It was Freud who famously asked what is it women want.
Since then, thousands of scientists have tried to illuminate the relationship between the sexes, but what a century of anthropological, socio-cultural, psychoanalytic and physiological research has uncovered is roughly equivalent to what I've gleaned from 16 years of marriage and the (ongoing) raising of two daughters, which is, to use the technical term, not a hell of a lot.
The first woman I ever golfed with was my mother. (Freudian, I know.) I was 14. She'd never played, but figured there must have been something to it if her husband and sons enjoyed it, so, like the good sport she is, she agreed to give it a shot early one morning at the local nine-hole muni.
On the third hole, her ball came to rest against a sprinkler head in the fairway. She didn't know she could move it. At impact there was a sound like the ping of a hockey stick rapped against a goal post. The ball squirted straight left. The clubhead of her rented 3-wood separated from the shaft, tested the breeze and came down in about a dozen pieces. As we all went over, my father asked her why she hadn't moved the ball, since she was allowed to.
"First you tell me I can't move it on the shorter grass, and now you're telling me I can," she said, quite logically. "And why on earth did someone put a sprinkler in the exact middle of the place where you're supposed to hit the ball?"
My mother's golf career ended when she returned the shattered club.
Her argument that the sprinkler was absurdly placed had no effect on the pro. She ponied up for a replacement, and after that golf was just for the boys.
Nowadays, men and women still don't golf together as often as they should. I'm honestly not sure why. It's risky to step into this question, as golf is hard enough without your wife giving you The Look after you helicopter your putter into the lake following your latest four-putt. Even though most of the guys I play golf with are happily married and genuinely respectful toward their partners and women in general, most men don't play much golf with their wives, and rarely organize social games with female friends.
So why is it men and women don't golf together more? Certainly there is a centuries-old tradition of discrimination against women in golf, and there remain many clubs around the world where women are not allowed membership, a practice both astonishing and sad.
Scotland's Muirfield and The Royal and Ancient are famous clubs that have no female members. A course consistently rated as Canada's best, The National in Woodbridge, Ont., is another. I wonder how the men who belong to these clubs justify it to their daughters, whom they are presumably telling, in every other phase of life, that they are the equal of any man. The fact is we ought to play more regularly not only with our spouses, but with any member of the opposite sex, for the simple reason that it's fun. In that spirit, I present here a few rules to increase mutual understanding and encourage intergender play.
Rule No. 1: "Men think they play fast, women do play fast." Men tend to take the game so seriously that we can overanalyze and clog things up. We need to know exact yardages, despite our inability to predict whether our 5-iron will fly 140 yards or 180. Women might notice a yardage if a marker is nearby, but they won't stalk a fairway for two minutes like a man trying to find out if he's 204 or 206 yards from the pin.
I have never seen my wife line up a single putt; she misses 90 per cent of them. I line up putts from three to six angles; I miss 90 per cent of them.
Women are almost always faster than men, but they must recognize that the male need to possess minute data is biological. To point out that this does not improve our performance would be counterproductive to intergender play.
Rule No. 2 - "A lost golf ball is like a relationship" - informs Rule No. 1, but it also has broader implications. Typically, men swing harder than women, which means they also spend more time in the bush trying to mitigate the damage from their initial mistake. The only way to salvage one's self-esteem is to locate the ball, be responsible for where it has ended up, and try to effect a miraculous (if highly unlikely) recovery.
Women, on the other hand, make cursory attempts at finding their ball, but are usually at peace with moving on. They assess, decide, act and do not obsess over what is lost. If a ball goes astray, she'll give it one chance to be found and rejoin her. It must also be noted that many men will scout around for golf balls even if their first ball is still in play. Freud would note the obvious psychological interpretation.
Rule No. 3: "Generally speaking, women are social, men are competitive." Women are often surprised when they golf with men and witness us disrupting, insulting and swearing at one another, basically doing anything and everything possible to win a victory that will be satisfying only if you also damage the psyche of your opponent.
In my experience, women have yet to endorse this strategy and, further, have failed to appreciate that this is how men bond. Women, on the other hand, pursue the perverse on-course strategy of engaging in legitimate conversation. In order for men and women to play together, a man needs to be prepared to converse with a woman, whereas a woman must take it as a sign of respect for her game if a man shouts "MISS" in the middle of her backswing.
And so I propose that these tips to avoid common misunderstandings will facilitate more frequent intergender play. I, for one, greatly look forward to it. Of course, perhaps I've made what philosophers call a category error; it does occur to me that men and women don't play together as often as we might because women don't want to play with men. After reviewing my three rules of intergender play, really, could you blame them?
Curtis Gillespie is the author of Playing Through: A Year of Life and Links along the Scottish Coast. His most recent book is the novel Crown Shyness.
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