How to break up with your golf partner

When longtime golf buddies need to go separate ways, the message should be delivered gently
May 29, 2019

How do you tell someone that you’re leaving them? An age-old question, answered in a thousand ways. My favorite, from Annie Hall, is Alvy Singer saying, “A relationship is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.” That or Michael Corleone letting his adopted brother know that he was being replaced as consigliere: “You’re out, Tom.” To the point, wouldn’t you say?

These cinematic moments might be a helpful guide when the relationship has run aground, but what if the relationship is flourishing, never better, and still fun after 10 years?

My wife will be relieved to know I’m not talking about us—rather, the dear friend I’ll call “db.” He who I’ve traveled far and wide with. He who I battled for club championships won and lost. He with whom I played more than 500 rounds of golf over those 10 years at the Whippoorwill Club, an epically great golden-age gem in the New York suburbs. (By the way, “db” is not a typo. The Whip also has a “DB,” another world class dude. db is a small guy; DB is a big guy. Very clever stuff.)

Some of my stats with db:

• 500 rounds of golf (this is low, and doesn't include the non-sanctioned golf I didn't tell my wife or work about).

• 1,000 adult beverages (see above).

• A lot of money wagered (I'm not telling, but take the over).

• Too many laughs and good times to count.

Without a doubt, db is the greatest golf partner known to golfdom. He does golf well—he’s a multiple-time (and multiple-club) club champion and has been a top amateur in the New York area. He does lunch well. He does drinks well. He’ll compete like it’s the U.S. Open, tell you a funny story and fix your putting stroke, all before the end of the third hole. He never wanted to lose a bet, but when struggling with his game, he always took the insults that golf can dish out with grace. He’s also available if you need an emergency round, or need a companion for a trip to play golf in Nebraska, or London, or Locust Valley. He was also an incredible constant in my life—every Sunday morning, March through November. When you’re raising small kids and building a career, that Sunday is gold—it was the only time all week when someone wasn’t asking me to do something that was hard. Having db there every week was the proverbial gilded lily.

Now after all of this, I needed to tell him I was leaving the Whip. Forsaking him for one of the world’s top golf clubs, which also happened to be a 10-minute drive from my house (versus 30). Joining this new club was a dream come true and the ultimate no-brainer, but it meant letting db know that the shark was dead.

My admissions process had lasted some time, and I never breathed a word of it to anyone. Seriously. No one. Secret society, omertà stuff. The only ones who knew were my wife and my priest. (I’m being dramatic. I’m Jewish. I didn’t tell my wife.)

When I knew I was getting into the new club, I had to tell db. So I scheduled an off-the-record weekday round. We played, we gambled, we drank at the bar. All the while my heart was beating hard, knowing the weight of the secret I’d been keeping from him. Next I knew I was on my way home, having not told him. I’d have to try again.

Finally, after my third non-sanctioned round, I told him. Even a few sodas deep, I barely got the words out. “So, there’s something I need to tell you.”

He reacted as any jilted spouse would: “How long has this been going on?” “Are you sure?” “Maybe you want to take some time and . . . ?” “Maybe the three of us could . . . ” (Sorry, wrong magazine.)

In all seriousness, db took it well, as I knew he would. He was excited for me. As a golfer among golfers, he understood what this new club meant. He took the news with grace.

Of course, these events are a well-worn narrative sequence. Guy meets girl, marries girl, sees shiny new girl and starts again. It almost never goes as planned. Shiny new girl doesn’t stay that way, and guy embarks on a new life of fleeting connections, missing what he once had. Like that story, here I am out in the golf world. I’ve since moved and joined another club in the new state where I now live. I flit from partner to partner, enjoying these trysts, replete with banter, wagering and the requisite adult beverages, but all the while pine for what I had with db. Dramatic, yes, but finding your golf match, your Sunday morning soulmate—that’s what it’s all about.

I’m lucky to presently belong to two great clubs. After rounds of golf, I look around longingly at the long-term, deep connections the other men at the table have with one another, forged over $10 nassaus and freezing February rounds of golf. Hard to find, and easy to take for granted.

Just because a lot of people have said it doesn’t make it any less true. It’s not the golf, it’s the people you’re with. Playing with db, or now my semi-regular group of fellow almost-old guys, I wouldn’t care where we were playing or what I shot—it’s the shared experience and time together. (OK, the part about not caring about what I shot isn’t true.)

When you leave somewhere, do you miss the place or the people? Ultimately, when you love golf the way I do, the way db (and DB) does, and the way my almost-old guy group does, it’s the easiest question you’ll ever answer.

This is the sixth story in our "Golf Interrupted" series exploring the unique challenges of the modern golfer.