PGA Championship

Valhalla Golf Club



Golf Digest Logo Editor's Letter

Tournament Tested: Could a 4-year-old go all 18 holes?

January 31, 2023
/content/dam/images/golfdigest/fullset/2023/1/GD0223_ADLER_011.jpg

Bo found his rhythm during the round. Photograph by Max Adler

I decided it was a good idea to enter my son in his first 18-hole event. He’s 4.

Now, Bo reliably advances the ball 30 to 60 yards on most swings. He hits his driver an identical distance to his iron only because the shaft is too stiff. The reason is that I chop-sawed a junior driver in half and slapped on a grip, which might sound like derelict parenting to technicians, but at the time he was still in diapers, and custom-fitting lefty clubs for a toddler felt unnecessary. (Would this strange predilection even last?) As for his third club, a putter, he doesn’t yet understand the concept and hockey-dribbles the ball into the cup only with voluble coaching.

No disrespect to past champions, but the Malbon x Chido Invitational is as unserious a full-net modified scramble as it gets. When the title sponsors are a streetwear-clothing brand and a tequila-spiked seltzer, don’t be surprised if a DJ is blasting beats, the dress code is Carnevale with a collar and the smell gets a bit funky. But you won’t find a more welcoming and inclusive crowd. With 35 foursomes in a shotgun start, pace of play under 5½ hours was never even an idea, and so a lenient setting for any Bo-shenanigans.

As we pulled into Long Island’s Nassau Country Club—built in 1896, birthplace of the front, back and match “nassau” wager, and so an intriguing get for ol’ dad—I was shaking with nerves. How would this end? At this point, the most holes Bo had ever played was two.

I unbuckled my golf partner from his car seat, awakening him, and his mood was mute suspicion as we entered the grand clubhouse. Holding hands, we passed through the men’s locker room. Not that anyone was unfriendly, but I was reminded that some places truly are just for adults. We managed the sumptuous buffet line without knocking anything over, found a table and talked strategy. This was “a big tournament,” but we would do well if Bo stood where I told him and was quiet and still when others hit. His primary concern was “Will we win?” As I cut his sausage into pieces, I allowed it to be a possibility.

Our group was 1A, which Bo perceived as a grave slight when everyone else got to drive the fun carts away and we had to wait. Our pairing was with Henry Lopez and Byron Kirkland from The Original Tee Golf Club, an organization that celebrates the legacy of Black tee-inventor Dr. George Grant and promotes diversity. I thanked them in advance for their patience and apologized that we were unlikely to be competitive in the format. “C’mon, man,” Henry said. “You’re doing what it’s all about—exposing him to the game.”

The first seven holes went great. Bo was finding the clubface, relishing applause from Henry and Byron, understanding the rhythm of hitting, picking up, and then all of us hitting from the next spot. Once, I stuck a pitch-mark repair tool in the turf as a mark, which oddly fascinated him. He then insisted on having his own “pointer.” It was a struggle to watch Bo take 30 seconds to fish it from his tiny pocket and kneel in indecision about where to place it, but this didn’t seem worth discipline . . . yet.

/content/dam/images/golfdigest/fullset/2023/1/GD0223_ADLER_02.jpg

At the first sign of whinging, I administered three ounces of ginger ale; two holes later, chips. But Bo was crashing, and at No. 11 he plopped down in the fairway in sleepy protest. Then the thumping energy of the dance party at No. 12 enlivened him. At No. 14, I played my trump card: allowing him to sit on my lap and steer the cart as I worked the gas and brake. This thrill got us all the way in. At the 19th hole Bo had his first-ever sip of Coke and, like he always does in public, showed off his ability to approach attractive women.

When he was ready, he just said, “OK, let’s go home.”

He slept all the way. I carried him up to bed. We won.