Golf has been booming during the pandemic. Here’s how to get your game on.
Renee Bryant once had little use for golf and had never played the sport, not even in gym class. But after 20 years of marriage to an avid golfer, she had a change of heart.
“I’m an old hippie, so my opinion of golf was it is for snobs and elitists, and I wanted nothing to do with it,” says Bryant, 68, who lives in Port Orchard. “But because I love my husband very much, for his 60th birthday in September a couple of years ago, I took some golf lessons.”
She signed up for four sessions with Kyle Larson, the assistant golf pro at McCormick Woods Golf Club. “I didn’t think I’d be particularly good at it, but I thought I’d be good enough eventually to at least enjoy playing with my husband,” she says. “It helped a lot to have someone as good and patient as Kyle to teach me and give me some confidence.”
Now Bryant and her husband, Thomas Blume, look forward to another summer playing together on the tree-lined fairways at McCormick Woods. Blume is still working, so he and Bryant like to play twilight golf. “When he gets home and it stays light until 9 o’clock, we pack up the clubs and go out,” she says. “We might play two or three times a week.”
Golf is an ageless sport. Just ask Alf Larson (no relation to Kyle), who will turn 101 on May 31. Alf was sidelined from the game this past winter because — for the first time in 25 years, due to the pandemic — he and his wife, Willa, were unable to travel from Brinnon, Wash. (where they live spring through fall) to their snowbird home in Indio, Calif. But Alf says he’ll be back at Rancho Casa Blanca next winter, ready to hit the links twice a week.
Although Alf first learned golf while a student at Washington State University, he rarely played until he joined a Port Angeles golf club as he neared retirement. Soon he was golfing regularly and his game kept getting better and better, hitting his eighth career hole-in-one just a few years ago. “When you get a hole-in-one, it’s really just a lucky shot, but it’s still fun,” Alf says, modestly.
And fun is the operative word for most older golfers. Bryant says her first round at McCormick Woods was “very intimidating,” even after lessons. “I couldn’t hit the ball very far consistently,” she recalls. “But I just had fun, you know. It was great being out there and every now and then you hit a good ball and think, ‘Whoa, I can do this.’ And then your next stroke, you hit it 10 feet” and grumble. “But everyone I talk to says, ‘Well, welcome to the game of golf.’”
“The really fun thing for me has been feeling myself get better the more I play and figuring some things out,” she says, adding that she’s playing “close to bogey golf now.” (A bogey refers to finishing a hole just one stroke over par.)
Kyle Larson says it’s important for would-be golfers to think about why they want to play. “Is it social? Do you just want to go have fun and have a drink and hang out? Or do you want to be competitive? Because it’s obviously a big difference.” Don’t be afraid to use whatever advantages you can claim as a newbie, whether that’s using the forward tee box or teeing up your ball on every shot.
In addition, he says it’s important to be forthcoming about any physical conditions that might affect your flexibility. A good instructor can help you work around lower back or knee pain, for example, without exacerbating the condition. Most people who are in reasonably good shape can play. Larson says he has helped some people with cerebral palsy and mobility issues take up the game. “You just have to know how those injuries are going to affect the golf club,” he says.
As Bryant’s experience shows, golf’s reputation as an elite, expensive sport has changed. Occasional duffers can find many inexpensive places to play—though getting tee times has been a challenge during the pandemic (see sidebars)—and frequent golfers will find a course membership cost effective.
Lessons are a good idea for most novice golfers, and after four to five sessions, “you should be getting the ball in the air consistently,” says Larson. If private lessons are beyond your budget, look into group classes offered at many golf courses and local parks departments, including the popular five-session Get Golf Ready program.
Golf gear can be expensive as a new set of clubs can run hundreds of dollars, “and you want to get the right stuff,” says Larson, especially since new lightweight clubs are much easier to swing than the steel-shafted models you may have in the garage. But it’s fine to buy clubs a few at a time or rent some to see what you like. Don’t be afraid to use your old clubs—or borrow a neighbor’s neglected seta—and piece together a set of new clubs as your interest and funds allow.
Wherever you play and whatever gear you use, remember to have a good time. No matter how well you play or how poorly, golf is an ideal way to spend time outdoors, have fun with other folks, get some exercise, and enjoy all that summer has to offer.
Get Out and Play
Rates below are per player for weekdays in summer. Most courses have club rentals available, too, and bigger courses offer a full range of lessons, club fitting, and other services. For more information on places to learn and play golf, check out Washington Golf at wagolf.org.
Battle Creek Golf Course
Ideal for players of all abilities, Battle Creek has an 18-hole championship course ($35 plus $16 for a cart) and a separate nine-hole Par-3 course ($9 plus $10 for a cart) that is perfect for beginners and casual players.
Cedars at Dungeness
With sunny Sequim weather and five sets of tees for differing skill levels, Cedars at Dungeness is home to the Washington Senior Open. Watch out for the crab-shaped sand trap! $25 for 9 holes plus $14 for a cart; $45 for 18 holes plus $18 for a cart.
Got an hour? You have time to play a Par-3 course. Crossroads at Bellevue Golf Course has nine holes ranging in length from 63 to 107 yards, so it’s a good place to get started or work on your short game. $12 fee includes as much golf as you care to play that day, with free club rentals available.
Green Lake Pitch & Putt
Many Seattle golfers of all ages learn the game at this Par-3 course at Green Lake. During the pandemic the course has required same-day tee times, made by calling (206) 632-2280. People 65 and up and 17 or under play for $8. Everyone else pays $10.
Five tee boxes at each hole mean golfers of varying abilities can enjoy a round together at this scenic course. Greens fees vary, but seniors 60 and up can generally play 18 holes on weekdays for $32, plus $17 per rider for a cart.
Julie Fanselow is dedicated to living large with a small footprint and writing to make sense of these times. She lives in Seattle and is a frequent contributor to 3rd Act. Read more from her at surelyjoy.com.