually saw you make that shot.”
The Admiral just shrugged, and we all knew it didn’t really matter. These days, it’s the small miracles that keep us going — so long as we’re paying attention.