4. Golf is a sociable game. There’s so much down time during a typical round that playing companions can actually carry on real conversations between shots—something not possible with, for example, tennis. Like most golfers, I play most of my golf with people I know already—guys I tend to think of as my best friends, even though I’m not sure where some of them work or whether they have kids. (My wife: “You and Jim have played golf every Sunday for years. Wouldn’t you like to invite him and his wife to dinner?” Me: “Jim is married?”)
However, I’ve played some of my favorite rounds with strangers, after showing up at an unfamiliar course by myself or with less than a full foursome. At various times over the years, on public courses on four continents, I’ve fortuitously been paired with: a French real-estate developer who had a weekend house in Morocco; a guy from Colombia who owned and operated a souvlaki pushcart in Manhattan; the man who served as the Senate’s chief counsel during the Iran-Contra hearings; a retired Korean wigmaker; three guys who were playing hooky from their jobs on the assembly line at Boeing; a French-Lebanese guy who made his living (in Dubai) importing rough-cut diamonds (from Africa); a guy who was both a beer salesman and the reigning U.S. Mid-Amateur champion; a future chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission; a teacher who had recently started a golf program at an inner-city high school; a guy who, when I told him I’d never played golf in the Philippines, said, “You must!”; a retired cotton broker who had once been a colleague of Paul McCartney’s father; and an unemployed carpenter who looked like George Carlin and told me that the key to golf is to “swing easy as hard as you can.” How many other relatively ordinary activities throw you together for an afternoon with people like that?
Of course, virtually all of the conversing that takes place during golf, whether with friends or with strangers, is about golf. I used to belong to a weekly poker group. When I would come home from a game, my wife would ask me if I had picked up any gossip. “No,” I would say. “We just played cards.” She was appalled that half a dozen friends could sit around a table for four or five hours and never say anything more interesting than “I’m out” or “More beer?” (Most social interaction among men is what child psychologists call “parallel play.”) More recently, my wife asked me what my brother and I had talked about during a long day together at the golf course. “Our swings,” I said, truthfully. The only men I know who don’t talk about golf while playing golf are those who have decided that talking about golf while playing golf hurts their golf.