In P.G. Wodehouse's short story "The Clicking of Cuthbert," the protagonist meets Adeline Smethurst of the Wood Hills Literary and Debating Society—a rival organization to the local golf club—and is instantly smitten. This has a salutary effect on Cuthbert's golf: "Twenty minutes after he had met Adeline, he did the short eleventh in one."
But love has two edges. There is no rose without thorns. In another Wodehouse story, the "Oldest Member" warns that love is something that golfers should always treat with great suspicion. "I am not saying that love is a bad thing," he advises, "only that it is an unknown quantity. I have known cases where marriage improved a man's game, and other cases where it seemed to put him right off his stroke. There seems to be no fixed rule. But what I do say is that a golfer should be cautious."
Being cautious in love is like laying up when you know you can make the carry. And sometimes it's not a matter of choice. If you're the ball, love can be the clubface, launching you from your resting place in a perfect arc down a fairway you never knew existed. We heard that story many times when we solicited tales of love on the links from our readers last year:
♥ Playing golf with her son one day, Jo Meyer of Morro Bay, Calif., hit a low hook that bounced off a cartpath and into the back of the leg of a very tall man. She unintentionally hit into his group three more times. "After the round," she says, "I took my son inside for a milkshake. The giant was in the grillroom. My cheeks flushed, and I tried to slide in and order without him noticing me." But notice he did. He picked up the tab. Four years later, they were married.
♥ Jim Crounse of Oro Valley, Ariz., hoped to fulfill a lifelong dream of playing the Old Course at St. Andrews. A miscommunication, however, meant that he and his buddy missed their 7 a.m. tee time. His travel agent instructed him to go to the clubhouse and ask for Patsy, the manager. "Out came this lovely blonde Scottish woman," Crounse says, "with an adorable accent. She said that she was terribly sorry, that they'd get us out to play ... and could she buy us breakfast to make up for the error."
Jim and Patsy have been married for 11 years.
♥ Jim Baechle of Nashville was a teenage caddie in a Detroit suburb. One day he won a Chick Evans caddie scholarship to Michigan State, and the caddiemaster approached him in a cart and told him to hop in. He drove him out to the snack bar at the turn and told him to get whatever he wanted. Driving back to the clubhouse, the caddiemaster wanted to know what Baechle thought of "the new snack-bar girl." Baechle suggested that she seemed "nice."
Baechle recalls: "He turned and looked at me, and with his finger pointing, he said, 'She's damn nice, Baech. That's the kind of girl you want to marry someday.' "
Jim and Sue have been married for 28 years.
"People fall in love when they're ready," says love anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher, whose TED Talks on the subject have been viewed by millions. "You also tend to fall in love with someone of the same socioeconomic background, same levels of intelligence and education, same basic values and social goals, and same general level of good looks. And on the golf course, you're going to find that. You're going to find someone who shares your interest in golf, and who probably has a similar lifestyle and background as you."
Golf thus acts as a filter as effective as any matching algorithm on a dating site. (Fisher is chief scientific advisor to Match.com.) But according to Fisher, Cupid's arrow flies so straight and true in golf for a more fundamental reason than our culture: our biology.
Fisher has identified four broad personality styles of thinking and behaving, loosely based on inherited patterns of neurotransmitter expression in the brain:
♥ EXPLORERS (PREDOMINANTLY DOPAMINE-EXPRESSIVE): risk-taking, novelty-seeking, spontaneous, impatient, curious, creative, mentally flexible, high-energy and action-oriented people.
♥ BUILDERS (SEROTONIN): conventional, traditional, cautious, measured, orderly, meticulous, they follow the rules, like schedules, respect authority, are calm people, with a high degree of self-control and are skilled in building social networks.
♥ DIRECTORS (TESTOSTERONE): direct, decisive, analytical, logical, strategic, tough-minded, bold and competitive.
♥ NEGOTIATORS (ESTROGEN): Imaginative, intuitive, nurturing, agreeable, emotional, idealistic and altruistic.
"We're not just one of these systems; we express all four of them, but to differing degrees," Fisher says. (You can join the 14 million people who have taken the test online and see where you stand on each of the four scales at TheAnatomyofLove.com.)
Says Fisher: "My hypothesis is that the kind of people who are attracted to golf are very expressive of the serotonin system—the Builders. These people tend to like the slow, measured pace of golf, the rules, the traditions and the social aspects. But also testosterone—I'd expect golfers generally to score highly on the Directors scale. It's a very competitive game." (Fisher is not a golfer: "I'm more of an Explorer type," she says, "and Explorers tend to prefer tennis.")
Fisher's human taxonomy sheds light on the age-old question of whether opposites attract. Although that tends to be true for Directors and Negotiators—they date each other—Builders stick together. Their calm, stoic, conservative nature means they like people who are like them, which is why a foursome of regular golfers can endure for decades, often outliving the participants' marriages.
Says Fisher: "I studied 80,000 people, and the high-serotonin type of human being, the Builder, tends to be consistently drawn to people like themselves."
One problem with golf as an avenue to love, however, is that it is crowded with men—76 percent of American golfers are male. That's great news for women seeking men, but not so great for men seeking women. (Estimates vary, but roughly 90 to 95 percent of Americans are heterosexual.) Fisher remains positive: "Those female golfers are Builders, too, and will tend to have strong social networks of conservative Builder girlfriends to introduce to the golfers that they meet on the links. Female golfers will tend to be highly attracted to male golfers—and bring with them a pool of other women who are also likely to be attracted to traditional golfers."
But what of the warning in the "Oldest Member"? Love—especially love at first sight—can go disastrously wrong. "The heart was made to be broken," according to Oscar Wilde.
"Romantic love is a drive," Fisher says. "It happens way down in the basal ganglia, right next to brain regions that orchestrate thirst and hunger. It lies like a sleeping cat, and it can be awakened any time, at any age. You can be scared in a minute, or angry or sad. And you can fall in love in a minute. It's an animal attraction. You can trigger that brain circuitry in an instant. Your golf ball lands next to her golf ball, you laugh about it and—boom!—you're off to the races."
Beyond external attributes, humans are inordinately attuned to another person's internal landscapes, their psychology, and how it might mesh with their own. We all have attachment tendencies, learned in childhood that influence who we are drawn to, patterns that reoccur, for better or for worse—Freud called this "repetition compulsion."
A controlling narcissist, for instance, might be drawn to a compliant people-pleaser—and vice versa—resulting in a relationship that can continue for years until the latter comes to realize that the codependent dynamic is unhealthy, which might explain some divorces on tour.
"We all make mistakes," Fisher says. "There's a part of the brain, in the ventrolmedial prefrontal cortex, whose job is to be skeptical—in charge of what scientists call 'negativity bias.' This is the part that always says, Oh, no, this isn't going to work. And when you begin to fall in love, activity in that brain region actually goes down."
Neuroscientific proof that love is indeed blind. If it weren't, our species would have died out eons ago.
Someone looking for a partner to "complete" them, or take away their loneliness or struggle, comes with a metaphorical red-flashing warning light. We've all got baggage—are you looking for love, or a caddie?
By contrast, when someone is just being some version of their healthy self—apologizing to the group ahead for hitting into them, say, or greeting the new person behind the counter in the snack shack without wanting anything from them but a 7Up—the stoplights all turn green.
Writes James Hollis in "The Eden Project": "If I am expecting the other to be the good parent and take care of me, then I have not grown up. If I am expecting the other to spare me the rigor and terror of living my own journey, then I have abdicated from the chief task and most worthy reason for my incarnation on this earth."
The only game you can play is your own. Still, most people don't want to make the journey alone. Whether you're looking for a playing partner for an afternoon or a lifetime, on the golf course there is always some kind of love in the air.
"Golf is a wonderful arena for love to spark," Fisher says. "If you want to fall in love, get out there and play."
COURTING MY FUTURE FATHER-IN-LAW
In 1970, I went to meet the parents of my new girlfriend. I drove up in a 1964 VW camper bus wearing a black-seal fur coat and hair down to my shoulders. Her father met me at the door and wasn't impressed. A few days later, he forbid his daughter to see me and even threw her out of the house when she refused. A few weeks later, when he realized she was going to continue seeing me, he let her move back home. After a strained year, I decided to try to get in his good graces. He was a golfer, so I took six lessons at the local driving range and started playing golf, and he invited me to join his Tuesday night golf league. He eventually saw past his prejudice and accepted me and loved me. He passed away a few years ago, but I married his daughter in 1975. Today we have three children, two grandchildren and still play in that same golf league.
Craig Wlodyka, Hampton, N.H.
LOVE SPRINGS FROM TRAGEDY
My best friend died at age 37. He was involved in a car accident when he was 31 (one month after we took a golf trip together to Doral) and never recovered. He was a volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. In his memory, I started a golf tournament to benefit the organization. After contacting my local Philadelphia chapter, I met with a beautiful young woman who ran the fundraiser outings. We eventually went on a date. I knew after two weeks that I wanted to marry her. We ran that tournament for 10 years, have been married for 16 and have two sons. Golf allowed me to transform something horrible into something good and positive.
Gregory M. McPeak, Oreland, Pa.
GOLF AS MY "BOYFRIEND TEST"
You can learn the answers to many questions about a person on the golf course. How will he deal with frustration of his game or mine? Will he cheat? Is he lazy? Will he gloat too much? Will his ego be OK if I hit a better shot? Is he encouraging? Will he try to "teach me" too much? Can we stand each other for 18 holes? Will we have fun? Seven years ago I met Antwon. I was playing golf on a simulator at a local pub on a cold night in February. Once the snow melted we were able to play a real round. Not only did he pass the "boyfriend test," I fell in love pretty quickly. Of course, it isn't perfect; we once went three holes without speaking, but the lessons we learn on the course strengthen our relationship. Golf brought us together, and it keeps us together.
Jenni Berg, Pocatello, Idaho
WE MET AT THE BALL MACHINE
On Labor Day 2003, I was meeting two of my girlfriends for golf. I went early to hit a bucket of balls. I apparently didn't get the bucket lined up correctly under the ball dispenser, so as the balls started coming out, some missed the bucket and bounced away. I heard a voice from behind me say: "It works better when you center the bucket under the spout."
I turned around and saw a man dressed in black golf clothes smiling at me. He helped retrieve the errant balls. I thanked him, and I thought that was that. I saw him again at the first tee. He was playing with the group in front of us. On the 15th, I almost hit him with an errant second shot as he was standing near the 16th tee. When I went to retrieve my ball, he proposed meeting at the 19th hole for a drink. We did, and 14 years later we remain committed partners, on and off the course.
Mary DeYoung, Seattle
MAKING OUT ON THE FOURTH HOLE
My wife, Janie, and I have been married 48 years. I met her in 1966 in a little town in the Napa Valley called Calistoga. I was working at a little nine-hole course at the Fair Grounds called Mount Saint Helena Golf Course. I got $1.50 an hour and all the golf I could play. We went out on our first date, and she found out what an avid golfer I was. She had played a little with her dad, and he taught her well. She asked if she could play with me sometime. Of course I said yes. This was not the golf I was used to playing. We would walk and talk and hit the ball. The fourth hole ran along the Napa River, and we would park our carts and walk down to the bank and take our golf shoes off, put our feet in the water and make out. Then we would go back up and finish the round. We did this a lot, right up to the time when I proposed one year later. She had reeled me in, and I am very lucky she did.
Barry Parker, San Diego
A MARRIAGE OF GOLF AND ROCK 'N' ROLL
It started with a bribe. "If you can keep up with me on the course, I'll take you to Hawaii for Christmas," said my boyfriend of two years, legendary record executive Al Coury. "You're on," I said, but not sure I could meet the challenge.
Al adored the game and looked for any opportunity to play. I had eight months to learn. I took lessons, hit what seemed like thousands of balls on the range and even played with strangers to improve my speed. Al was delighted and took me to Hawaii. That began 30 years of romance on the golf course. In 1987, David Geffen hired Al to help run his record company. Al agreed on one condition: In his contract it stated that Al got Fridays off to play golf. To my amazement, I grew to love the game and the social life that accompanied it. At our club we were known for the only bet we ever made with each other: We played for sex. So when one of us lost, we both always won. In 2009, Al began showing signs of Alzheimer's. That ended our playing, and he passed away in 2013. I always will be grateful to my dear husband of 25 years, Al Coury, the man who bribed his willing girlfriend to learn the game but ended up giving his wife a gift for life.
Tina Nichols Coury, Oxnard, Calif.
A CHIPPED TOOTH, THEN 'I DO'
Our first date was at a putt-putt course. After making four consecutive hole-in-ones, I took a practice golf swing with the putter. The club slipped out of my hands and hit my future wife in the face, chipping two teeth. Amazingly, it wasn't a deal-breaker. We will celebrate our 44th anniversary on June 23, and to magnify what a great woman I am married to, I made my seventh journey to Scotland and England in May 2016 to enjoy golf as it was meant to be. I have played the Open rota, plus numerous legendary Scottish venues, but it pales in comparison with the greatest wife ever.
Doug Feltner, St. Augustine, Fla.
FROM CADDIEING FOR JFK TO FINDING TRUE LOVE
I've been playing golf since I was 8. In fact, I attended a caddie camp at Hyannisport, Mass., for three years. I had the privilege of caddieing for John F. Kennedy several times in the summer of 1963. In 1971, I had just finished college at the University of New Hampshire. I was home on Father's Day weekend, which coincided with the U.S. Open. I watched for a while, got bored and headed to a nearby course. It was 5:30 on a Saturday night. There was just one person on the putting green, an attractive gal, about my age and wearing white pants and a nice black top. I putted for about 10 minutes, taking several peeks at her. I finally got the courage to ask if she plays golf a lot. She said: "No, I'm so bad, I only come out at night." I asked if she wanted to play nine holes. She said: "No, I'm waiting for my friend Ronnie, but you can join us if you want." I politely declined and kept to myself. I think I might have slapped the side of my head and thought: Why am I saying no? So I headed to my car, an old VW Bug. Here I carried all my necessary needs: I applied deodorant, changed my shirt, combed my hair, splashed on some English Leather and headed out to join them. The first thing Deborah said in disbelief was: "He changed his shirt!" We have fun and finished the nine holes. I offered to bring Deborah's clubs to her car. I then got bold and asked: "Would you like to go out tonight?" She thought that would be a nice idea. Our relationship blossomed, and we got married the next June.
Jack Cronin, Zephyrhills, Fla.
LOVE BY WAY OF THREE COUNTRIES
My husband and I met playing in a golf tournament in Israel. We both won entry into this tournament (and the trip to Israel) by winning tournaments at our respective clubs—his in New Jersey and mine in Manchester, England. The next time we met, he came to England, and we put our clubs in the car and drove around Scotland playing various courses. We fell in love, and I moved to New York to be with him. Twenty-nine years later we're still happily together and playing golf.
Helen Bernstein, Tenafly, N.J.
A COUPLE THAT COLLECTS GOLF COURSES
I met Brad on the course while trying to get some rounds in for a tournament I had coming up. There was a lot of flirting going on, but I never thought he would end up being my person. We started dating shortly after and started "collecting" golf courses. We've played 128 in six states and two countries and 79 here in Colorado. We made it our mission to play all the TPC courses and have knocked out 12 already. Golf is our life, it's what we love and what we love to do together.
Kristin Marin, Highlands Ranch, Colo.
A COURTSHIP BY THE 18TH GREEN
In 1998, I attended the Shell Houston Open with a group of buddies. After walking around all morning, we were looking for a place to enjoy an adult beverage and sit for a while. Next to the 18th green, I spotted a gorgeous blonde sitting by the ropes. I told my buddies I was going to go sit by her and see what happens. Well, after five hours of amazing conversation, (not during putts), I asked her for her number. Later that week, we went on our first date. On Oct 2, we'll celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary.
Keaton McDaniel, The Woodlands, Texas