That's Forbidden! (But Should It Be?)

Continued (page 2 of 4)

When I was a lad, I was told that polite men don't wear hats inside buildings, and I must have internalized that concept because I almost always reflexively take off my golf cap when I pass through a door. Or so I believe. But it would be hard for me or anyone else to argue that indoor hat removal—unlike, say, rescuing kittens or not stealing other people's range finders—has obvious, inherent social value. It's just a custom that some people in some cultures have decided they care about, probably because someone at some point told them they ought to care about it (but not why). And in some other cultures covered heads have an entirely different significance, which supersedes the broodings of golf-club house committees.

One golf-related difficulty with indoor-hat prohibitions is that they can make it hard to spot the stranger you just played with, when you try to find him in the bar after your round. ("Were you bald on the golf course, too?") Another problem is that wearing a hat for several hours on a hot day can do terrible things to the hair of people who do have hair, even if they try to repair it in the locker room before going to lunch. Still another is that posting signs about hats, as a couple of clubs I've visited in recent years do, seems less civilized than forgetting to take them off—like putting up signs that say "Chew with your mouth closed" or "Shake hands when you meet someone new." It might be true that "gentlemen" generally remove their hats when they go inside, but if you visit gentlemen's houses you won't find signs reminding them to do it.

A Golf Digest editor once took three guests to his golf club, and after their round they reconvened in the grillroom for a beer. The guests were still wearing their golf caps, in violation of the club's "no-covers-under-cover" policy, which they didn't know about, and, before their host could warn them, the club president "walked over, stuck his head between mine and theirs, and loudly asked me to ask them to remove their hats." In doing so, he ruined what until that moment had been a terrific day for four people, and to what end? No matter what you think about the wearing of hats indoors, pointlessly creating humiliating spectacles is worse. As the etiquette authority Amy Vanderbilt wrote in 1952, "Some of the rudest and most objectionable people I have ever known have been technically the most 'correct.' "

A longtime member of Augusta National once told me that, when he was a young man, he and a friend invited six guests for a golf weekend. Neither young man was then a member, but each was the son of a member and had the impression that he was entitled to the privileges of the club, and when the two of them called to make their reservations the secretary assumed that she was speaking to their fathers. "It never occurred to anyone at the club that two sons would dare to do something as rash as this," he said, "and when we showed up, the entire staff must have been horrified. But they had put us all in the Eisenhower Cabin, and nobody said a word." Clifford Roberts, the club's chairman, was on the grounds, and was told what the young men had done. "But he said nothing until we were getting ready to leave," the man continued. "Then he took us aside, and explained that the sons of members could only be guests, and that, like any other guests, they had to be accompanied by a member at all times. We felt terrible, of course, and we apologized profusely. And we obviously should have known better. Yet he chose not to embarrass us or our parents or our friends." And there—from a man who has often been portrayed as the archetypal golf-club tyrant—is a lesson in how to handle innocent rules violations.

When a friend of mine was asked why she and her husband had helped their skateboard-obsessed teenage sons build a halfpipe in their back yard, she said, "We wanted them to die at home." Her statement touched on one of the central conundrums of parenting. When my children were teenagers, I agonized over their health and safety but, at the same time, realized that many of my most cherished memories of my adolescence involved activities that, had they turned out slightly differently, could have resulted in my incarceration or death. Similarly, some of my all-time favorite golf experiences carried the possibility of expulsion from wherever it was my friends and I happened to be playing. I regret our misbehavior, of course, but, when we sit on the clubhouse porch reminiscing, the tales we tell aren't about days when we teed off early, enjoyed the sunshine and the birds, and drove home. A golfer I know at another club once slipped away from a cocktail party and had sex with another guest in a lifeguard chair on the club's beach. At some point, they fell from the chair into the sand, and when they did, the crowd on the clubhouse porch applauded. My friend was suspended from the club and removed from a position of responsibility, but the trouble he got into was worth it. At least, it was worth it to those of us who tell the story every chance we get.

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