Introducing the Family to Golf

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Next weekend we're planning a family root canal. Over the Martin Luther King holiday we're taking the gang to a three hour lecture on astro physics. But New Year's Day was perfect for the first ever Lerner family golf outing'me and my wife, Robin, and two sons, Jesse, 12, and Jack, 6.

Why waste a gorgeous 80 degree, Orlando day watching meaningless bowl games and getting orange Dorito dust on the sofa?

Robin's been a dutiful driving range companion through our 15 years of marriage but has never to my knowledge played a full round. With some formal dance training, she understands body movement and has a pretty solid swing. Plenty of times I've eschewed the teachings of Leadbetter and Flick and instead leaned on the sage, living room advice from Robin, who knows what a basket case I am. I was really looking forward to her debut.

My oldest has just taken up the game and played two full rounds with me while on vacation. Like most his age, he shows flashes but isn't yet refined nor experienced enough to break 100. Like most his age, he has realistic expectations. If he doesn't shoot 71 he lapses into a pre-teen funk that usually leads to an outbreak of acne, not for him but for his parents.

At six, Jack is blessed with so many adorable and wondeful qualities. Unfortunately, patience isn't among them.

Aware that he's yet to fully develop in that area, I steeled myself before leaving. 'Remember,' I said to my leery dad within, 'you're a loving, caring, patient father and under no circumstance will you lose your temper.'

Jack broke me by the fourth hole.

But it had begun well enough. Winter Park Country Club is almost 90 years old, a tiny nine hole track that meanders through the charming town of Winter Park. At 2,470 yards, it's just right for a beginning family.

On the first hole, a narrow 232 yard par 4, a sign is posted with seven rules like 'a shirt must be worn at all times' and 'no mulligans.' I wasn't confident that we'd be able to adhere to the latter, but then again the fellow teeing off ahead of us broke a rule by wearing brown socks with black saddle shoes.

Meanwhile, I'd packed a little gym bag filled with Capri Sun juice boxes and a few plastic bags filled with pretzels and goldfish. We don't go anywhere without the goldfish. We'd sooner leave the house without a wallet, without shoes, without my contact lenses than leave without Jack's goldfish. So not only did I have my own clubs to carry, I had the gym bag over the shoulder. As I walked down the first fairway, I looked like a bell hop at the Four Seasons.

On top of it all, a woman pointing in my direction said to her friend, 'That guy's the weatherman.'

In any event, I was soon extremely busy. The questions came in bunches.

'Daddy, where's my ball?'

'Daddy, can I play in the sand?'

'Daddy, where are the snacks?'

'Daddy, can I pee?'

'Daddy, what should I hit?'

My standard reply, whether from 150 or 50 yards, was, 'Hit the hybrid.'

Off the first fairway, Jack was in tears after his fourth whiff. He goes at it with everything he has, I mean really gives it the full 'Arnie.' When he finally connected he blasted it far and straight. He busted into a huge smile and ran after his ball.

'Jack,' I yelled,'hold on sweetie you can't run in front of Jesse while he's hitting.'

And for Jack, this is how it went for much of the afternoon. Whiff, cry, kill it, smile, pee, eat, argue with his brother, play in the sand, whiff, cry, kill it, smile, pee, eat, argue with his brother and play in the sand.

Jesse, on the other hand, is fairly serious about improving his game. A chip off the old block, he's already displaying a bit of golf course self loathing. Not yet a disciple of sports psychologist Bob Rotella, he missed a short putt at the par four fifth and proceeded with a hang dog face to play putting ping pong.

'Jes,' I said, trying to console, 'don't worry, you hit some good shots here.'

'No I didn't,' he said, obviously sad, 'I just tapped in for a 23.'
 
The fourth hole passes by a church and then winds around an historic cemetery not far from the train tracks. I had a decision to make.

Should I go pray, lay down and die, or hop an Amtrak to Cleveland?

I'd gut it out, though my own game began to crack. Number four's a dogleg par 5 and I blew my second across the street into the plant and flower shop. I dropped and then bladed a wedge into the cemetery. After paying my respects to a Mr. Lewis and Mr. Jackson, I dropped and then chunked my next.

When I finally tapped in, Jesse said to me, 'Don't worry Dad you hit some good shots here.'

'No I didn't,' I said, obviously sad, 'I just tapped in for a 23.'

As for Robin, she'd hit enough decent shots to consider a long and happy run in the sport. Of course, ever sensible, she wasn't going over board.

'Isn't two hours of beating your brains in enough,' she said knowingly.

By five, we'd set a new modern record. We had just let a 14th group play through. Jack had had enough golf and wanted to play hide and go seek over by the gazebo. We laid in the grass in the far right rough and laughed until it hurt.

We never finished the nine. The goldfish were gone by the sixth. Darkness would soon set in. On the walk into the tiny clubhouse, my load a little lighter with all the snack bags and juice boxes now empty, Jack said one last time, 'Daddy I have to pee.'

There was no bathroom in sight, just a strand of trees off to the right.

We may have broken one of the seven rules, but Jack did learn one final lesson.

I can hardly wait for the astro physics lecture.
 
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