HIS – Golf romance after 50: Giving it another swing

HERE’S HIS side of the golf romance that began when two middle-aged golfers met for a six-day first date on the Monterey Peninsula. (See HERS.)

It’s disheartening enough to hit a golf ball after the age of 55. They say that’s when you really start losing distance and power in a never-ending trend that follows you from the blue tees to the whites and reds and on to the grave. If golf’s not bad enough, try dating at that age.

It’s fine to throw yourself out there but you know you’re not fooling anyone. Mother Nature is the ultimate plus handicap opponent in the match play of life. And there’s all that worry about baggage: yours, hers, which golf club travel bag to buy. I decided to stick my toe out there anyway. Online dating profile written, now I had to have a name. Best to be honest, I was looking for a golfer to skip down the fairway of life with. I chose “Teed-up.” It attracted one response in particular that caught my interest, because no one else who had responded even mentioned golf. She contacted me mostly because she saw my name.

“Hi — I’m really not one to look for long-distance romance but you came up in a search and the things you had to say in your profile really resonated with me. So I just thought I’d say hi, if you’re ever out this way, I will drop what I am doing to play golf with you,” GolfWineDine.

Considering that both of us are professional writers, it’s not surprising that we beguiled each other through our correspondence. We even stayed interested after Skyping a couple times. However, no one can predict chemistry.

GolfWineDine worked out a six-day itinerary of golf, including a trip to Monterey and Carmel. Gutsy, maybe, but we looked at it as we were already friendly, and we were golfers, so at the very least the backup plan would be to play golf, travel, have some drinks and I could sleep on the couch.

Within a second of her stepping out of the car in the airport passenger pickup, the backup plan flew out of bounds. We could not hide our beaming smiles. I’ll never forget how she covered her mouth with her hand, standing beside the open driver’s side car door. While sparing our good reader the details, let’s just say it was the best hello hug I’ve ever had.

From the airport, it was on to her home course, Sharp Park in Pacifica. This was to be the practice round for the week, as conditions were tough after a summer drought and recent rains turned much of the course to mud. We played a fun round of golf. Neither of us seemed to make any etiquette mistakes. I was aware that she was watching for ways to judge me, or outright ax me as a suitor. Yet I didn’t worry about it. I’ve played enough tournament golf to know how to act. I haven’t thrown clubs for years, and I try not to swear after bad shots. I know where to stand.

On the other hand, she earned my admiration for being a tough walker, without complaining or needing anything from me. She impressed me by wanting to play a match against me every day – in a nice way – for a drink. GolfWineDine played golf by the rules and played fast. Plus this statuesque blonde flirted with me wildly. I was in heaven.

I also liked her friends at the 19th hole. This is what I was looking for: Loud, raucous, the women together but not far from the men. You can see they play here for more than just the classic Alister MacKenzie design.

Golf romance in Monterey

From the iconic 17-Mile Drive and its crashing breakers back-dropped by a grey, looming sky and ripping wind, to the sunny serenity of Bayonet and Black Horse, the middle part of the trip felt like a blur. Bayonet is the more difficult of the two courses, mainly because of its hills and tight tree-lined fairways. In fact, its operatives claim it is the most difficult course on the Monterey Peninsula, although those who play Spyglass Hill might differ. Of the courses I would play on this trip, I liked Bayonet the best, probably because it was in the best condition.

A word about California golf conditions. The drought has stressed the turf on the courses, causing the ball to settle between the thin bent grass down to the dirt, or in our case, mud. Combine the tight, wet lies with the marine layer and a little wind and it feels like you’re hitting into a sack of potatoes. In my native Colorado with its altitude, dry air and plenty of water for the courses, we get a lot of carry, roll and cushy bluegrass-rye lies, and the little poa annua grass that there is dies out in late June’s heat. A 6-iron that travels 190 yards in Denver only went about 165 in the hills on the California coast.

At each course I would consult the pro staff as to which tees I would play, given my 7 index. To a man, they answered white tees, and I’m thankful I followed their advice. I struggled to shoot 84 at Bayonet, where the whites are just under 6,000 yards, the blues just over 6,600. I played the whites on the front and blues on the back.

My playing partner didn’t look like the photos in her profile: She looked better. She has the habit of wearing these leggings that many of the female tour pros wear. It was chilly enough for them, but I can remember the dismay I felt by her covering up those fantastic legs of hers. It was like covering the Mona Lisa’s eyes with a table-cloth, or putting board shorts on Michelangelo’s David. What a waste.

GolfWineDine and I enjoyed a spectacular two-day stay at the Briarwood Inn in Carmel, where she had booked a great deal, just $75 a night. The suite was humongous and included a big jetted tub, fireplace and a king-size bed. We ate at the Hog’s Breath Inn, didn’t see Clint Eastwood, but enjoyed the meal and then the bottle of white wine that the inn had left us in the room. The chemistry between us still raged, and it was to my chagrin that I awoke one morning to realize, because we could hear the crash of the surf in Carmel Bay, that we had left our windows wide open. In order to avoid the stink-eye at the B&B’s communal breakfast, we decided on getting there, eating and leaving early. Our backup plan was to ask each other loudly, “Can you believe those rude people?”

Golf romance in Pebble Beach

Poppy Hills has also been redesigned, reportedly because pros playing the AT&T Pro-Am thought it was unfair. Robert Trent Jones Jr.’s new course eliminated a lot of stupid 1980s fake mounding to improve sightlines, widen fairways and replace deep rough with broad, playable waste areas, something every course should consider in order to speed up play. This is a natural-looking, friendly layout that has large gentle greens. Our group complained about the slow bent grass greens, but that’s to be expected because they are new. At Poppy the white, or three-poppy, tees play about 6,300 yards and it’s an easy walk. Again, GolfWineDine impressed me with her strength of body and character by walking and pushing a cart alongside me and the two very funny guys playing with us, Steve and Dave from the Bay Area.

Memorable hole? At 488 yards, the par-5 ninth presents a split fairway option guarded by a set of bunkers center, with a blind tee shot that is not unreasonable. The huge right-to-left green sits across a stream. It’s a fun and interesting hole that represents the positive changes at Poppy.

GolfWineDine had warned me that not only does she enjoy playing a match, she indulges in gamesmanship. At Poppy, I had gone up a couple of holes early. We were standing on the 421-yard, par-4 fifth hole watching Dave get ready to tee off, and I felt something soft and warm being pressed into my elbow. After realizing what it was, I admonished GolfWineDine. The rattled Dave heard our exchange about the “boob rub” and skulled his drive into the trees. So did I. Ultimately she lost the new standing bet: A Manhattan, up. The Manhattan at the bar at Bayonet had been stupendous. This time we would drive to the Tap Room at Pebble Beach to enjoy the ambiance. The club sandwich was so big it came on two plates and we wound up having half for breakfast the next morning. The Manhattans were tasty and unusual, mixed with rye and a rare vermouth.

Golf romance in Santa Cruz

It was sad to leave Carmel but we had Pasatiempo on our agenda. Alister MacKenzie’s grand old course was soaked already from previous rains and the entire staff was awaiting the arrival of the Pineapple Express, a rainstorm that would shut down the course in a couple days. They say along the California coast that you are either playing golf along the beach or up in the seaside hills, and this old lady of California is of the latter variety. Pasatiempo looks fabulous after the Tom Doak renovation, which to my eye was mostly to replace lost bunker complexes and green areas and improve drainage.

In the marine layer conditions, tight, hilly Pasatiempo was the hardest course I’ve ever played. No wonder Juli Inkster is so good; she grew up playing there. I played the middle tees at 6,125 yards, which felt more like 7,000 in the heavy, loaming atmosphere. Somehow I had the best round of the week, a dismal 83, including a birdie on the par-5 13th.

GolfWineDine’s tired body started to hit the brakes after a week of golf and she shot a high score, yet still didn’t play slowly. Unfortunately, we were paired with “Million-Dollar Check Man,” who interfered with our on-course canoodling. The little dude showed us a million pictures on his phone of things we didn’t want to look at, including his son’s car accident and a check to his business for $1 million. Then he dropped $11 on the bar that barely covered his drink and left us with the rest of the check.

We had planned to spend the last two days of our “first date” golfing in the Bay Area, but the Pineapple Express hit hard. Between Scrabble games that I never came close to winning, bottles of Mumm sparkling wine, hot tubs in the rain, the ferry to San Francisco and miles of walking in the downpour, she protected by her white Sunice jacket and me by my Zero Restriction Gore-Tex jacket and Forrester rain hat, it was a match made in golf. I’ll never forget the martini at Heinold’s First and Last Chance Bar on the waterfront, because its most famous patron, local legend and author Jack London, was a boyhood hero of mine.

Although it was sad to leave her at the airport, plans were made for our next match. When you birdie the first, the rest of the round only looks bright, no matter what your age.

Here’s the Golf Romance Itinerary for you planners out there.

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