My dad, who was always athletic and even was named “The Wellest Man in Wellsburg over the Age of Seventy” back in the 1990s, tried to get me to go golfing with him for years. He hadn’t started to golf until he was about to retire from the electric company, and he regretted not taking it up sooner. He fell hard for the game, often playing 36 or 54 holes in a day, walking the first 36!
“I think you’d really love golf,” Dad would say. When I was young, Dad tried to get me to be serious about tennis. Although West Liberty State College, where he earned his degree in biology, didn’t offer athletic scholarships, Dad, an orphan, was a football player awarded work-study grants to help him pay for his education. He cleaned the offices of professors. He served meals in the dining hall in those days before cafeteria lines, and he maintained the clay tennis courts, where he’d often play in pick-up games.
Our home in Wellsburg, was on the Ohio River in West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle, wedged between Ohio and Pennsylvania. We lived on the perimeter of a large recreation area, and the tennis courts were about 100 yards from our front porch. My brother became a tennis player, but I just didn’t like it. Too much running and sweating!
Years later when Dad started asking me to go golfing, I had a million excuses, “I’ve got to go to rehearsal.” (Often true because I directed plays at the high school where I taught, the summer theater I’d co-founded, and two area colleges. Often true—but not always.) Or “I’ve got papers to grade.” (Also often true—but not always.) Golf just looked like a dumb sport—hit a little ball, then chase it? No, thanks.
Shortly after I remarried in 1995, Richard, my husband, said, “I’d like you to try golf. It’s something we can do together for a long time.” I wasn’t teaching or directing anymore, so I was out of excuses. I finally took up golf at the age of 50 in the spring of 1997. My father died that September. The greatest regret of my life to date is that I never played golf with Dad, that I never told him how right he was, and how much I have come to love the game, sometimes to the point of insanity. I once won a golf marathon by playing 103 holes in one day!
Golf has been, however, a sport fraught with pain for me—not only the pain of frustration when I realized that I have little or no muscle memory, the pain of self-realization when I knew that I would never have a single-digit handicap, or the pain of aging and watching as my distance gets shorter and shorter. No, I have experienced real physical pain on the golf course.
Between 1997 and 2005, I was so crazy about golf that I would play four times a week. If the weather was 45° and there was no wind, I’d play. My friends and I would walk the course and carry our clubs and all was right with the world. Eventually, the criteria moved to 50° with no wind and then 55°, no wind, and the heck with walking. One chilly morning I met some friends in the pro shop, but when I learned it was only 53°, I said I wasn’t playing. 55° was my absolute limit, but somehow I got talked into playing.
On the very first hole, my second shot was looking to be a beauty, heading straight for the green. As I walked back to the cart (it was a cart-path-only day), that lovely shot started turning right toward a bunker. I walked and watched my shot go awry, then turned to look at the cart, and wham! I had walked right into a tree! Bark flew, and I felt an awful pain. My friend Peggy had seen the whole thing, and although she was concerned, she was failing at holding back laughter.
“Are you all right?” she said as she walked over to me. I turned to look at her, and she said, “You’re bleeding. You have a cut on your nose.”
“Is it very bad?” I asked, putting my hand up to my nose and getting a few drops of blood on my fingers.
“Not too bad,” she said. “How do you feel?”
“Okay, I guess,” and that was that.
Every once in awhile a drop of blood would fall from the cut on my nose when I was standing over a putt, but I got a band-aid at the turn and finished the round.
When I got home and looked in the mirror, I was a sight! Both eyes were black and blue and purple and yellow and green, and my nose and face were terrifically swollen.
I was cooking dinner and had my back turned when Richard came home from work that night. “Are you ready for this?” I said as I turned around.
“Ready for…What happened? Were you mugged?” he said.
I told him what happened, and he said, “Well, your nose is broken.”
“Oh, I don’t think so,” I said.
“Look at this,” he said, pointing to his nose. “I know a broken nose when I see one. What hole was this on?
“So you didn’t get to play much.”
“I finished the round,” I said.
“With that nose? Weren’t you bleeding all over the place?
I told him about the few drops, and he said, “Well, you have to go to the doctor.”
My face throbbed all night, and the next day, after X-rays, I learned that I had broken my nose in six places! (Who knew there were six things in a nose to break? Apparently, that’s why I didn’t have a nose bleed. Too many things smashed in there!) The doctor set me up with a cosmetic surgeon, and a few weeks later, after the swelling subsided, I had my nose fixed. Shortly after the operation, I started wishing that I’d thought to tell the surgeon to “take a little off the end.”
I had been very lucky, however. When I slammed into that tree, I was sporting braces on my teeth. I think that I might have lost a tooth or two from the impact if I hadn’t had the braces. My teeth were probably what made the bark fly. Also, I was wearing contacts, so my glasses weren’t smashed along with my nose. The weather turned nasty during my convalescence, so I didn’t miss much golf. When the course dried out and the temperature rose, I was playing three to four times a week again.
Several years later I had another freak accident. The number eight hole had an elevated green, and my ball was off to the right, well below the green and near a tree. I took out a wedge and made a practice swing. All was well. When I took my full swing, however, my club clipped the tree, sending the club offline and down on my foot. It was a big “ouch!” It felt as if I’d cut off my little toe and the one next to it, but thankfully, I was in leather golf shoes. Again I finished the round, hobbling around the back nine. When I removed my golf shoes, my toes looked like sausages, and most of my foot was black and blue.
The following day the doctor confirmed that I had two broken toes. He taped them to each other and sent me on my merry way. As soon as the swelling abated, and I could get a golf shoe on, I was playing again.
One day Richard and I were playing together which was somewhat unusual as when we’re home, he usually plays with the guys, and I play with the girls. The day was beautiful, crisp, and sunny. I had hit my second shot across the cart path where some guys from the maintenance crew were down on their hands and knees re-painting the yardage distances on the asphalt path.
I hit my shot toward the green and walked back toward our cart. Unfortunately, I was also watching the guys who were painting. Richard yelled, “Shari!” right as I walked into the cart and plastered myself against the windshield. I wasn’t physically hurt, just a little shaken. I was, however, very embarrassed as the workers heard the thwack and looked up to see my Garfield-suction-cupped-to-the-window imitation.
All of this brings us to Monday, October 14, 2019. On this beautiful fall day in the high sixties, I was playing with two dear friends, Peggy and Debbie. Two years ago I had lobbied the club to put in new forward tees. Over the past winter, Silver Tees, for us Silver Foxes, had been installed, and they were rated for handicap play.
I love these new tees. Once again, my drive looks like I’m getting somewhere. The new tees are called “mow-over tees” because they are disks set in the fairway, and the grounds crew doesn’t have to get off the tractors to move the tees when mowing. This does mean that finding them sometimes can be a little challenging. We drive out into the fairway and eventually find our new “tee boxes.”
On the number five hole on this fine day, I did just that—drove onto the fairway, spotted the tees, and started to pull 360° around them to be headed in the direction of the green. Then all hell broke loose! I drove in front of the tees, turned the wheel slightly to the left, and quickly slid across the seat to the right. I had been fighting that slippery seat the whole day, thinking it must have been cleaned with Armor All recently.
When I slid right, my right hand left the steering wheel. Hanging on with my left for dear life, the wheel turned sharply left. Instinctively, I braced with my legs, which in this case meant gunning the accelerator, which, with the cart rounding a bend, caused me to go flying over the armrest and out of the cart. I landed on my head, did some kind of a wacky, lopsided somersault, came to a stop and rolled over onto my back. It had been quite a ride! Fortunately, the golf cart stopped as soon as I went flying, so it didn’t run over me as my playing mates first feared.
Peggy and Debbie, having witnessed the whole stupid affair, quickly were beside me checking on my situation. I lay there stretched out on the turf for a while, catching my breath, and trying to assess the damage. Eventually, I sat up with a slight headache. My friends determined that the pupils of my eyes were okay and didn’t seem to indicate a concussion. I got up, walked around, seemed to be fine, and teed off. After a few holes, my headache went away, and I finished the round.
Following the round, Peggy and Debbie lamented that everything happened too quickly for them to get out their phones and record the incident! They were confident that they could have made big money on America’s Funniest Videos!
I went home, related the incident to Richard who insisted on reminding me that golf was not a contact sport. He was also glad that I was okay. The following day, however, I was a mess. My side ached, and my neck was so sore, I couldn’t lift my head off the pillow, and I had to roll over on my side and push myself up. A trip to an Urgent Care replete with x-rays and CT scans determined that I hadn’t broken anything and that everything in my head was in order. I would, however, be on the injured reserve list for a couple of weeks while the aches and pains of my failed guided-missile imitation healed.
After relating the golf cart incident by email to my friend and Navy veteran Pat Jones, she wrote back the following: “A friend and I played a round of golf with a couple of female officers. We drove the golf carts, they rode. Anyway, after the round, my friend was speeding through the parking lot when her passenger, a lieutenant, said, ‘There’s my car!’ My friend almost passed it but not quite. She took a hard turn, and the officer flew from the cart and skidded quite a ways on her butt. Her shorts were torn, and her butt was full of gravel. I bet they laughed and laughed at the Navy hospital! Needless to say, the lieutenant was mortified, and she received a ‘no-sit chit’ for two weeks!”
Pat’s story, which was certainly more entertaining than mine, made me wonder whether or not golf is actually a dangerous sport, as Richard had suggested. It turns out it is! According to the U. S. National Institutes of Health (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28579137), from 1990 through 2011, an estimated 663,471 individuals, 7 years of age and older, were treated in U. S. emergency rooms for golf-related injuries, averaging 30,158 annually or 12.3 individuals per 10,000 golf participants!
Similarly, www.GolfSupport.com, a website generated in the United Kingdom, analyzed a report from a National Health Statistics Report. Their National Health investigated 8.6 million sports- and recreation-related injuries that were reported by people age 5 years and above. General Exercise (aerobics, running/jogging, exercising, and weight lifting) had the most injuries (5.3 injuries per 1,000 persons per year). General Exercise was followed by Basketball (3.3 per 1,000), American Football (3.1), Cycling (2.5), Football (Soccer) (2.1), and Leisure Sports (Golf, Tennis, Badminton, Bowling, Fishing, Hiking, and Other) (1.8). Rugby, Hockey, Combative Sports, and Snow Sports all had lower rates of injuries per 1,000 incidents than Golf and the other Leisure Sports! The website also said that golf carts were responsible for 15,000 injuries a year and that 40,000 golfers ended up in an emergency room each year because they were hit by a golf ball or a flying club head!
Following my last golf incident, Richard suggested that I take up a safer sport, something like rugby, sky diving, or Irish football! He’s backed up by statistics!
With all due respect, honor, and admiration to those who have been awarded a Purple Heart for their combat injuries, I have been wondering if Green Hearts have ever been awarded for golf course injuries or stupidity!