HERS – A six-day first date on the Monterey Peninsula

Image of illustration of a couple on a golf course

Illustration by Tobe Daranouvong

IT IS SUNDAY MORNING and I am agonizing over what to wear for the day’s round. Once I assemble a navy skort, white shirt with navy trim, navy sweater and navy capri tights, I realize my hands are shaking too much to apply my blue eye liner with any more skill than that of a crayon-gripping 4-year-old. Clearly, I have bargained for more than my usual play day with the Sharp Park Business Women’s Golf Club.

I am on my way to meet TeedUp, who boarded a plane into Northern California from his cold-weather state for a six-day golf date with me, also known online as GolfWineDine. We have emailed, chatted and Skyped, but never really met.

I STARTED IT ALL.

Readers of my book Confessions of a Golf Slut know that I would never turn down a golf date — or, even, abandon one at the turn when things were not going at all well. But disappointments with the likes of PracticeMan, SarcasmMan, OlympicMan, SingleDoc and, especially, RedTeeMan, had redirected my rangefinder from the flag to anywhere that was still in play. Recently instrumental in this changed approach: a wealthy surgeon who made us a Saturday afternoon tee time at a course he liked and told this struggling entrepreneur, “It’s $84, I hope that is OK with you.”

The 18-hole dates I had once accepted enthusiastically had given way to “Let’s just play nine and see how it goes,” or, worse, “Why don’t we just meet for coffee?” My new pre-shot routine was to avoid long discussion about the wind, the lie, the distance, and simply grab a club and swing. No long-winded emails, please — let’s just meet.

So I ignored any flirtations from zip codes far from my own, and read no profiles of golfers outside of 100 miles. Then one of those nifty “if you like so-and-so, then you might like this guy” features brought up a photo of TeedUp. He looked happy and attractive, one year younger than I am, so I read his profile:

Professional, self-employed ex-jock turned serious golfer. I am financially stable and have an excellent credit rating. I believe a good mature relationship is based on integrity and mutual kindness. Like to read adventure novels, cook and a good drink at the end of the day. I haven’t given up on sex and affection. I don’t like pot or drugs and the biggest turn-off would be a religious person who does not tolerate gays. Politically I’m a fiscal conservative and liberal on social issues. I tend to be laid back. Most of all, I have a good sense of humor.

I like all of it. And I am struck by the nakedness of another comment: I’m just looking for that special someone to share the rest of my life with.

It sounded so much like me and like what I sought, but, he was so far away. I emailed anyway, and in his friendly reply he revealed that we had more in common than I realized, because he too had been a journalist. He wasn’t looking for a long-distance thing himself, he said, but we could explore friendship.

AND SO WE DID. IMMEDIATELY.

After a phone conversation, he ordered Confessions for his Kindle and finished it over a single cold weekend. That book, which is about my life with golf but also about my marriage to my late husband and subsequent attempts at dating, touched him deeply, because he had lost his first wife to cancer the same year I was married. He had married quickly on the rebound, and when he shared a long, eloquent and heartfelt email he had sent to a friend years earlier, I could see I had met someone with depth, who was surprisingly fearless about examining — and revealing — his feelings.

We talked a lot about our values — emphasis on experiences, not riches — and our dreams, which for both of us are an interesting, shared life replete with golf and writing, a bottle of wine or a well-made cocktail at the end of the day.

Not only that, he seemed to have come to the conclusion I had reached: It is not that easy to find that special someone to share the rest of one’s life with. And if he or she didn’t live in the neighborhood, maybe that wasn’t such a deal-breaker after all.

HOWEVER, CONSIDERING THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US, WHAT’S A MIDDLE-AGED COUPLE TO DO?

Skype, of course, so we could look for annoying, deal-breaking ticks, facial expressions and bodily flaws. But our Skype sessions were so much fun, in the second one he was looking up flights into Oakland, and I cheered him on with, “Push the button! Push the button!”

Well, he decided, “I have to find out if this is going to be a thing.” Not to mention, he was hoping to score a better pseudonym than the placeholder I’d given him, LongDistanceMan. He pushed the button. He would arrive on a December Sunday, and stay until Friday, up for whatever golf outing I planned.

That would have to be the Monterey Peninsula, my definition of golf nirvana in any season. But in winter the famously temperamental climate can be clear and calm, the secret paths of Carmel-by-the-Sea empty of tourists, and the romantic (sometimes ancient) bed and breakfasts beg for occupants. Best of all, it becomes affordable to those who can visit between storms.

Of course there were the touchy conversations about what would happen if we didn’t like each other, what would happen if we did. Who would pay? Would there be sex? All of it, we addressed like a two-person scramble team politely negotiating which shot to use and when.

Then there I was (in my shakily-applied eye liner) pulling up to the airport’s arrivals curb, looking for a red travel golf bag and finding it, stopping the car and gazing over the steering wheel for a few transformative moments at the red travel bag’s owner.

I FELT SUDDENLY CALM. SOME VOICE INSIDE ME WANTED TO SAY, “ABOUT TIME YOU GOT HERE.”

He gazed back, listening to his own inner voice, and we both finally smiled. And I got out of the car and went for a long hug.

Looking back, it is tempting to say, that’s when we knew — tempting, but overly simplistic. For we drove off to Sharp Park, where I spend most of my Sundays playing in the Business Women’s Golf Club.

The club would already have teed off when we arrived, but I knew they’d be out there watching over me, ready to meet LongDistanceMan at the 19th hole. This was his idea. I warned him about the decidedly par-plus conditions. (Remember, sub-par is good for golfers, over par is not.) Recent rain meant two temporary greens were in play — and even the regular greens and fairways left much to be desired. But Sharp Park is Alister MacKenzie’s only coastal course design, and I love the setting and layout almost as much as the company of our members.

LongDistanceMan wanted to see me in my element. And I saw LongDistanceMan in his element, which seemed to be anywhere. He quickly befriended the staff, told them he had just flown in, hustled up air for the tires on my spare push cart, and off we went.

DID I MENTION LONGDISTANCEMAN’S SINGLE-DIGIT HANDICAP?

Even after all of the stress of the trip and the meeting, he hit the ball long and straight, putted our bumpy greens beautifully. His challenge for the day was adjusting club selection to compensate for our heavier marine air at sea level, and of course the sogginess of the course. I felt instantly comfortable with him on the golf course, even when we were joined by Peter and one of the regulars, Allen. “He came all this way to play Sharp Park,” I told Allen. He replied, “I’m sure that’s not why he came all this way.”

On the 18th green, Peter patiently took a series of pictures of us at the end of our first round together. In the one that speaks loudest, I am looking at the camera and beaming, and LongDistanceMan is laughing and looking at me. When we went in for the 19th hole, I introduced him to my friends and said, “And I have decided I am not letting him go home.”

Really, that was that. Except we had three more rounds of golf to play at three lovely Monterey Peninsula golf courses — but what I remember are snippets of those days that told me things I needed to know: His reluctance to have a competitive match — sort of a sweet, old-fashioned view that women are to be kissed and not defeated. His pleasure when we finally did have a match on the back nine at Bayonet and he saw that it was OK, just fun, a Manhattan at the end of the day (that I was buying). His generosity on a day when we played Poppy Hills and then went to the legendary Tap Room at Pebble Beach for two amazing Manhattans, and we ended up ordering sandwiches, including the best burger the world has ever known, and he would not allow me to pick up the tab, even though he had won. And, especially, on a really challenging day at MacKenzie’s great Pasatiempo, his grace whether he was having a good hole or a terrible one, and his grace whether I was having a good hole or a terrible one.

IT OCCURS TO ME NOW THAT I HAD BEEN HOPING TO FIND SOMEONE WHO MET THE DEFINITION OF “SPORTSMANSHIP” THAT AS A VOLUNTEER I TEACH KIDS AT THE FIRST TEE — BEING KIND AND GRACIOUS WHETHER YOU WIN OR LOSE.

I hadn’t really thought about it in those terms, but I was looking for someone who had sportsmanship in life, who could take the bad days with the good and, most likely, the bad Susan with the good. It was probably a lot to ask for, a lot to look for, and, even, a lot to hope to recognize. But the golf courses that most resemble the winding path of life have par 4s and 5s where we stand at the tee and cannot see the goal. We know the flag is out there, calling us, but we cannot expect to approach the target unless we first set our sights on the aiming point. In Scotland caddies there are said to give one clear instruction to the player trying uncertainly to find a way to a hidden flagstick:

“AIM AT THE ROCK.”

Just aim at the rock, they will say, and go from there.

Of course, there is no guarantee of execution or success, only that from there the way becomes clear. I aimed, and now LongDistanceMan may retire his preliminary nickname. I’m looking forward to a second date with The Rock.

The book Confessions of a Golf Slut is available online and through your local bookstore. And for HIS side of the story (along with possible future sequels), be sure to read the Spring 2015 issue of GottaGoGolf Magazine.

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