To fully appreciate Dawood Ashe’s extraordinary story of playing golf for the past two years is to know this one fact: He didn’t like to walk. Hated it, if you want to know the truth. A self-proclaimed “gym rat” in his early 70s, Ashe dreaded the first hour of his workouts that were spent “going nowhere” on a treadmill. It was self-inflicted torture, he thought. “When it was over, then my life started at the gym,” he says.
It was the same at his country club – the Golf Club of California, in the bucolic northern San Diego community of Fallbrook. Ashe, a retired computer scientist, didn’t start playing golf until age 60, and he never walked his hilly home track, whose long, winding cart paths were not made to be traversed on foot. Dawood and his wife of more than 40 years, Emma, couldn’t fathom walking 18 holes.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, and life as the Ashes knew it disappeared. Being at the gym and golf course were their pastimes, and now they couldn’t do either. To this day, they haven’t gone back to the gym, but after a couple of weeks of going stir crazy they approached the managers at the club to see if they could maybe walk and play nine holes.
“Can we sneak on?” Dawood asked. The answer: Take care of yourselves, be safe … and yes.
That was 708 days ago. The Ashes started playing on April 11, 2020. After 50 straight days, they set a new goal of 100. Then it was 200. Then it was a full year. After Day 365, they took a day off, celebrated with a dinner of steak and wine, and then they got right back out there, playing through frosty mornings, driving rain and summer temperatures in the triple digits. Emma, 67, made it 550 days before her doctor said she had to stop because of an injured ankle. She took time off and has since rejoined Dawood, 73, and they set out for another round on Monday morning – Dawood’s 709th. They’ve walked every round, which covers at least 11 kilometres. “Longer if you play Army golf,” Dawood deadpans.
“I see friends who have doubts if they could do this or not,” Dawood says. “I hope some people younger than I am would look at me and say, ‘If this guy can do it, I’m going to do it.’ Quite a few people at the course started walking more after I started.”
The Ashes said that all the walking quickly made them realise how much they were missing when they were “zooming by” in a cart. “You see nature … the birds, the snakes in the summer, the trees blossoming,” Emma says. “Even insects on the ground,” Dawood adds. “You make sure you don’t run over a beetle or something like that.”
Josh Haynes, the head pro at Golf Club of California, has watched the Ashes with admiration and a touch of disbelief.
“I don’t know if I could do it, and I’m 29!” he says. He reconsiders the statement and laughs. “I definitely won’t be trying it.
“What they’ve done is so impressive,” he adds. “I’ve seen them play through the rain with garbage bags over themselves and their clubs. They’ve had to go out super early if we’ve had corporate events. Or sometimes they go out super late. They have a commitment to what they’re doing. I think we’re pretty much settled on them playing every day, no matter what’s going on.”
If the Ashes’ car isn’t in the carpark by a certain time each morning, other members grow concerned. “They’ve asked me if they’ve played their round today,” Haynes says. “I tell them don’t worry; they’re playing later.”
Adds Dawood, “We have a wonderful membership. They’re always giving me a thumbs up. I think they’re more excited about this than I am.”
In April, Dawood, who has grown a magnificent beard over the past few months, is set to reach a full two years – 730 days, or 13,140 holes. He’s thinking about taking another day off, but doesn’t plan on stopping.
“It’s like you’re on a long hike, you sit on a boulder for a few minutes, and then you keep going,” he says. “The people at the golf course are pushing me for 1,000 days. I used to say that I’d golf until a full day of rain or a full day of pain. We’ve already had a full day of rain, and when it hit, we got out our coats and umbrella and it didn’t stop us. Knock on wood, the full day of pain hasn’t happened yet. Even though I’ve had some problems with my elbow and knee, I’ve managed.”
There have been plenty of highlights on the journey. The Ashes say they have each birdied all 18 holes numerous times – though there hasn’t been a hole-in-one. There are numerous eagles, with the most memorable coming when Emma holed out a long shot from a fairway pot bunker. “The way the ball looked and sounded … as soon as it left the clubface, I knew it was going to be in,” Dawood says proudly.
They quietly play matches, but don’t talk about scores or who wins. “That’s why we’re still together,” Dawood jokes. Dawood said he rarely writes down his scores, though he figures he shoots mostly in the low- to mid-80s. Emma estimates she’s about an 18-handicap. They are both self-taught over the past decade, with Emma working on the driving range for two years before playing her first round. “It’s that German mentality,” Dawood says. “You have to be perfect before you play.”
It’s clear in talking to the Ashes that they could have only managed this as a team, and it’s something of a love story, too. While they previously played golf with others on occasion, during this time of COVID, they’ve been a singular twosome. “And we still speak to each other! We haven’t killed each other,” Emma says with a laugh.
“That’s our life story,” Dawood says. “We couldn’t live without each other since we met. We were lucky. We matched each other in every way.”
Dawood was raised in Iran and Emma in Germany, and they met as college students in Berlin. Dawood was offered a job in New York, though he had to be coaxed into taking it because he didn’t speak English; all the couple knew of America was what they saw on the TV series “Kojak.” They thought New York was violent and inhospitable, though Dawood’s scouting trip to Long Island changed their minds.
They raised two boys, eventually moved to Salt Lake City, and then landed in San Diego, where they decided to take up golf. Dawood’s analytical mind embraced the game’s difficulty, and he said he still spends many nights poring over YouTube videos to glean tidbits on playing better.
“Every morning, I have something I’m dying to go out and try,” he says. “If my wrist goes this way or my shoulder goes that way … sometimes I fail, but I want to find out. I’m always excited to go out there.”
It is that golfers’ constant yearning to be better that keeps him playing. Keeps him walking. He recalls seeing a Steve Jobs video in which the late business magnate told a group of college graduates that they should look in the mirror each morning and asked if they love what they do.
“I look in the mirror and ask myself, what would you like to do today?” he says. “What would you like the best day of your life to be? And my answer is golf. I’m addicted, and it’s a good addiction to have.”