It was a hot, steamy Friday evening. Two hours earlier, I had received an email at work from my oldest son, Zach. The message read as follows:
This is Zach, and I was just wondering to see if you would be up for golfing at [W]esselman’s later at 5:30
As I contemplated this possibility, my first thought is that it sounded easier and more comfortable to just head home in the cool(er) confines of our home. But it was the end of the work week, and the prospect of playing a little golf with the family seemed like the way to go, furthered by the fact that kids are free at Wesselman’s Par 3 after 3 PM with a paying adult.
So, there we were on the first tee. To mix things up from the previous round there, we decided that Will (7) and I would do a team competition against Zach (13) and Matthew (11) while retaining our individual play. But as Will and I fell behind due to some early birdies from the teen/pre-teen crowd, the individual matches became even more interesting. As we stepped onto the 8th tee, I was one down to both Zach and Matthew. But with a birdie from 6 feet on eight, and a good up and down for par on nine, I managed to edge out the golfing upstarts by one while Will posted his best ever score (37) at Wesselman’s. As the round concluded, I walked out to retrieve the youngest Samuel (2) who was holding up Mom and Louis’s round after deciding it was much more fun to be out of the stroller.
Safe to say, we pretty much had the entire course to ourselves, with the exception of a couple of two-somes that had started after us. As I waited for our second group to finish, I started talking to the person manning the pro-shop. I asked him about play that day, and he indicated that there had been around 20 (including us). He indicated that “the old guys” used to describe days in which both sides of the tee sheet (each of which probably had spots for a 100 players or so) would be filled up by the days’ end. Rumors had been going around about what might happen to what is reportedly the only 18 hole Par 3 in the state if something didn’t change for the long-term. And as we both noted, Wessleman’s wasn’t the anomaly. Play at all the city courses had declined over the past decade or more, similar to what seemed to be occurring at outdoor tennis and basketball courts near the home I grew up in and at local driving ranges.
As I loaded up the clubs and drove home, I reflected further on the conversation. My first muse was to consider just where all the people had gone. Instantly, I found myself thinking about how much had evolved in the online world, one in which anyone could “play” premier golf courses around the world without ever leaving their couch. I wondered about changing work and home life patterns, the proliferation of structured youth sports during the afternoons and evenings, and simply just all the conveniences and entertainment that didn’t require anyone to bear the heat of the summer. As with many of my muses, no clear conclusion emerged, but just persistent questions about what had happened to all those recreation golfers (old & young) of year’s past.
But as I thought more about it, I found myself somewhat discouraged. No matter what was driving the downward trends in play, the reality was that if these trends continued, it became even more difficult for our city government, and those across the country, to justify subsidizing courses that were losing money every year. Growing up, places like Wesselman’s and Helfrich Golf Course, where we moved across from when I was 14, became a home away from home, a place where nature, movement, leisure, and competition were all wrapped in one. They had been and still remain as bastions of silence, simple conversation, and a great way to enjoy the camaraderie of family and friends midst the playing of a centuries old game.
Yet no matter how they contributed to the health and happiness of a community, it is clear that just like schools who lose their students, or churches who lose their parishioners, courses and all areas of recreation who lose their players are set to become increasingly rundown and obsolete on their way to become the next subdivision or dog park (nothing against the dogs). In the process, there becomes one less option for individuals and families to enjoy competition and camaraderie in an affordable way. As someone who routinely writes about the dangers of excessive screen use with kids, the reality is that the less options there are for families to engage in offline activities, the more likely that screens will become the go-to. And the less likely that kids spend a lot of time outside in all weather, the more likely they will become adults who would prefer to remain inside.
The reality is that places like Wesselman’s Par 3 matter to our community more than we know. A society that invests in an infrastructure that supports natural, active, social endeavors are people that are investing in the future health & happiness of generations to come. I have nothing against sedentary, indoor entertainment as it is great to have all sorts of options for fun and socialization. But it simply is not a substitute for places that nurture our bodies, mind, and soul in a natural way. I have had many frustrating days on the links. But there is a particular truth to the saying, “A bad day on the golf course is better than a good day at the office.” I love the work I do. But there is no substitute for a Friday evening golf match with family, a chance for old and young to play & challenge each other together. But if we don’t support these local institutions, then these opportunities will only decrease, and we will just have ourselves to blame.