10. Although golf is expensive in absolute terms, on an hourly basis it isn’t much costlier than bowling. A perfectly serviceable set of used clubs can be had for a couple of hundred dollars—or less, if you know an obsessive with a garage full of equipment he can no longer stand to look at. An hour or two spent poking through the bushes on virtually any course will turn up a month’s supply of balls. Sneakers can usually be worn instead of golf shoes, especially now that golf shoes increasingly look like sneakers. Even relatively fancy courses now offer recession-inspired discounts on greens fees and memberships. I know hunters and fishermen who spend more.
The truly oppressive cost of golf is the cost in time: dawdling choppers make life miserable for everyone stuck behind them. They transform what ought to be a pleasurable diversion into an all-day slog, and they hurt the game itself, by increasing the national supply of player frustration and spousal resentment. The ideal solution would be for everyone to play faster, but since that’s unlikely to happen the best remedy is to bypass the slowpokes, by avoiding, whenever possible, the most popular times, days, weeks, and months. My friends and I often go out late in the afternoon for what we call a Two-Hour Eighteen™: a full round, on foot, faster than most Americans play nine holes in a cart. We pick times when our course is likely to be empty or nearly so, and we don’t take practice swings, agonize about where to aim putts we weren’t going to make anyway, or stand still while other people hit. When you can comfortably play eighteen holes in two hours or two hours and fifteen minutes, you can put in a reasonable day’s work, get in a full round, enjoy a beer with your pals, and still be home in time to ask, “Hey, Honey, what’s for dinner?”
When I took up golf, twenty years ago, I worried that I was too horrible to swing in public. But I soon realized that, bad though I was, I wasn’t much worse than most of the other golfers I saw, and that even the good ones didn’t mind playing with me as long as I kept up. In fact, they scarcely noticed me at all, so absorbed were they in their own struggles. As my friend Jim explained, “Nobody ever gave a shit about how anybody else played golf.