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Opinion: A game for the ages - Australian Golf Digest Opinion: A game for the ages - Australian Golf Digest

Finding reward in cross-generational golf friendships

A couple of years ago, I played in a Saturday competition with three fellow members of my club who, at first glance, looked like they might have been in their final year or two of high school. Bad guess. It turns out they were actually in their early 20s and deep into university degrees.

When one chatted to his mate about his upcoming 21st birthday, I not only had my age barometer recalibrated, it dawned on me that they had only just been born when I first started writing for this magazine. I’d just turned 44, but I suddenly felt 64.

None of them were particularly good golfers, but they were great company. It was mid-year. Their universities were in that between-semesters break that I remember (and miss) and they were home from Melbourne, where they were studying. A full generation separated us, but I loved interacting and connecting with these guys in that specific four-hour window that playing 18 holes affords. They were into their golf and definitely seeking to improve, but they weren’t completely absorbed by their rounds and were mindful enough to adhere to Walter Hagen’s famous line of remembering to stop and smell the flowers along the way.

Perhaps the reason why I found that round so memorable was because I had spent so much time in the reverse scenario. For a large part of my teenage years, I spent my Saturday or Sunday afternoons with golfers a full generation or two older. While my non-golf-playing friends at school found it an odd way to spend your weekend, I quite enjoyed the company of those who were significantly older than I was. In a way I always have – regardless of the social situation.

Even today, some of my regular playing companions are 20 or more years older than I am. Which matters not a jot to me, and nor should it. Just as the handicap system allows us to compete fairly against golfers of different ability levels, one of the true joys of our sport is the way it brings together golfers of different ages and backgrounds. It’s a virtue of golf we should embrace more, because we don’t come across it very often in everyday life.

“That’s one of the things I’m most thankful for in this game,” the new US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick recently told Golf Digest’s Dan Rapaport. “I learned at a young age how to interact with adults – how to ask them questions, how to answer their questions, how to enjoy their company.”

“It goes the other way, too,” Rapaport added. “Playing with kids brings out the kid still inside you (or so I’m told). Where else in life can you unleash a guttural yell? Bond over a cocktail at noon? Spend four hours outside picking a brain moulded by a different era?”

I agree with these sentiments as a golfer but also as a golf writer, where I am starting to witness the next phase of this multi-generational paradigm.

I took great pleasure in seeing Harrison Endycott win on the Korn Ferry Tour in America in May. I first played alongside him about 10 years ago in a year-end sponsor event that Jack Newton Junior Golf hosts each December and remember marvelling at two of his attributes that day: his powerful but technically brilliant golf swing and his swagger. I distinctly recall thinking how perfectly he seemed to stride that fickle line between confidence and arrogance – which I found to be an exceptional trait for a then 15-year-old.

I sent Harrison a congratulatory message a day or two after his win at the Huntsville Championship and was surprised, but not that surprised, to get a reply pretty quickly, thanking me for reaching out again. It had been a while since I had been in touch and I don’t know that we’ve seen each other since that day we played golf together, but he was genuinely grateful for the kind words and the support from afar.

In turn, I felt happy that he’d appreciated the gesture. While it makes sense to maintain a link to golf’s 20-somethings from a professional standpoint, it reconfirmed in my mind the need to keep a connection with golfers younger than ourselves, just as we ought to maintain friendships with those who are older than we are.

So if you’re one of those golfers who rarely breaks away from your regular foursome, or who wouldn’t dare play alongside anyone 20-plus years older or younger, consider venturing out of your comfort zone and try it. I doubt you’ll regret it.