Sunshine, fresh air and lessons about life

Bill Barth is the former Editor of the Beloit Daily News, and a member of the Wisconsin Newspaper Hall of Fame.

Bill Barth is the former Editor of the Beloit Daily News, and a member of the Wisconsin Newspaper Hall of Fame.

Bill Barth, Contributor

Feel that? It’s the sun. Warm. Beckoning. Hopeful with the promise of renewal.

Then again, as they say, hope is a lousy strategy.

Yet here I am, anticipating another season of golf, eager to feel the earth beneath my feet with a tee in the ground, a club in my hands and a vision of the ball soaring majestically down the center of the fairway. Humility being a desirable attribute, the vision modestly finds the ball landing softly and rolling out only to about 260 yards.

Like the kids say, though, reality bites.

Two rounds into the season have produced different results. The ground is mostly mud. The ball hits the fairway, oh, maybe 20% of the time. That 260 yards looks a lot closer to 210. Maybe 200.

And my back. Ouch. Winters spent staring mournfully out the window, hands filled with sandwiches and potato chips, do wonders for muscle tone. Keep this up and I’ll need a curved driver to fit over my belly.

I thought getting into golf shape meant spending endless hours over the winter in front of the television watching football and basketball. And then really getting serious when golf made it onto the screen during the southern swing.

If memory serves – and one can never be certain of that as the years go by – there was a time when I fancied myself a fairly serious athlete. Long ago, of course. I played basketball in school and competed in the city league, then later at Beloit College’s legendary Noonball. I was decent at tennis. I liked to run – albeit slowly – and often did five miles or more. Now and then I even pedaled around on my bike. That hurt my butt.

Like many, though, I was sold a bill of goods about taking up golf because it was the sport that ages well as you go gray, then bald, then pudgy and stooped over and all the rest of life’s parade of indignities.

It’s true that one can continue to play golf beyond the athletic years. Here’s what that really means: You can keep swatting the ball, with less and less distance, each year. Which is probably good, because you couldn’t see it anyway if the damn thing went further.

Somewhere along the way, amidst the humiliation, old golfers learn an important lesson. It’s not about how far you can hit the ball. It’s not really about the score. It’s about enjoying the outdoors with some of the most important people in your life.

And they don’t really care if you move up to the forward tees. If you hit it short and crooked. If now and then, on a particularly hot day, you decide to take a hole off and relax with a cold one. A bottle of water, I mean.

Bill Barth’s grandson Jack, age 3.

I count myself lucky that my most regular golf partners are a couple of guys named Kyle and John. My sons. Kyle is a real golfer. Plays the tips, often bombs it 300-plus, low single-digit handicap. John is the younger brother, strong as an ox, getting better every year and a magician with the putter.

The less said about my game the better. There are bad days and better days but it’s all good. It’s impossible for spirits to sag when the sun is shining, the grass is greening and you love your playing partners.

Next up is breaking in a new generation. The picture accompanying this column is of John’s boy, my grandson Jack, age 3. He looks ready to me. A few times this summer we’ll find a family-friendly pasture somewhere so Jack can tag along, take a few swings and maybe get a few pointers from “Papa.”

Mainly, this one: Enjoy every round. They are not unlimited.

NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, in a recent interview, said this: “I’m smart enough to know that I’m on the back nine of life.” Then, about becoming a grandpa, Barkley said, “It lives up to the hype.”

I know those feelings. That’s when you take stock. Making memories becomes more important than making a mark.

And it’s why I look forward to another golf season, whether I can hit the dumb ball straight or not. Because it’s not about how you hit it, but how you pass precious hours with your pals.

William Barth is the former Editor of the Beloit Daily News, and a member of the Wisconsin Newspaper Hall of Fame. Write to him at [email protected].