The Time Of Your Life

February 22, 2010

Photographs by Cy Cyr & Matt Ginella

When buddies golf succeeds—and I'll never admit to my spouse that it fails—it resuscitates my soul. I return to my life as if from a religious retreat, reminded by imperfect priests that I ought to quit chasing perfection and enjoy life.

A lesson like that knows no offseason. A couple of years ago some friends and I spent five days at Bandon Dunes in October—a bit of a weather risk, sure—and endured 36-a-day of fine, sweaters-on-and-off weather and spectacular golf.

It was right after the third course, Bandon Trails, had opened, and we debated every day about which course was best—the highest praise for a multicourse resort. Each evening, pleasantly exhausted, we sat and sipped scotch as the sun went down over the Pacific, and, mesmerized by the strange purple and pink sky so intense one friend called it "fervent," I had that thought you have on good buddies trips: This is perfect.

That was shoulder-season golf at its finest.

Oh, listen to me. I might as well come clean: I've never taken a buddies trip in any season other than shoulder—that short period between a resort's high season and its off-peak months. Amelia Island in February. Myrtle Beach and Kiawah Island in November. The idea of paying full boat for golf so you "eliminate the weather" that frequently makes a trip memorable—and multiply the number of people you fight for tee times—is high-handicap planning. It's like playing Guitar Hero when you can play guitar.

I believe potential for disaster is essential to a buddies trip. It's what makes each one unforgettable in its own checkered way. The year it blew 50 miles an hour, enough to close the seaside holes at Long Point, but Frank, who carried a gun back then, and I played 36! The year it never got above 50, and four of us, one of whom was later arrested, sought whiskey to keep warm but then jumped in the beach-club swimming pool. The year Bill, the other Bill and I went to drink green beer and listen to live music on St. Patrick's Day, didn't bring our cell phones, delivered the pizza an hour late and caused Mike, who later cheated by moving his ball in the woods—during a tournament, no less—to stew for two days. (Last year.)

The whole buddies-trip thing is a memories-building exercise.

And yet, though the shoulder season makes such antics possible, these sorts of buddies trips require a bit more vigilance than high-season affairs. Example:

My friends Hammer and Eric and I went to South Carolina one October and scheduled a round at a new course with a Scottish name and some very cool holes: good golf. We checked in, paid our money and headed out to 18 greens that hadn't been cut or whipped. Covered with dew, they were running at 2, I estimated. We were furious. Turns out the Bermuda greens had been overseeded with rye so recently that cutting or whipping could pull the new grass out.

I can't imagine a course today not informing players of that situation, and shame on us for not asking, but course-maintenance issues are one of the things you might face in the shoulder season. Aerating, renovation, overseeding, etc.

Call ahead. What you won't face—and why it's worth the call—are the crowds, the "country-club-for-a-day" fees, or the airfares that inspire you to calculate dollars-spent-per-peanut. You might also experience a warmer welcome from employees who are less harried. Not to mention no schoolkids—not that there's anything wrong with them.

We had a blast that week in South Carolina except for the one round, and we got over it.

The whole buddies-trip thing is a memories-building exercise, and maybe it's my large-Irish-Catholic-family upbringing, but I have no capacity for remembering events that unfold as planned. Surprises are indelible. What's more, to deny the pettiness and jealousy that are integral to these trips is naïve. When it comes to buddies competition, I'm in the Gore Vidal camp: "Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little."

Unless he's my partner.