Due mainly to my fond if vague memories of the one period in my life in which I golfed regularly—a period that began 20 years ago and lasted a little over a month—when three Argentine friends here in Beijing asked if I would be interested in purchasing a set of thrillingly cheap knockoff golf clubs and joining them on the links once a week, I became inordinately excited. I put an inquiry through to my wife as to whether such an arrangement might be feasible, and word soon came back that it probably would be, pending clarification of certain other arrangements involving shoe-shopping and baby-sitting and dish-washing and furniture-buying. I then ecstatically purchased my knockoffs, and also my golf shoes and a glove and tees and balls and a thoroughly unnecessary hat, but not sweatproof stretchy Band-Aids, an omission I have since rectified.
The realization, suddenly: that my nostalgia for said time period has only a bit to do with the game itself, and a larger bit to do with clean camaraderie and post-round hamburgers and beers and billiards, and a very great deal to do with that one moment at approximately 6:30 in the evening when the world quiets, and the sky colors up, and the heat calms, and the immense degree to which the idea that a grown man supposedly of letters concentrating with all his might on a small white ball that he hopes desperately for no good reason to hit long and straight toward a hole is ridiculous is held suspended and distant.
The courses are, for the most part, located where the air is good, well outside of Beijing; they are also generally beautiful and expensive. The weather, golfwise, is bettering. My Argentine friends spend too much time and energy calling one another’s virility creatively into question to notice what an abysmal golfer I am, and for this I am grateful. And the caddies, oh the caddies, the caddies deserve a long paragraph all to themselves.
They are invariably young women, and they wear long-sleeve cotton shirts and long trousers and helmets and full-face plastic visors and occasionally also scarves, and I hope that my wife will forgive me for stating publicly here that I am in love with all of them. I am in love with them for the deftness with which they perform the basic tasks of spotting my tee shots, and walking 11 feet to retrieve my tee shots so that I might hit them again and better, and defending my virility to the Argentines, and replacing my many divots, and raking the sand traps I foul, and knowing pin distances to the inch, and setting perfect lines for my putts to not follow, and tracking down the balls I slice two fairways over, and also the balls I slice into the forest, and the orchard, and the swamp, and the nearby restaurants; and for their tendency to save me strokes by declaring all of the many out-of-bounds areas in which my balls land to be in fact not out of bounds but rather under repair; and for how, on occasions when the water hazard is shallow enough for my ball to be visible, they will hitch up their trousers and locate a reasonably long stick and wade in and then see a water snake swimming nearby (thus threatening to bring, of course, bad luck) and beat the snake to death with the stick; and for the enthusiasm with which they shout “Beautiful! Beautiful!” in response to any shot that is not patently incompetent; and also, most of all, I love them for their insistence on cheating on my behalf even when I ask them not to—for calling my nines sevens and my sevens fives, recording not what I have actually done but what my best self might have managed, making the myth regarding the supposed but wholly unsubstantiated amount of talent I bring to bear on this game, which has heretofore existed only in my mind, into something not unlike reality, if only on a small piece of cardboard that I will soon and regretfully throw away.